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 Norwegian Sterling Silver & Guilloche Enamel Top Salt & Pepper Pots 1960Beautiful Unusual Antique Victorian Cat Shaped Pepper Pot, Good Aged ConditionVintage Anthropomorphic Japan Norcrest?pink&green Bird Salt&pepper Shakers*cute*Vintage Anthropomorphic Japan Norcrest/lego?blue Bird Salt&pepper Shakers*cute*Vintage Danish Modern Dansk Denmark Design Salt & Pepper Peugeot GrinderCarrol Boyes South African Functional Art Man & Woman Salt Pepper Shakers Vintage Napco Kissing Bird Sweetheart Couple Anthro Salt&pepper - 1960s JapanSwid Powell Silver Pepper Grinder By Richard MeireVintage Ball Perfect Mason Jar Salt & Pepper Shakers~1933~century Of ProgressionVintage Anthropomorphic Py Tomato Head Boys Salt&pepper -1940-50s ,ucagco, JapanVintage Sweet Mother Bunny Rabbit &babe Salt&pepper-1940s Ceramic Arts Studio UsVintage Rosemeade Boston Terrier Heads S&p ShakersVintage Heckle & Jeckle Cartoon Crow Bird Figurines Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Tipp Usa Milk Glass Salt Pepper Sugar Flour Shakers Range SetVintage Napco Little Chefs Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Ceramic Deer W/ Bells Salt & Pepper Shakers Lot S-13 RAntique Copper Artillery Shell Salt & Pepper Shakers Original Mine Butte, MtVintage Py Japan Pineaple Anthro Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Ceramic Blue Mice Salt & Pepper Shakers Lot S-13 SVintage Py 1a2066 Bulldog Salt & Pepper Shakers-original Napco Stickers!Vintage Tappan Mckee Fired Milk Glass Salt Shaker Yellow Broken Pepper LidVintage Anthropomorphic Green Pepper Guys In Baskets Salt&pepper - 1960s, JapanVintage Dressed Opossum Driving A Car Salt&pepper Set - 1950s, JapanVintage Tipp Milk Glass Sugar And Flour Shakers Scotty Dog Vintage Salt & Pepper Shakers - Fish With Human Smile! - Crazy Fun! - Sp032304Vintage Cake Gold Server Plate Slice Ceramic Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Old Fashioned Couple Ceramic Salt & Pepper Shakers Lot S-9 CVintage Wrestlers S&p ShakersVintage Anthropomorphic Japan Norcrest?pink Bird W/nest Salt&pepper Shakers CuteLundy Island - Vintage Salt & Pepper With Hand Painted Lundy PuffinsGoebel Friar Tuck Musician Monks Monk Salt And Pepper Shakers Western GermanyVintage Vallona Starr Cat & Milk Bottle S&p ShakersVtg Japan Kissing Giraffe Salt And Pepper Shakers CuteD32) Vtg Black Americana Mammy Uncle Tom Lot Salt & Pepper Shakers JapanVintage Salt & Pepper Shakers - Japan -fancy Night Out On The Town - Sp032301Vintage Cat And Mouse Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Goebel Salt & Pepper Shakers - Kissing Boy And GirlWest Elm White Ceramic Salt And Pepper Shakers Vintage Cartier Sterling Silver And Gold Salt & Pepper ShakersAntique .800 Silver "dutch Girl" Figural Salt Pepper Shaker, Made In GermanyVintage Ceramic Patchwork Scottie Dog Salt And Pepper Shakers Napco?Vintage Walt Disney Mickey&minnie Mouse Squeaker Salt&pepper Set -1952, JapanVintage Aluminum Salt And Pepper - Just Like Grandmas 1950'sLot Of 10 Sets Vintage Salt And Pepper Shakers S/p # 10Vintage S&p Shakers - Anthropomorphic Frog Musicians - Lily Pad - Sp032701Vintage Salt & Pepper Shaker & Base - Japan - "swimming Fish" - Sp032401Bunny With Eggs On Cart Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Polar Bear On Iceberg Combo Salt & Pepper Egg CupsVintage Bright Eye Owl Set Salt And Pepper Shakers JapanRca Nipper / Phonograph Vintage Salt & Pepper Shakers Five Ad Dime Originals Rare Baby & Alligator Vintage Black Americana Salt And Pepper Shakers!!!Very Rare Vintage Black Americana Mad Couple Salt & Pepper Shakers!!!Vtg 50s Anthropomorphic Banana Strawberry Napco Salt Pepper Shaker Set JapanVintage Cutest Toddler Salt And Pepper Shakers I Have Ever SeenVintage Salt And Pepper Shakers 3 LotsVintage Bone China Salt And Pepper Shakers Green W/pink Roses Gold TrimVintage Sailor Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Ceramic Arts Studio Dressed Pigs S&p ShakersVintage Piggy Pig Silver Metal Color And Pink Glass Salt And Pepper ShakersChristofle France Silverplate Mid Century Retro Vintage Salt And Pepper