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Sunday 7.3.05: Dresden Chocolate Mold

Like I was saying the other day about the chocolate mold:

It must have bitten Jim on the toe while he was looking for something else. "Look what I found," he says to me, holding up the booty. I know it was the spirit of chocolate that seduced him into buying something so offbeat. 

Clearly it met the criteria for ebay: a large (16-3/4 x 10-3/4 x 1), heavy (7 lbs) object banished to the closet, having outlived its brief tenure as a conversation-piece on our kitchen table. The gray metal was a little rusted on the sides, but the surface with the 48 mold hollows (automobile, Zeppelin dirigible, steam ship, and train) had been nickel-plated and still had a nice pewter sheen. A manufacturer's name was stamped into the side, which meant research was possible. The price tag was still attached. Ouch! Jim paid a lot for it. I shot him a what were you thinking? glance but only got a smart-aleck response: "I thought you would make me some chocolates." Right.

I handed him back the treasure and he took it directly downstairs to our "photography department" for immediate processing.

The label: Anton Reiche, 34 A, Dresden, Germany. Made for the I.C. Weygandt Company, New York, USA. On the other side is a serial number or stock number: No. 29907-10. Obviously from before World War II.

I started my research. The best came from the Vaillancourt Folk Art web site. Judi Vaillancourt makes hand-painted collectible chalkware figures from these old chocolate molds, for all major holidays especially Christmas.

Friedrich Anton Reiche (1845-1913) of Dresden, Germany, was a tinsmith who taught himself to make chocolate and ice cream molds. His factory, established in 1870, became the industry's largest, employing more than 2,000 artisans at its peak. The Reiche firm supplied intricately sculpted metal molds to confectioners all over the world, and even had its own private railway line. In later years, Anton's sons ran the firm.

Reiche produced some 50,000 master molds, exported to the U.S. from 1885 (with interruptions for WWI) until 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland. During WWII, the city of Dresden and the Reiche factory were demolished by Allied bombing. In 1950, the Reiche factory resumed production in socialist East Germany, but finally went out of business in 1972. However, with the advent of plastic molds and other less-detailed modern manufacturing methods, the magic and artistry of the early molds was lost.

Reiche molds include thousands of everyday motifs - cats, dogs, bicycles, boats and later -- planes, trains and automobiles. Reiche even replicated the famous Zeppelin dirigible in a mold that was over two feet long.

The work of Reiche artists and sculptors was of the highest level -- similar in excellence to that of artists at Germany's famous Meissen and Dresden porcelain factories, which were nearby. But unlike the Meissen and Dresden artists, the Reiche mold-makers could see their finished work in just one color - chocolate brown.

Now I understand better why Jim was seduced into buying the Reiche chocolate mold. He apprehends things of beauty and value with his eyes; I need research to tell me something is beautiful and valuable.

I spent some time to make a good ebay listing and the auction started yesterday. Just in case anyone is as ill-informed as me, I put a high reserve on the item so that it won't slip away from us for some ridiculous price.

Stay tuned...