When Arlene Lipman, 65, of Denver, Colo., bakes sugar cookies, her stickiest predica-ment is selecting an appropriate cutter. Fortunately, a grandchild usually is on hand to choose a favorite from among her 10,000 cookie cutters.
"Let me do the horsey again," says Nour Klaibou, 4, as she picks up a horse-shaped cutter and presses it firmly into a sheet of thinly rolled dough.
Lipman has fancied cookie cutters since she was her granddaughter's age. Sprinkled throughout her childhood are sweet memories of shaping and decorating cookies with her mother. She especially treasures the 1940s metal Maid of Honor Cooky Press, butter-smudged box and all, which she and her mother used to make dozens of cookies during the holidays.
"Dad was an engineer and he would cut shapes for Mom to use with her cookie press," Lipman says. With his metal patterns, they pressed cookie dough into bite-size cats and four-leaf clovers.
"Mom had some aluminum cutters that she bought at Woolworth's for a nickel," adds Lipman, who works as a United Express gate agent at the Denver International Airport.
Lipman bought her first cookie cutter, shaped like a whale, as a teenager at a souvenir shop during a family vacation to Dearborn, Mich. In college, she bought a Tupperware jack-o'-lantern cookie cutter and by the 1980s the young mother was buying plastic cutters shaped like Snoopy and other cartoon characters.
"The cutters are fun and clever," she says. "I love to see the engineering that went into them."
Lipman's kitchen is crammed with cookie cutters of various sizes and shapes, from an inch-long ladybug to a foot-tall gingerbread lady. She owns more than a dozen different snowflake-patterned cutters and a multitude of cutters to create likenesses of animals, vehicles, U.S. states and famous landmarks.
Fashioned from aluminum, copper, stainless steel, tin, wood and plastic, Lipman's cookie cutters, molds and presses fill boxes and baskets, tin canisters, pickle jars and plastic containers. Some cutters have simple metal outlines, whereas others are detailed throughout.
Lipman's collection and interest grew in 1986 when she discovered the national Cookie Cutter Collectors Club. She knew she was cut out for the group, and today she serves as vice president of the 300-member club and president of the Rocky Mountain Cutups, a regional chapter.
Club member Elenna Firme, 63, of Haxtun, Colo., is amazed by Lipman's vast knowledge and collection, which she shares at regional meetings and biennial conventions. The themed gatherings allow members to swap and sell cutters, compete in cookie-decorating contests and relate their treasure-hunting tales during show-and-tell time.
"If someone says, 'Let's have a theme of bunnies,' there will be hundreds of bunny cutters, all a little different in size and shape," Firme says. "Arlene can put her hands on a theme and find all the cutters pertaining to it."
Lipman has cataloged on computer about half of her collection according to shape, manufacturer and year, and she shares her knowledge of the baking tools on the club's online forum. "The first tinsmiths in the American colonies in the 1700s were making cutters," she says.
During the 1800s, flourmills and baking-goods companies gave away metal cookie cutters to promote their products, and in the 1920s, rust-free aluminum cookie cutters were mass-produced and sold for pennies. Plastic cutters were introduced during the 1940s.
Lipman's two oldest cutters, an early-1900s round cookie or biscuit cutter and a rabbit-shaped design, advertise Rumford baking powder and Formay shortening. She regularly adds to her collection, purchasing custom-made cutters from contemporary tinsmiths and plastic cutters sold at discount stores.
At least once a month, Lipman uses part of her collection while baking with her grandchildren.
Nour, wrapped in her grandmother's apron, cuts one fancy cookie after another, creating a lasting impression in the dough and her memory. "I love helping Grandma," she says.