Old pie birds are flying into collectors' hands

February 28, 1993|By Copley News Service

It was the line from the old nursery rhyme -- "Four-and-20 blackbirds baked in a pie" -- that led to the creation during the Victorian period of ornithological and other figural vents for pies. Mostly ceramic, but fabricated in a variety of materials as well, they form an interesting and relatively inexpensive category of collecting.

The principle of the pie bird is a simple one: to both support the pastry and prevent the juices contained in the pastry from overflowing onto the surface of the oven.

The "bird" was mounted on a tube pressed through the crust at the center of the pie.

When the fruit juices began to swell and bubble from the heat, they would be drawn through the tube into the hollow form of the pie bird (also known as a pie vent or pie funnel). Later, as the pie cooled, the fluid would be drained back into the pie.

The greatest proportion of the pie birds sought by collectors were made of ceramic, and several prominent American and British potteries are represented in the inventory.

Although birds are probably the most popular subject matter of pie birds (everything from bluebirds to canaries to doves to crows to chickens to ducks to owls to roosters to penguins), there are many human and animal examples as well. But beware: Modern incense burners are sometimes passed off as vintage pie birds. In addition, some old pie birds are currently being reproduced and marketed as antiques.

Also be aware that condition is very important in this field, so examine objects carefully.

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