A Look Back in History: Village Creameries Part 2, Trademarked butter molds

Ancient clay-tiled spring house such as this one on the Hoch farmstead in Oley Township once were common to the entire Oley Valley.  Today, tile roofed structures are a thing of the past, as well as white-washed picket fences in this photo.
Ancient clay-tiled spring house such as this one on the Hoch farmstead in Oley Township once were common to the entire Oley Valley. Today, tile roofed structures are a thing of the past, as well as white-washed picket fences in this photo. Submitted photo

Once a burdensome chore for each family to produce for dinner, the art of making superior butter became a delightful practice, and each neighborhood soon developed butter-making households that had such an expertise at making butter. Their trademarked butter pads, more commonly known as butter molds or butter prints when carved, were sought eagerly by the entire community. Thereby, wood craftsmen carved distinctive wooden butter prints so that each family’s butter mold would have a unique design separating its goodness from any other butter churner‘s product, either by its salt or the quality of the contented cows who supplied the cream.

Throughout the village markets of Pennsylvania, there were so many efficient butter makers on the farm, that over the years, hundreds of butter prints were carved to reflect the individuality of housewives who produced superior butter. Wood craftsmen carved these unique designs on circular lathed wood blocks of various sizes, which could accommodate a one pound or half pound pad and with a decorative edge. These artfully carved butter mold designs were a treasure in themselves, but more importantly of the time, signified the better churned butter spreads from commonly churned butter made from average cows.

Today, artfully antique butter print molds of the circular fashion, as opposed to square or rectangular counterparts bring a substantial price at auction galleries. However, few of these examples actually bare the initials of the family who churned or are dated. Prized among the butter print collectors are the American bald eagle prints or stylized PA Dutch tulips in the larger size variety, and less valued, as mentioned previously, are the later (time-wise) square or rectangular shaped butter molds. I was always fascinated with the intricately deep carved wooden molds and would often see designs of cow or wheat in Adamstown, flea markets, and auctions.

So much so that when I came across a very unique whirling pinwheel designed or more commonly known as “a swirling swastika” butter print, it reminded me of a few hex sign decorated barns of the Boyertown area I had seen, so I purchased it at the local auction. This unique, individualistic, one of a kind butter mold did garner a very high price, but most have been the pride of a local PA Dutch family and made a beautiful, outstanding art image. Considered a good luck charm, American Indian designs are another rare design, and as with local weathervanes considered good luck. I believe these early carved wooden prints were soaked in water until the housewife placed her butter on them to create and impress upon the golden designs into the butter.

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Prior to Paul E. Kindig’s publishing his exceptional and rare 1986 butter print book for Michigan University, he had visited with Director of the American Folklife Institute, Richard Shaner, when Dick lived at Lobachsville. The subject of this inquiry was a butter print carver named Joel Hoch, whose homestead was at Hoch’s Corner in the Oley Valley. One of the most unusual butter print carvings ever made was his design of an elephant, currently displayed in the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Department in Harrisburg. It appeared, however, that Joel’s address in those early years was listed Richmond Township, but Mr. Kindig considered the Hoch elephant butter print extremely rare and valuable (shown on p.70 in his well-illustrated Butter Print book).

The household magic of churning dairy cream into butter was an accomplishment of Clint Moyer, from the village of Huffs Church, who demonstrated for Dr. Shoemaker’s Kutztown Folk Festival in its early years. Thereby, Huffs Church had become famous for its quality of butter for many years thanks to Mr. Moyer who also had quite the local collection of Americana butter making equipment gathered from his PA Dutch family.