master die old antique chocolate mold

History of Chocolate Molds

The very first chocolate molds appeared in France in the mid-1830’s. Made of stamped sheet copper and often measuring no more than an inch in diameter, multiple molds were mounted in sturdy frames intended to make multiple small inexpensive chocolate candies. Today we refer to these molds as “flats.” These first chocolate molds started as simple geometric shapes intended to bring chocolate to the mass market in candy form. Since chocolate will not easily release from the mold after the molten chocolate cooled, the molds were coated in a silver wash. These molds produce a thin candy, often called a “flat-back” candy. Shortly, small animal figures and other familiar shapes joined the plain geometric shapes.

The first three dimensional molds, sometimes called “double molds,” arrived, again in France, in the mid-1840’s. Stamped out of copper and silver washed, these molds ranged in size from an inch-and-a-half to well over 18 inches tall. Made from two or more pieces, these molds were usually held together with inexpensive hand clamps—we refer to these clamps today as “clips.” (Occasionally the chocolatier would have the mold, or molds, mounted in a sturdy frame to assist in manufacturing the candy.) Sometime around the late 1860’s, the silver wash was replaced by “tinning” (molten tin flowed over the mold) because tin was less expensive than silver, and the tinning would last longer than the silver wash.

The reason copper was used was that the steel of the day could not be stamped without tearing; the copper was softer and would stamp into the desired form more easily. This continued up until the late 1890’s, when more malleable steel alloys were developed. As mold makers used up their supplies of sheet copper, they replaced it with malleable sheet steel; the conversion to steel was completed around 1910. Tinning was still applied to the steel molds after stamping because chocolate wouldn’t release from the steel mold any better than from the copper mold. The tin also protected the steel from rust—not a problem with the copper.

In the 1930’s, several mold makers experimented with different metals in an attempt to find an alloy that would not rust and would be more durable than the tinned steel. From this period we have seen several solid alloys that were proprietary, nickel-silver (containing no silver but called nickel-silver), Bakelite, and even brass. In the late 1940’s, the industry settled on nickel-clad steel. This steel sheet is electroplated with nickel during manufacture so after the mold was stamped, it needed no tin applied. The nickel was far more durable than tin and since it added strength to the finished mold, the steel could be thinner, saving even more money.

Beginning in the 1960’s the industry began making chocolate molds with thermoplastic—a completely different manufacturing process than making metal molds, requiring different skills and machinery. For a time, both plastic and metal chocolate molds competed, but by the 1980’s plastic had dominated and metal chocolate molds were made no more. Thankfully, collectors stepped in and preserved the history.

J Baughman

Dad’s Follies