Ivory Jagging Wheel with Woman's Leg Design

Made by Walter C. Van Horn on board the Whaling Bark Sunbeam

Original content by: Christina O'Brien

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About This Artifact

The jagging wheel, also known as a pie crimper, was a practical kitchen tool primarily used by cooks and bakers. The purpose of the jagging wheel was to seal the end of the dough so the food on the inside would not fall out when being baked. Although many people today may think of pies as part of dessert, people throughout history commonly ate pies as regular meals.

One of the most common meat pies found throughout North America and Europe is shepard’s pie (traditionally made with lamb) or cottage pie (traditionally made with beef). Both of these food staples include vegetables and potatoes and were recipes brought over when Pilgrims came to settle in New England in the 1600s. Pioneer women of the 1700s would take their pies on cross-country treks and this food became synonymous with the average American household. Savory pies became a staple of American culture and country fairs all over the United States would hold contests to see who could create the best pies. As the popularity of pies have evolved, the modern day pies of today include fruit and are commonly used as sweet desserts.

Although the jagging wheel itself was around for centuries, a man named George D. Bayley of Boston, Massachusetts was one of the first people to apply for a government patent of this useful tool. According to the Commissioner for Patents in the year 1864, Bayley was assigned patent number 44,669 to his invention that worked as a three in one item of a “knife, fork, and pie crimper.” This same list of patents also appeared in the October 29, 1864 edition of Scientific American (Volume XI, Number 18). In fact, under the application for his patent, George D. Bayley claimed his combination device was for “expediting the process of trimming and ornamenting the edge or bordering of pies and other pastry.”

This particular jagging wheel was created by Walter C. Van Horn while he was on board the whaling bark SUNBEAM. Jagging wheels were a common item that sailors made aboard whaling ships. The intricacy and precision involved, especially on board a moving ship, is a feat admired by historians and craftsmen alike. Sailors would take the unused items such as sperm whale teeth and create beautiful yet practical pieces of art. Depending upon the skills of the sailor, some jagging wheels are very elaborate while others are rather plain. This particular piece designed by Van Horn was fashioned in the shape of a woman’s leg and foot. The material of the jagging wheel is made of ivory and the wheel bearings are said to be made of silver shillings. An object like this demonstrates that sailors and whalers had to be resourceful and utilize whatever materials were directly at hand to create their items.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. Why would Van Horn choose a woman’s leg as his inspiration for his pie crimper?
  2. What sort of materials would you expect sailors to use when creating a piece of art while at sea?
  3. What did the need of making a pie crimper say about society in the 1800s?