Vintage Salt and Pepper Shakers
By Karen Parr-Moody
Diminutive and darling, vintage salt and pepper shakers are the perfect pair with which to stuff a stocking. And at this time of year, they are also fine to bring as a creative – and inexpensive – hostess gift to any holiday party.
Collecting these duos is a hobby many people enjoy, and it’s no wonder. Many are like miniature works of art. However, the first official “salt shaker” was quite uninteresting: A mason jar with a top that had holes in it, invented in 1858 by John Mason, who also brought us the Mason Jar. During the Victorian era, salt was more decorously put in salt cellars, and was scattered onto food by using a diminutive salt spoon. It wasn’t until the ‘30s and ‘40s, with the growing popularity of American ceramics, that the duo of figural salt and pepper shakers really took off.
Wandering through GasLamp, you will certainly discover an assortment of vintage salt and pepper shakers, ranging from silver to ceramic to plastic to glass.
Their refrains of "M'm, m'm good!” can almost be heard from these darling, plastic salt and pepper shakers of the Campbell Soup Kids, made by F & F Mold & Die Works of Dayton, Ohio (photo, right, $20; Booth B-2015). The Kids (sometimes referred to as the "Soup Twins”) have been gleefully promoting Campbell Soup since 1904. Illustrator Grace Gebbie Wiederseim Drayton created this chubby-cheeked duo was drawn by for the advertising campaigns.
The 1922 discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt inspired the ziggurat, a stepped pyramid design that became a trademark of Art Deco design. In these tiny salt shakers, left, the ziggurat design is cleverly employed to dramatic effect ($24, B110). Each salt shaker is so tiny that two could easily fit in the palm of one’s hand. Imagine how charmingly “done” a table would look with an individual shaker at each plate.
“Nodders”— a style of shakers with a solid base and balancing salt and peppers that “nod”— rank high on the list of collectible shakers. They are rarer the other shakers. Most of the older nodder sets were made in Japan during the ‘30s and ‘40s, and may even be marked "Made in Occupied Japan.”
Here, all from Showcase S-601, are a series of nodders from Japan. Shown, left to right, is a set of “made in Japan” ducks ($40), a souvenir set from Carlsbad Caverns National Caverns Park. The rare bear shakers are souvenirs from the Lincoln Store U.S. Post Office, New Salem, Illinois ($44). The morbid set of nodding skulls has the lower teeth as part of the holder, and of all places, they are souvenirs for the romantic Niagara Falls ($48).
Here is another “made in Japan” set, a rare bear with his catches, which are the shakers ($39; Showcase S-601). This set definitely fits the definition of “novelty" shaker, which means figural or character shakers. Such are popular among collectors. The charming ocean liner, with smokestacks as its shakers, is another such example ($40; Showcase S-601).
This Mexican Sterling salt and pepper tray definitely ups the glamour ante for shakers ($58; Booth B-234). Each of the shakers carries a lovely engraved floral and leaf design on the sides, and the tray has engraved detailing as well. It was made in the colonial city of Taxco, Mexico, which is known worldwide as the city of silver; hundreds of silversmiths fashion pieces of renowned finesse from this location.
Vintage salt and pepper shakers are a fabulous Christmas gift for any collector, or for anyone who appreciates the whimsy of days gone by. At the dinner table, they can change the mood or theme for the whole setting. Buy some today to brighten a room, put on a shelf, or bring back sentimental memories.