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Pie bird, used to vent fruit pies, a collectible, especially rarer shapes

"What is it?" a reader asks.

"What is it?" a reader asks.

Q I purchased this item at a local flea market and not even the person I bought it from knew what it was. Even though everyone in my immediate family has examined it, no one has a clue. Can you solve this mystery for us? – Donna, Tucson

A You have a pie bird that was used to vent and support the crust and act as a ventilator for pies, especially fruit and berry ones. According to “300 Years of Kitchen Collectibles” by Linda Campbell Franklin (Krause, $29.95), pie birds have been in use since the early 18th century. They were especially popular during the 1890s when dozens of “pie chimneys” were manufactured in both ceramic and glass.

In recent years, pie birds have become collectible, especially ones depicting hens and roosters, pigs, birds, cats, frogs, Dutch girls, bears, and licensed characters such as Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. As with most collectibles, prices are determined by several factors including condition, rarity and desirability. Typical prices are Donald Duck, circa 1940, $150; white china bird, British origin and from the 1920s, $65; a chef on a pedestal, $35; and a “mammy,” probably from the 1940s, $175.

It was necessary to vent pies, especially ones such as the humongous pie on wheels that was made in January 1770 for Sir Henry Grey in London. This special pie included the following ingredients: 2 bushels of flour, 20 lbs. butter, 4 geese, 2 turkeys, 2 rabbits, 4 wild ducks, 2 woodcocks, 6 snipes and 4 partridges in addition to 7 blackbirds and six pigeons. The pie weighed 168 pounds and required two men to carry it to the table. Although it is not reported that pie birds were used, some type of ventilation had to have been necessary to make certain it cooked through and through.

Some sources that might be helpful are Piebirds Unlimited, a quarterly publication for collectors, P.O. Box 192, Acworth, GA 30101; and dealer Deborah Vanden Heuvel, Global Galleria, 209 Riverwalk Circle, Cary, NC 27511. Also experts Lillian Cole, 14 Harmony School Road, Flemington, NJ 08822 and Linda Fields, 158 Bagsby Hill Lane, Dover, TN 37058.

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