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 Miniature Arcadia Knight & Dragon Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Miniature Arcadia Snake Charmer & Snake In Basket Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Miniature Arcadia Car & Gas Pump Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Ceramic Arts Studio Kissing Bunnies Rabbits Salt And Pepper ShakersEarly Georgian Antique Cut Glass Marriage Salt Dishes Rare Bride Groom PortraitsVintage Miniature Arcadia Cannibal & Potluck Man In Pot Salt & Pepper ShakersVtg 50s Mermaid Salt & Pepper Shakers Bikini Top Seashells Ocean/sea Japan GoldPy Vintage Anthropomorphic Red And Yellow Flowers Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Miniature Arcadia Beach Cabana & Bather In Sand Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Miniature Arcadia Sherlock Holmes Hat & Pipe & Book Salt Pepper ShakersVan Tellingen Mermaid And Sailor Mint 1950s Vintage Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Depression Era Mckee Jadite Glass Large Box Spice Kitchen Range ShakerVintage Miniature Arcadia Fireman's Hat & Axe & Hydrant With Hose Salt & Pepper Vintage Miniature Arcadia Trash Can & Incinerator Salt & Pepper ShakersVtg Lefton Bluebird Music Notes Salt Shaker JapanVintage Miniature Arcadia Windmill & Dutch Shoes Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Kansas Jayhawks Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Miniature School Books & Apple Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Japan Anthropomorphic Watermelon Ladies Salt And Pepper ShakersVtg Lefton Bluebird Music Notes Salt Shaker JapanVintage Napco Anthropomorphic Grape Heads Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Miniature Arcadia Baseball Bat & Hat & Glove & Ball Salt Pepper ShakersVintage Mckee Tipp Dancing Dutch Milk Glass Spice Shakers Cinnamon Flour JarsVintage Miniature Arcadia Zodiac Book & Birthstone Ring Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Anthropomorphic Porcelain Spoon Fork Be Mine Salt & Pepper Shaker PairVintage Lustro-ware Aqua Turquoise Salt & Pepper Shakers & Napkin Holder Vintage Kissing Hugging Mermaid & Sailor Salt And Pepper Shakers Huggies 1950'sDanish Modern Stelton Arne Jacobsen Cylinda 4pc Stainless Salt & Pepper SetVintage Cat Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Nodding Salt & Pepper Shakers Lot 3 Pc Mexico N Souvenir Animal Nodder GPair Of Miniature Ball Perfect Mason Fruit Jar Salt & Pepper Zinc LidsVintage Anamorphic Stingray Mermaid Fish Salt And Pepper Shakers -- To CuteVintage Ceramic Arts Studio Rabbit & Baby Nester Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage 3" Ucagco Japan Anthropomorphic Celery Salt & Pepper Shakers Too Cute!!Vintage White Milk Glass Salt And Pepper Shakers Red Metal Lids 3"Vintage Advertising Westinghouse Plastic Pink Washer/dryer S&p Shakers MibVintage Green Cats Salt & Pepper Shaker Made In JapanVintage Chicken Salt And Pepper Shaker Lot Rare Vintage Devil Pin-ups Ladies Salt And Pepper Shakers 50's Japan HalloweenHtf Vtg Arcadia Miniature Creel & Trout Salt & Pepper Shakers W/ Paper Stand EucVintage Mckee Milk Glass Red & Green Salt & Pepper Shakers Range SetVintage Miniature Teakettle & Pot Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Salt Pepper Shakers Enesco Sweet Shoppe Belle Cupcake Candy Girl BoyRosemeade Adorable Bear Salt And Pepper Unusual Glaze Vintage Anthropomorphic Tomato Heads Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Plastic Red & Yellow Toaster W/toast As S&p ShakersVtg Lot 5 Painted Collectible Salt & Pepper Shaker Set #3Antique 1873-1891 Tiffany & Co. Sterling Silver Pair Salt And Pepper ShakersMckee Vintage Jadeite Roman Arch Art Deco Salt Pepper Shakers Has Minor ChipsVintage (1958) Holt Howard Cozy Cats Salt & Pepper Shaker Set Marked & DatedMackenzie Childs Vintage Salt & Pepper ShakerVintage Py Miyao Anthropomorphic King Queen Cat Salt Pepper Shakers Japan KittenVintage Ball Perfect Mason Mini Salt & Pepper Shakers Zinc LidsVtg Lot 5 Painted Collectible State Us Salt & Pepper Shaker Set #44Vintage Enesco Holstein Cows Salt & Pepper Shaker SetVintage Old King Cole W/ Fiddler Musician Salt And Pepper Shakers #601 EucVintage Inarco Christmas Girls - Red W/white Muff Salt & Pepper Shakers - Japan Vintage Kids In Space Suits S&p ShakersVintage Salt And Pepper, Cat In A Basket--japan- Cute S&p Sett KittenVtg Lot 5 Painted Porcelain Cat Lover Collectible Salt & Pepper Shaker Set #19