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 1958 Holt Howard Salty Pixieware Salt ShakerSet Of Vintage Red Pixies Elves On Space Rockets Salt & Pepper ShakersAntique Eapg Northwood Quilted Phlox Blue Milk Glass Salt Sugar Shaker MuffineerVintage Standard Gas Pumpe Shaped Salt & Pepper Shakers Iola WisconsinVintage Cat Salt And Pepper Shakers With Napkin Holder Signed Holt HowardAntique Eapg Northwood Quilted Phlox Jadite Green Salt Sugar Shaker MuffineerVintage Miniature Mini Usa Ball Mason Jar Salt And Pepper S&p Canning PreservingVintage Dansk Teak Wood Salt Shaker Pepper Mill GrinderVintage 950 Sterling Silver Japanese Sandals Flip Flops Salt & Pepper Shakers!Vintage Art Glass Salt Or Pepper Shaker Blue Bubbled Ribbed Glass Fenton Style Vintage Napco May Salt & Pepper Shakers Girls W/pansy Hat 1c3025 3-3/4" High Old Vintage Usa Plastic Advertising Miniature Humble Esso Gas Pumps ShakersLarge Vtg/modern Lot Of 75 Sets Salt & Pepper Shakers 150 In All! Excellent CondVan Tellingen Peek-a-boo Large Salt Pepper Shakers White Gold Regal ChinaAntique Sterling Silver Salt & Pepper Shakers Duchin Creation Glass Lined Mobil - Mobilgas - Pegasus Vintage Gas Pump Salt & Pepper Shakers UsedVintage Aqua Green/blue Glass Hobnail Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Red Apple Salt & Pepper Wall Hanger Shelf Set 50s 60s Plastic Kitchen Disney Circus Dumbo & Timothy Ring Master Anthropomorphic Salt Pepper ShakersMobil - Mobilgas - Pegasus Vintage Gas Pump Salt & Pepper Shakers UsedVintage Blue/green & Red Japan Pixie Elf Salt & Pepper Shakers1958 Vintage Retro Cat Head Salt And Pepper Shakers Holt Howard JapanVintage Mouse And Cheese Salt And Pepper Shakers Lefton Japan ChristmasTreasure Craft Peanuts Snoopy, Woodstock Anthropomorphic Salt & Pepper ShakersTropico Diffusion Goofy Stacking Hat Anthropomorphic Disney Salt Pepper ShakersVintage Hp Porcelain Humpty Dumpty Salt & Pepper Shaker SetVintage Animated Faces Porcelain Bowling Ball & Pin Salt & Pepper Shaker Vintage F&f Mold & Die Works Aunt Jemima Uncle Moses Salt Pepper Shakers PlasticLaurel Burch Kitty Cats Shakers Salt & Pepper Set Black & Vibrant Color Art UsedVintage Kissing & Winking Polka Dot Ceramic Fish ShakersVintage Green Depression Glass Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Mid- Century Dansk Teak Carafe Jens Quistgaard Pepper Mill DenmarkVintage Humpty Dumpty Nursery Rhyme Salt & Pepper Shaker Set Anthropomorphic Vtg Decoware Set 2 Metal Canister Salt Pepper Shakers Kitchen Red Floral PoppyVintage Hand Crank Wooden Grinder Mill Coffee Salt Pepper Spices Wood Base MetalVintage Sonsco Japan Risque Old Dancing Couple Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Tube Tv Retro Salt And Pepper Shakers Doll House FurnitureVintage Ceramic Rooster & Hen Salt & Pepper Shaker SetWarner Bros. Tweety Bird Muffin Baker Anthropomorphic Salt Pepper ShakersVintage Cat And Dog In Baskets Salt And Pepper ShakersLot Of Five Vintage Patriotic Salt And PeppersVintage Vantellingen Salt And Pepper Shaker LotVintage Lefton 50's Pilgrim And Pumpkin Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Mini Arcadia Unusual Rare Bugle & Drum Set Salt & Pepper ShakersStaffordshire Elf China Salt And Pepper Shakers -signed MorloyJadeite Green Milk Glass Salt & Pepper Shakers Round W Rings Range Size 4Cowboy & Cowgirl 1950's Ceramic Salt & Pepper Shaker Set - Colorful & CuteVintage Ball Perfict Mason Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Japan Painted Woman Golf Ball Head Art Deco Salt Or Pepper ShakerOccupied Japan Vintage Tropical Fish On Coral Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Pyrex Glass Salt & Pepper Shakers Plastic Lids BlueVintage 2 1/2" Antique Sewing Machine 2 Drawer Salt & Pepper ShakerVintage Miniature Mini Usa Ball Mason Jar Salt And Pepper S&p Canning PreservingBeautiful Antique Hand Painted Glass Salt & Pepper Shakers W/ Silverplate HolderEspn Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Drip & Drop Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage "good-bye Cruel World" Ceramic Salt & Pepper Shaker SetCeramic Arts Studio Madison Ws Polar Bear Mom & Cub Salt & Pepper Shakers Hand Painted Glazed Ceramic Farmer & Wife Salt & Pepper Pots Dog Chicken SignedHolt Howard Cat Salt & Pepper Shakers - Cute, Nice Condition