By Stephanie Finnegan
Chanteuse Annie Lennox soared to fame by singing about “Sweet Dreams,” but the Eurhythmics front woman has nothing on California collector Wendy Kolar Mullen. The 46-year-old author/photographer/historian has a vast knowledge about the world of antique chocolate molds and candy containers. From vintage to centuries old, Mullen’s collection tells the fascinating tale of Peter Cottontail and other holiday mascots. It’s a bevy of chocolate-making tools and candy containers that would make Willy Wonka green with envy.
Growing up in Morgan Hill, Calif., young Wendy was impressed by her father’s devotion to collecting. He was a jazz enthusiast who amassed a meticulous collection of albums, and he also pursued figural cigarette lighters. Wendy wanted to follow in her dad’s footsteps, and did so by walking along the coastline. She would search for great-looking shells: “It was convenient and free in California. To this day, I still love the hunt!”
Possessing that all-important drive to acquire and to learn, Wendy grew up with a discerning eye and an open mind. That combo came into play one day in a bakery shop.
“I was in a cake-decorating store while buying cake-decorating supplies. I just happened to look up at the top display shelf and saw my first antique chocolate molds,” Mullen shares. “This was way before eBay® and other internet sites. The proprietor said, ‘If you ever see one, buy it,’ and explained that these were extremely rare in California.” She can’t help but smile and add, “That has changed now, of course.”
In her personal collection, Mullen has about 50 molds — the oldest of which is from circa 1890 — but she sells many of the molds that she uncovers in her stateside and international travels. She also discovers molds on web-based auction sites and receives correspondence from folks around the globe who want to sell directly to her. “I love that outreach!” she confirms.
Because of her analytical approach to collecting, Mullen has penned several books on the topic: her second tome, The Comprehensive Guide to Chocolate Molds: Objects of Art & Artists’ Tools, was published by Schiffer in 2007. It has become the go-to book for enthusiasts looking to learn about the tradition of chocolate making, the behind-the-scenes look at how confections were crafted, and the value of the pristine molds today. “Unfortunately, those values are just about outdated when the book finally hits the shelves. In reality, these books must be used strictly as a guideline, especially in this economy,” the writer acknowledges.