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 Used Mermaid Salt & Pepper Shakers--japanVintage Ceramic Nude Mermaid Salt And Pepper Shaker SetVintage Bluebird (norcrest?) Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Sweet Birds In Hats W/rhinestone Eyes Py Salt&pepper -1960s Lefton JapanVintage Cir 1930's Japanese Bambi Spotted Deer Salt & Pepper Shaker SetVintage 2 Pairs Rosemeade Mallard Ducks And Spaniel Dogs Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Jadeite Sugar And Flour ShakersVintage Lot (12) Pairs Of Animal Salt & Pepper Shakers 1940's Thru 1960'sVintage Rare Cowboy & Cowgirl Salt & Pepper Shakers 1940's Thru Early 1960'sAntique Vintage Green Depression Glass Salt & Pepper ShakersLauren Giftcraft Mid Century Modern Mcm Salt Pepper S&p Shaker Egg Cup HoldersVintage Jadeite Salt Pepper Sugar And Flour ShakerArcadia Miniatures Phone & Typewriter Salt & Pepper Shakers 1957 Still PackagedBeswick Laurel & Hardy Cruet Set On Stand Salt Pepper VintageVintage Ceramic Evil Devil Mask Salt And Pepper Shaker SetAntique Salt And Pepper Shakers With Beautiful Design And Enamel Tops In Box. Vintage Py Japan Distributed By Enesco Rare Bear Salt And Pepper ShakersRare Vintage Tellingen 4” Peek-a-boo Bunny Salt And Pepper Set Nr Vintage Sweet Mother Cow & Babe Salt&pepper- 1940s Ceramic Arts Studio, Usa Salt And Pepper, Antique,black Americana, Boy And Girl, ValentineVintage Py Lefton Music Sheet Girls Angels Salt And Pepper Shakers Very NiceVintage Adorable Lefton Little Girl Candy Cane Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Py Japan Typewriter Heads Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Beautiful Purple Bluebirds Bride And Groom Salt And Pepper Shakers Adorable Vintage Christmas Anthropomorphic Salt & Pepper Shakers (lefton)Vtg. Japanese 950 Sterling Silver Geta Shoes Open Salt & Pepper Shacker W/box Arcadia "go With" Salt & Pepper Shakers Mixed Lot Of 10 Singles Vtg As-is Set BArcadia Miniatures Mouse & Mouse Trap Salt & Pepper Shakers 1957 Still PackagedVintage Py Japan Strawberry Anthropomorphic Salt And Pepper Shakers Salt & Pepper Shakers Vtg Black Cat Kitten Halloween Pumpkin AnthropomorphicVintage Blue Bird Anthropomorphic Single ShakerNib Vintage Old Ball Mason Jar Salt & Pepper Shakers 70's Promotion *ships Free*Assorted Vintage Salt And Pepper Shakers (# 4)Vintage Real Bone Stag Horn Antler Salt & Pepper Shakers Man Cave Cabin DecorVintage Rare Vallona Starr Cactus On Boulder Lizard On Rock Salt & Pepper EeucVintage Holland America Line Cruise Ship Silver Plate Egg Salt And Pepper ShakerVintage Red Bakelite Salt & Pepper Shakers With Tray Original Vintage Salt And Pepper Shakers Lot Of 19 Companions To Cookie JarsVintage Lot (10) Pr Various Salt & Pepper Shakers 40's - 60's Occupied JapanVintage Rare People Chef Salt & Pepper Shakers 1940's Thru Early 1960'sVintage Anthropomorphic Happy Pear Face Couple Salt & Pepper - 1950s JapanUnusual Early Silver Champagne Bottle Cayenne And Pepper Shakers 1800sFish Head, Salt & Pepper Shaker Set, Vintage, Original Price $.59 On Bottom!Vtg. Lefton Green Christmas Tree Salt & Pepper Shaker Set (054n) W/ BoxDansk Teak Pepper Mill Grinder Jhq Denmark # 1Old/vintage Ceramic Rosemeade Gophers Salt & Pepper Shakers Vintage Anthropomorphic Miyao Cabbage Head Farm Girl Salt And Pepper Shakers Salt And Pepper Grinder Set Peugeot France Stainless WoodVintage Texaco Gas Pumps Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Lot Of Salt & Pepper Shakers - Dog Collection- Some Japanese Old & NewVintage Milk Glass Range Set Salt Pepper Flour Sugar Shakers4 Sets Of Pottery S & P Shakers Rosemeade Cabbage Acadia Boots Goebel Cats ....Vintage Enesco 'the Waltz' Dancing Spoon & Fork Anthro Salt&pepper -1950s JapanLot Of 5 Sets Vintage Plastic And Metal Salt And Pepper Shakers S/pVintage Made In Japan Salt And Pepper Shakers WitchesVintage 1959 Napco Boy And Girl Kissing On Bench Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage 1950's A.o. Smith Harvestore Blue Ceramic Sale & Pepper ShakersVtg Antique Limoges France Elite Works Demitasse 6-sided Gold Trim Cup SaucerVintage Poodle Dog Pink Bows Salt Pepper Shakers JapanVintage Black Plastic Barbeque Grill Salt And Pepper Shakers