After hunting culinary antiques for 40 years, septuagenarian sisters Sheila and Marilynn Brass have amassed quite the collection: 5,000 pieces, including ice pudding and butter molds, cheese scales, and a curd slicer, as well as 6,500 cookbooks (plus the 1,000 volumes they recently donated). “There’s no such thing as too many,” Sheila says, with a laugh. Most of their items are from the late 19th century through the early 20th century, and enduring functionality is part of the appeal, Marilynn says. “If something is well-designed . . . it’s going to be well-designed and beautiful and utilitarian two hundred years later,” she says.
When they aren’t scouring flea markets and shops around New England for treasures, Sheila and Marilynn can be found testing recipes in their Cambridge, Mass., kitchen and writing cookbooks. Their third, Baking with the Brass Sisters—“the story of our lives as home cooks,” according to Marilynn—hits shelves in October. Ahead, a look at some of the pair’s dairy-centric finds.
A Cadbury’s Dairy tin bank, an F.A. Nerogic and Son cardboard buttermilk container, and a painted glass faux milk bottle that was once a prop in an Electrolux Refrigerator showroom.
Assorted dairy publications dating from around 1905 to 1955.
A stoneware butter crock from the early 1900s, a Kraft cheese keeper found at a church sale, and milk glass cottage cheese containers from Hood Milk Company, used by the Brass family in the 1940s and ’50s.
A paper flyer for W. B. Glafke Company’s Gilt Edge Butter in Portland, Ore., 1900-1901.
A French sign advertising meats and brebis (a sheep’s milk cheese) flanked by circa-1860s zinc lamb heads—all from a Maine antiques shop.
A cardboard container from the 1950s for Conrad Creamery’s Pride of the West Butter in Montana.
A glass-and-metal butter churn with two glas-and-metal beaters used to whip cream and eggs, all American from the 20th century.
Educator Biscuit Co. stuffed its cheese biscuits in waxed paper bags such as this in the 1940s.
A mid-20th century Tru-Cut Cheese Cutter with a wire.
A late 19th- to early 20th-century tin cheese curd slicer.
Wooden butter presses and molds from the late 19th century and early 20th century—the cow came from Pennsylvania, while the rest were found in Massachusetts yard sales, flea markets, and antique shops.
A stack of culinary antiques, including an enameled metal drainer, an American china cheese plateau from the early 20th century, and a Scottish porcelain display platter labeled “Danish,” also from the early 20th century.
A cast-iron-and-marble Stimpson Computing Scale and Slicer from the early 1900s.
Crafted from pressed paper and cardboard, this circa-1950s display piece was a Brimfield Antique Show score.
American copper and tin ice cream advertising pieces from the 1920s next to a French ice cream carrier from the early 20th century.
Hamilton Beach made this drink mixer that dates to the 1920s-50s.
A small sample of the sisters’ tin-lined copper ice cream and dessert molds.
Marilynn and Sheila Brass in their Cambridge kitchen.
Photographed by Michael Piazza