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From Pantry to Parlor: How the Heart Motif was used in the Early American Home

Updated: Feb 7

Last week one of our wonderful board members, Gerri MacWhinnie, came by the museum with parts of her amazing heart collection. If you missed it, you can see her talk in the video below and hear about all the great pieces she has and the reason for her heart obsession. Then after the video you can scroll down this page and see some better pictures of a few of her most prized pieces.


After Gerri's talk last week she picked out several of her favorite pieces from the collection for me to highlight here for you all to see. We hope you enjoy these wonderful treasures!

Document Box

Gerri believes that this document box was constructed by a whaler or sailor of some kind. This is because of the use of bone around the rim and if you look closely in the black filed you can see an etching of a whaleship, some whales and men in whaleboats hunting the whales. It is hard to see but if you zoom in you can hopefully make them out.


Dutch Delftware

Delftware is general name given to Dutch tin-glazed earthenware. The Dutch city of Delft was a major production center for this type of work which is where it got its name from. Generally delftware was blue and white but as you can see in the examples Gerri has, other colors were used. This style of pottery is very closely related to English delftware, which as you may guess is the same type of pottery, but from England rather than the Netherlands.

Dutch Delftware Inkwell

Dutch Delftware Marriage Plate

The translation of the writing on the plate reads: "There is not better in marriage, then love between man and woman."


Redware Pudding Mold

Redware is another general term that has a few different meanings. But for early American redware like this, it means this was a fairly inexpensive piece of earthenware usually with a ceramic glaze. This item in particular was used to make pudding!



Soapstones like this were a common thing in early American homes to be used as footwarmers. This is because soapstones have a high level of magnesium within them allowing them to heat up in a fire without melting or catching fire and they would retain the heat for a long period of time. Soapstone was also commonly used around fireplaces, cladding wood burning stoves and sometimes countertops or bathroom tiling.



Early American cooking and eating utensils were at the same time very similar and very different to the utensils we use today. Gerri showcased a lot of different types but below were her favorites.

Gift Fork

Gerri referred to this as a gift fork. This would have been a gift, potentially for a birthday, wedding or maybe an anniversary. It was in the style of a flesh fork meaning it was used to handle large pieces of meat. Due to its size, it was too small to have been used in cooking, but too large to eat with. This fork was most likely used to help serve a meal. The decorative heart is made out of copper.

Flesh Fork

Here we have a full sized flesh fork. This tool would have been used while cooking over a hearth to manipulate large pieces of meat. Here the heart design has been forged into the prongs at the end of the fork.


This last utensil has no fancy name, it is simply a spatula. This tool would be used just as you imagine it would have been used. Sometimes the tools of the past require very little reworking to make them useful for today. However, I doubt most people today have handmade spatulas with decorative hearts made into them.


Wooden Tools

While many early American household cooking tools were made of metal, typically iron, many were also hand carved from wood. Below are a couple of Gerri's favorites of this kind.

Maple Sugar Mold

Maple sugar is just what you think it is, a block of sugar made out of the sap from a maple tree. This was an extremely common form of sweetener in early American diets. This mold allowed for an individual to make this everyday item into a loving shape.

Cookie Press

Much like today, early Americans had a fondness for not only making their cookies taste great, but look cute as well. When I think of cookie presses and cookie cutters today that most people have in their homes, they are no where near as fancy as this one appears to be.

Butter Press

Much like the cookie press, the butter press was used to imprint a design. But rather than just being for aesthetic purposes, butter presses typically were done to differentiate between the family or farm that made the butter. This would effectively act as makers marks so people would know where the butter came from.

Burl Bowl

A burl is a growth on a tree in which, due to some kind of stress, damage, or disease, the tree's grain has grown in a deformed manner. It can almost be likened to scar tissue. Burl's were valued due to them being much denser than normal wood and thus more resistant to splitting making them perfect for items like this bowl.



Last but certainly not least, we have trivets! Gerri mentioned in her talk that out of all the items in her heart collection, she has more trivets than anything else. The heart design does tend to lend itself pretty perfectly to the use of a trivet. Same as today, trivets were used to protect a surface from a hot plate, pan or pot. This would have been a staple in every early American kitchen and most homes would have more than one.

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