Antique and Vintage Salt and Pepper Shakers

In the United States, the phrase “vintage salt-and-pepper shakers” brings pairs of kitschy pink elephants, playful black-and-white kittens, and matching Jack terriers to mind. But in 18th- and 19th-century England, more traditional looking salt-and-pepper shakers (also called pots or casters in those days) were produced in a range of striped or patterned earth tones.

The medium for these antique shakers was a type of slip-decorated ceramic called mochaware. Effects included dark treelike shapes that were produced by dropping an acidic solution containing urine (how, one wonders, did they discover that…) onto an object’s wet surface before firing. Other designs such as cat’s eyes were achieved by applying multiple colors of slip from a multi-chambered pot in repeated or hand-manipulated patterns. As for the shapes of the shakers themselves, they were typically rounded at the top and footed at the base with pear-shaped bodies, although some were produced as straight-sided cylinders.

In the 19th century, Staffordshire potteries produced salt-and-pepper shakers as parts of cruet sets. Many of these were novelty characters with pink cheeks and big hats. In the 1900s, with the advent of movies, shakers with character heads in the shapes of stars like Laurel and Hardy were popular—later, Staffordshire firms made more respectful sets bearing the stern images of famous cricket players either bowling or up to bat.

In 20th-century America, several trends were simultaneously in play. The first was toward a clean, white, sanitary look. That spawned square salt-and-pepper shakers made of milk glass and capped by threaded, metal lids in black, silver, Mandarin red, and Delft blue.

The painted designs on the sides of these milk glass shakers tended to be plain and simple—a Dutch boy or girl, a windmill, a black Scottie dog, flowers. Most lids were punctured with as few as one hole for pepper and multiple holes for salt, but some had dots forming the letters “S” or “P” drilled into their tops, lest there be any confusion about the contents inside.

McKee Glass Company, which made some of the earliest cookie jars, also made simple square shakers in the 1930s but chose Art Deco lettering instead of painted designs for most of its exteriors. McKee also bucked the milk-white trend in favor of colors such as amber, ruby, and a green hue called jadite, which glowed in the dark when exposed to a black light.

Of course, ceramic shakers were also popular, and Fiesta was just one of many mainstream brands that offered customers salt-and-pepper shakers to match its dinnerware line. In Fiesta’s case, the shakers were shaped like small, footed balls in whatever colors were in the Fiesta catalog at the time, be it medium green or persimmon. Shakers in the Harlequin line, which was Fiesta’s economy sister brand, looked like Art Deco ice-cream cones that tapered at the bottom until they encountered the shaker’s stabilizing foot...

A highly collectible category of World War II-era ceramic shaker is Blackamoor. These shakers typically featured caricatures of African-American Mammy and Chef figures, either full bodied or just as a bust. A bow usually topped Mammy’s head while Chef wore the obligatory white hat—one of the two usually held a mixing spoon.

In fact, around this time, numerous companies were leaving their marks on vintage ceramic salt-and-pepper shakers. McCoy made shakers that looked like vegetables, Enesco favored tiny creatures like mice and snails, Parkcraft made shakers in the shapes of states (Idaho was matched by a potato, Iowa by an ear of corn, etc.), while Lefton excelled at bluebirds and a bonneted kitten character it called Miss Priss.

Napco had a character too, Miss Cutie Pie, whose impossibly adorable face graced countless shaker designs. Sometimes these shakers featured handles glazed in the same color and pattern as the urchin’s hat, but most Miss Cutie Pie shakers were nothing but a sweetly smiling head.

Holt-Howard’s gimmick in the 1950s was something called pixieware, which describes any of its wide-faced, cartoon figures that graced the tops of everything from condiment jars to salt-and-pepper shakers. The ’50s and ’60s were also an era of plastic, which meant shakers could take shapes that might have appeared clumsy in ceramics. Thus, toasters, washing machines, and even lawn mowers were all re-imagined as salt-and-pepper shakers. Nicer plastic shakers were made of richly colored Bakelite or clear, contents-revealing Lucite.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Feeding America

Feeding America

This archive of 76 influential American cookbooks from the late 1700s to early 1900s, assembled by the Michigan St… [read review or visit site]

