It’s funny the sorts of things that kick in the old memory bank.

On Tuesday morning I was at the Joplin Museum Complex chatting with Kay Johnson about cookie cutters. 

That’s right, I said cookie cutters.

Kay was talking about the history of cookie cutters and how they have evolved over the past couple of centuries when we came to a display of cutters from the early and middle 20th century. As I looked at the cutters in the glass display case, I suddenly flashed back to Christmas seasons long ago.

“My dad used Christmas cookie cutters like that when I was a kid,” I said.

Kay just smiled.

I told Kay that every year about three weeks before Christmas, my dad would start making cookies using cutters he and my mom picked up over the years. My dad would then take the cookies, put them in empty coffee cans that he had lined with wax paper, seal the cans and then hide them so neither I nor my six brothers and sisters could find them and devour them before Christmas.

It was a complicated process.

“You should put that in your column,” Kay said. “That’s what cookie cutters do. They take people back to hearth and home.”

It may come as a surprise to some of you, but for the past 10 years the Joplin Museum Complex has been home to the National Cookie Cutter Historical Museum. The museum was previously housed in a retail shop in Knightstown, Indiana, but their collection of cookie cutters and research material was sort of run down.

So, in 2004 members of the National Cookie Cutters organization began searching for a new home. The group contacted six museums and the Joplin Museum Complex was one of those. Brad Belk, director of the Joplin Museum Complex, traveled to Knightstown to check out the collection and then came back and presented his findings to the board of directors, who promptly agreed to house the collection in Joplin.

Since then, thousands of people from around the world have gone through the Cookie Cutter Museum and that collection has grown from its original six display cases to 11 cases today.

You might find this hard to believe , but before I met Kay I didn’t know much about cookie cutters. I knew that people used them to bake but beyond that I was cookie cutter clueless.

Kay told me that cookie cutters can be traced back to the late 1700s. They first were used in Europe and  many of the early cutters were made of wood. Kay said those early cookie cutters were considered a bit of a luxury.

“You have to remember that they didn’t make cookies for just any occasion,” she said.

When Europeans immigrated to the United States they brought their cookie cutters with them and with the advent of tin and other metals the cutters grew in popularity. Later, flour and other baking companies created cookie cutters as a way to promote their products. There are several display cases in the museum that contain a host of those promotional cutters.

There are also a number of antique cookie cutters as well as an impressive display of hand-crafted cutters, created by talented tinsmiths from all around the country.

One of my favorite commercial pieces on display in the museum is a box of “Star Wars” cookie cutters. I never really got into the whole “Star Wars” deal, but the fact that someone decided to make a box of cookie cutters based on the movie makes me smile.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 1, members of the Cookie Cutter Collectors will host an open house for the museum. Folks will be on hand to talk about the displays, each visitor will receive a free gift and of course, there will be free cookies.

It’s a neat deal and, if you have time you might drop by. Who knows, maybe you’ll see a cookie cutter that conjures up a memory or two.

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