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    

Early Dansk Quistgaard Rare Teak Woods Pepper-mill Peugeot Danish Modern Jhq VtgVintage 3 3/4" Van Tellingen Mermaid Hugger Salt & Pepper Shakers VgcLot Of 8 Sets/pairs Disney Salt And Pepper Shakers Htf Rare Mickey Vintage DumboVintage Frankoma Pottery Blue Bull Salt & Pepper Set Bottom Marked No DamageVintage Tipp Milk Glass Rooster Salt & Pepper Shaker Set With Metal Rack-1950's Danish Modern Ihq Dansk Pepper Mill Salt Shaker Combo Jens Quistgaard PeugeotCollection Of 19 Vintage Various Wood Pepper Mills & Salt Shakers Peugeot, EtcVintage Norway Sterling Silver Salt Pepper Set Cobalt Blue Enamel Crystal GlassVintage Laurel Burch Pair Ceramic Kitty Cat Salt And Pepper Shakers Set ~ Ganz1940's Vintage Salt & Pepper Pots Cartoon Like Bambi Deers Very Cute PairVintage Mammy Salt And Pepper Shakers And HolderVintage Twin Winton Sugar Puss Kittens Salt & Pepper - 1930-40s JapanVintage Lefton Japan Miss Priss 1511 Cat Kitty Salt And Pepper Shakers Blue Vintage Lefton Dainty Miss Anthropomorphic Smiling Lady Salt & Pepper Shakers Old Vintage Rosemeade Pottery Awesome Color! Elephant Salt Or Pepper Shaker Salt & Pepper Set, Green Bird Couple W/ Bells, Made In Japan, Holt Howard LikeLot Vintage Animal Salt & Pepper Shakers Elephants Birds Chickens Frogs TurtlesDisney Cardew Collection Pluto & Goofy Anthropomorphic Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Enesco Anthropomorphic "the Worlds Sick" Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Sterling Silver Duchin Creation Glass Inserts Salt & Pepper ShakersPair Old Pink Jeanette Floral / Pointsetta Salt & Peppers W/ Good Original Tops2 Piece Ceramic Vintage Girl Red Bathing Suit Pin-up @ Alligator Salt & PepperVintage Napco Anthropomorphic Veggie Music Salt Pepper Shakers-3-free ShippingCats Siamese Salt And Pepper Shakers Japan Tall Vintage1967 Worlds Fair Boy And Girl Salt And Pepper Shaker S&pVintage Perky Penguin Chef Anthropomorphic Salt Pepper Shakers Retro 50's JapanVintage 1970s Ceramarte Budwieiser Budman Salt & Pepper Shakers 4" Nwob Mint Vintage Van Tellingen Small Peek-a-boo Salt & Pepper Shakers ~ Gold TrimRare Lot 7 Rio Hondo/ Walker/calif. Pottery Salt Peppers Singles And FigurinesLot 3 Pairs Vintage Cat Salt + Pepper Shakers Artmark JapanCeramic Dimetrodon Dinosaur Salt & Pepper Shaker Set, Vintage JapanCollection Of Fish Salt & Pepper ShakersStar Trek Phaser Salt And Pepper Shakers 1997 Mint In Original BoxAdorable Vtg Happy Anthropomorphic Flower Salt Pepper Shakers Py JapanVintage Gorham Pewter Octette Salt And Pepper Shakers Pepper Grinder MillVintage Christmas Carolers Salt And Pepper Shakers Japan NewberrysAntique Rare Ball Perfect Mason Canning Jars Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Salt N Pepper Shakers, Pie Birds And Small Cast Iron BankVintage Park Green Silver Plated Pepper Grinder Lighthouse Peter Piper StyleVintage Native American Fred Harvey Era Thunderbird Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Enesco Yellow Golden Gils Salt & Pepper Shakers. Htf Rare And CuteVtg Salt Pepper Shaker Lot Animals People Go Together Food JapanVintage Napco Lefton Salt & Pepper Shakers Kissing Cowboy And Cowgirl S1286Vintage 1950's Kromex Copper Tone Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Ball Mason Jar Salt & Pepper ShakersTupperware Set Midget Salt & Pepper Shakers 2 Purple W/ Purplicious Flip SealVtg Arcadia Mini Salt & Pepper "go With" Set! Accordion & Records Musical! Ex/c!Vintage 1940s-50's Ceramic Cheerleader W/megaphone Salt & Pepper Shakers—by VierVintage Friar Monk Creamer, Sugar And Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Anthropomorphic Elephants Trunk Tricks S P Shaped Salt & Pepper ShakersBoxer Boxing Boy Baby Babies Salt And Pepper Shaker S&pVintage Bacchante Quaker Silver Plated Salt And Pepper Shakers Grapes 533 S.p.Retro 1980s Glazed Ceramic House / Cottage Halves Salt & Pepper Shakers, ChinaVintage Niagara Falls, Canada Bride & Groom Just Married Salt & Pepper ShakersLustro Ware Vintage Salt & Pepper Shaker Set Rare 1950's Made In Usa Red WhiteVintage 1940's 3 Piece Black Americana Dice Players Salt & Pepper Shaker SetVintage Ceramic Go With Horseshoe & Jockey Cap Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Ceramic Deer Salt & Pepper Shakers Vintage Anchor Hocking Tulip Lids Crystal Ribbed Salt & Pepper ShakersDarling Vintage Large Bambi Fawn Baby Deer Salt & Pepper Set Original Corks