Tupper Diva

Tupper Diva

Kristian McManus’ fresh, airtight collection of Tupperware catalogs and related ephemera from the 1950s and 6… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Anthropomorphic Humpty Dumpty Salt & Pepper Shakers Set 1956Superb, Vintage Sterling Silver Cruet Set, Salt Pepper & Mustard Fully BoxedVintage Rare Miniature Go With Arcadia Cannibal & Potluck Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage & Rare 1956 Evinrude Outboard Motor Salt & Pepper Shaker Set With StandsRare 4pc German Luster Porcelain Figural Clown Salt Pepper Mustard Condiment SetVintage Modern Design Mid-century Teak Nissen Digsmed Pepper MillOld Vintage Anthropomorphic Flower Hat Blue Birds Salt & Pepper ShakersOld Vintage Arcadia Miniature Safe & Safe Cracking Tools Salt Pepper Shakers SetOld Vintage Anthropomorphic Blue Birds Rhinestone Eyes #239 Salt Pepper ShakersFreeman Lederman White Salt And Pepper ShakerOld Vintage Haha!! Anthropomorphic Dance Peeling Bananas Salt Pepper ShakersVintage Yellow Cat Singing In Violin Salt And Pepper Shaker Set 1950'sVintage Walter Lantz Andy & Miranda Panda #1c3635 Napco Salt & Pepper ShakersOld Vintage Mini Go With Arcadia Gingerbread Man Rolling Pin Salt Pepper ShakersVintage Anthropomorphic Flowers Salt & Pepper Shakers - FyVintage Pepsi Salt And Pepper Shakers-pepsi Cola Co.- Older, Rare Version!Vintage Sigma Tastesetter Kliban Cat Egg Hatching Single Pepper Shaker NibRare Vintage Arcadia Bottle Of Coke Coca Cola & Hot Dog Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Aunt Jemima Uncle Moses Plastic Salt & Pepper Shaker Pair Old Vintage Arcadia Miniature Go With Rainbow, Pot Of Gold Salt & Pepper ShakersOld Vintage Anthropomorphic Py Happy Apple Girls Salt Pepper Shakers SetDsw/not Mws 3 Baby Blue Birds In Nest W/ Loving Mom Salt & Pepper ShakersOld Vintage Arcadia Miniature Boy & Girl Pixie Elves Salt & Pepper ShakersRosemeade Large Mouth Bass Fish S & P Shaker -excellent Detailed DecorationVintage Salt And Pepper, Lot Of 40, Some Very Unusual!Vintage Salt & Pepper Shakers / Luzianne Black Characters S&p / 3/7-3/10Vintage Arcadia Sausage & Eggs Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage See, Hear, Speak No Evil Monkey "one Piece" Salt & Pepper ShakerVintage Japan Deco Lady Single Shaker Luster Porcelain Noritake Type MijOld Vintage Arcadia Miniature Go With Hooked Worm & Fish Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Salt & Pepper Shakers W/ Stoppers Flower Girls Napco Japan Aug S&pSigned Vtg Mid Century Danish Modern Teak Rare Woods Salt Pepper Set Dansk Era Old Vintage Miniature Arcadia Moonshine Jug & Whiskey Barrel Salt Pepper ShakersOld Vintage Anthropomorphic Napco Hat Head Boys Salt & Pepper Shakers Set1940's Vintage Stangl Ross Ware Kangaroo & Joey Salt & Pepper Shakers Stackers Vintage Dansk Teak Wood Salt Shaker Pepper Mill Grinder No ReserveOld Vintage Miniature Go With Arcadia Desk & Chair Salt & Pepper Shakers SetVintage 1950's Tv Salt & Pepper Shakers Picture Frame Original Box InstructionsOld Vintage Love It! Go With Stork Has A Baby Delivery Salt & Pepper Shakers SetVintage Miniature Go With Arcadia Sailboat & Lighthouse Salt & Pepper Shakers Old Vintage Anthropomorphic Wake Up!! Alarm Clocks Salt & Pepper Shakers SetVtg 50s Red Lustro Ware Plastic Small Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Tipp Usa Depression Glass 9 Piece Spice Shakers-milk White-flower BasketVintage Arcadia Cute! Go With Blue Bonnet Bird & Egg Nest Salt Pepper Shakers Vintage 1957 Yona Original Clowns Salt And Pepper Shaker SetOld Vintage Miniature Usa Plastic Advertising Agway Gas Pump Salt Pepper Shakers6 Vintage Sterling Silver Salt & Pepper Shakers By V.l. With Original BoxVintage Shafford Organ Gringer And Monkey Salt And Pepper Shaker SetBeswick Pottery Dickens Micawber & Sairey Gamp Cruet Salt & Pepper Set C.1954Classic Vintage Style Clear Depression Glass Lidded Salt Storage Jar Cellar NewVintage Sea Horses S&p ShakersOld Vintage Miniature Arcadia Icecream Soda Straw Container Salt Pepper ShakersVintage Old Black Americana Salt Pepper Shakers Mammy Blue Flowers Large Size Old Vintage Miniature Go With Bible & Lantern Salt Pepper Shakers SetVintage Metal Rack For Tipp City Or Hazel Atlas ShakersVintage Black Americana Salt & Pepper Shakers 2 Sets- Boy On ElephantMckee Milk Glass Salt And Pepper Shaker And Refrigerator Dish SetHolt Howard Sailor Salt & Pepper Shakers, ’Unusual Vintage Milk Glass With Black Silhouettes Range Set Salt & Pepper SetVintage Bobbing Head Ceramic Bride And Groom Pig Shakers/nodders