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Rhodri Marsden's interesting objects: The ice-cream cone celebrates its 110th birthday


* 110 years ago this week, Charles E Menches was sitting idly at the St Louis World's Fair when he saw some girls walking past who'd hollowed out small cakes and put ice-cream inside. It was a Eureka moment. A December 1931 obituary describes how he walked to a nearby confectionery stall and immediately invented the ice-cream cone. Way to go, Charlie.

* But hang on. At the same fair, Ernest Hamwi, a chap selling zalabia (a kind of Middle Eastern fritter) noticed that a nearby ice-cream vendor, Arnold Fornachou, had run out of plates. He quickly rolled up a zalabia, thereby inventing the ice-cream cone. As, apparently, did Abe Doumar... and Nick Kabbaz, both selling zalabia a few stalls away. None of these men ever came up with convincing proof of their invention. Indeed, David Avayou, also selling ice-cream cones at the fair, admitted that he'd seen them on sale in Paris and had just nicked the idea.

* A Parisian café called Frascati certainly sold ice-cream in cones throughout the 19th century, but there's no evidence that they were edible. So who invented the wafery cone? A New York resident, Italo Marchioni, had filed a patent for 'moulding apparatus' for an edible cone in 1903, and was reportedly furious at the outbreak of ice-cream-cone fever at the St Louis Fair. But a Mr Antonio Valvona had filed a similar UK patent ('Apparatus for Baking Biscuit Cups For Ice Cream') one year earlier. Hm.

* Mrs AB Marshall's Book of Cookery (1888) features a recipe for 'cornets with cream', while Charles Francatelli's Modern Cook (1846) clearly shows a garnish of small wafer cones containing pineapple ice-cream. Basically, no one knows who invented the ice-cream cone, but today is definitely not its 110th birthday. Sorry about that.