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]

Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Sterling Silver Usa Duchin Creation Pair Of Pepper & Salt ShakersVintage Py Anthropomorphic Iron Heads Salt & Pepper Shaker S & PVtg Dansk Peppermill Salt Pepper Mill Danish Modern Mid Century Peugot DenmarkRare Vintage Mermaid Salt & Pepper Shakers With Tray JapanVintage Silver Plate Shabby Chic Cruet Set On Tray - Salt, Peppererette, MustardOld/vintage Ceramic Huge Lot Of 19 Salt & Pepper Shakers SetsEva Zeisel Shmoo Salt And Pepper Shakers White ItalyArt Deco Chrome Chase Sphere Salt & Pepper Shaker Set Russel Wright DesignVintage T.t Monkey Salt And Pepper NoddersEdwardian Silver Plate Barker Ellis Cruet Boat Salt Cellar Mustard Blue LinersVintage 1950's Miniature Mixer & Bowl Salt & Pepper Shaker Set Vintage Marutomoware Crinoline Lady Condiment Set, S & P Shakers W/ Mustard Pot Vintage Anthropomorphic Flower Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Lefton Bird Salt Or Pepper Shaker #045 Japan W/ Rhinestone EyesLot Of 37 Piece Vintage Salt And Pepper Shakers-made In JapanVintage Danish Dansk Teak Salt And Pepper Mill-ihq-jens Quistgaard -1960’sVintage Anthropomorphic Apple Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Peek-a-boo - Van Tellingen - Regal China Salt & Pepper ShakersRare Vintage Napco Kissing Boy & Girl Devils Halloween Salt And Pepper ShakersCeramic Arts Studio Fish Head Up & Fish Head Down Salt & Pepper Shakers UsedRare Mid-century Modern Gunnar Cyren Dansk Teak Peugeot Peppermill & Salt ShakerVintage 1950s Arcadia Miniature Salt Pepper Shakers Perfume Bottle Powder JarVintage Hand Painted Kissing Deer Salt And Pepper ShakersLovely Michelsen Denmark Solid Silver And Enamel PepperVintage Luzianne Mammy Chicory Coffee Salt, Pepper - F&f Mold & Die Works - UsaVintage 3-pc Sarsaparilla N.y. Salt Pepper Shakers-1940's Hat Box Lady-gorgeous!Antique Sugar Shaker Cased Cobalt Blue Flash Cut To Clear Glass Brass Czech O10Lynda Corneille~swak~"sascha" Pink Poodle~dog~salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Germany Yellow Chick Chicken Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Shafford Redware Salt Pepper Shakers - Gold Trim Black Cats -halloweenCeramic Arts Studio Small & Large Cocker Spaniel Salt & Pepper Shakers UsedMckee By Tipp Usa Salt, Pepper, Flour And Sugar Shakers - Vintage Alaska Eskimo Polar Bear Salt & Pepper NoddersVtg Jeanette Jadite Green Glass Salt Pepper & Sugar Square Range Set Nice 1930sFabulous Vintage Pepper Grinder Boar's Head Pourer + Pheasant Top, Hand PaintedVintage Plastic Sewing Machine Salt And Pepper Shakers,unmarkedVintage Ceramic Arts Studio Mom & Baby Cats S&p ShakersVintage Mermaid On A Shell Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Anthropomorphic Baby Onion Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Rubbermaid 4 Ounce Salt & Pepper Shakers With Flip Top Lids ~ Camping RvVintage Plastic Then And Now Refrigerator Salt And Pepper Shakers, Hong KongVintage Hawaiian Hula Girls Salt And Pepper ShakersVtg Chinese Carved Hongshan Jade Multiple Figural Animal, Human. Pendant AmuletVintage Salt & Pepper Shakers Ceramic-kissing Scottish Dancers-by National PotteVintage Glass Salt & Pepper Shaker Set Lot Cobalt Emerald Green Red Avon Powder Lot Of Three Vintage Arcadia Mini Single Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Oriental Boy & Girl Salt And Pepper Shakers JapanVintage Pair Pyrex Glass Salt & Pepper Shakers W/ Gold Flowers, Butterflies UsaVintage Native American Brave Painted Horse Salt Pepper Shaker SetVintage Sealaway Plastray Salt & Pepper Shakers - Aqua Kitchen Decor - Orig. Pkg7 Pair Vintage Salt & Pepper Shakers: Poodle Seahorse Pigs Santa Ducks Cat BedVintage Clear Ribbed Glass Pepper Shaker Stove Top Metal Lid With TulipsVintage Hard Plastic Mammy Chicory Coffee Salt, Pepper -langniappe Of N.o. - UsaSet Of 4 Vintage Black Cased Milkglass Shakers Salt Pepper Flour Sugar Stove TopDanish Modern Stainless Steel And Rosewood Salt And Pepper Shakers-steltonVintage Victoria Ceramic Japan Salt Pepper Shaker Set Buck Deer WildlifeVintage Black Americana Chef Carrying Two Buckets On A Yolk S&p ShakersVintage Cartier Sterling Silver Salt Shaker Very Good ConditionVintage Black Americana Man Holding Melon Slice S&p ShakersVintage Advertising White Milk Glass Boy Girl Salt Pepper Shakers Dutham Pa