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    

Silver Plate Salt & Pepper Mustard Pot Cruet Plato Epns Made In England RareVintage Anthropomorphic Cute Lemon Head Salt & Pepper ShakersVtg Elephant & Circus Performers Bobblehead Nodders Salt & Pepper Shakers Nice!Dansk Designs Denmark Vtg Danish Modern Peugot Teak Pepper Mill Salt Shaker SetVintage Anthropomorphic Cute Lemon Face Salt & Pepper ShakersAntique Solid Silver Pair Of William Comyns Pepper Pots Cruet Set LondonVintage 4 Pc Hazel Atlas Milk Glass Range Set Salt Pepper Sugar Flour ShakerMckee White Glass Red Dot Pepper ShakerVintage Christmas Mid Century Santa Salt & Pepper Set Rare Set Santa W ChimneyLot Of 35 Pairs, Antique, Vintage, Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Green Depression Glass Salt & Pepper Shaker With Tray Lot Bc2Vintage Crown Lynn Potteries New Zealand Salt And Pepper Shakers V Good Cond.Vintage Germany Bulldogs Dogs Condiment Set Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Empire Sterling Silver Salt & Pepper Shaker Set Glass Lined Weighted OldVintage Pair Of Sterling Silver Salt & Pepper Cellars With Sterling SpoonsVintage Oak Peugeot Pepper Mill , Vintage Anthropomorphic Ceramic Norcrest Birds W/feathers Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Amber Hanging Hobnail Glass Owl Salt & Pepper Shaker Set Pair W/standVintage Cut Glass With Silver Tone Tops Salt & Pepper ShakerVintage Hazel Atlas Milk Glass Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Anthropomorphic Lemon & Orange Head Ladies Salt & Pepper ShakersNib Vintage Old Ball Mason Jar Salt & Pepper Shakers 70's Promotion 3 Day Sale Vintage Pyrex Corelle Old Town Blue Onion Salt And Pepper Shakers1998 Grateful Dead Salt & Pepper Shakers Teddy Bears!Vintage Salt & Pepper Shakers/bulls/relco/hand Painted/japanVintage Waddles Restaurant Duck Salt & Pepper Shakers~portland Or~occupied JapanVintage Napco Miss Cutie-pie Salt And Pepper Shakers Never Used!1962 Arrow Jfk John F. Kennedy In Rocking Chair Antique Salt & Pepper ShakersAntique/vintage Red & White Rooster/chicken (egg Shaped Salt & Pepper Shakers)Rare Vintage "to Mars" Enesco Space Boy & Rocket Salt & Pepper Shakers Vtg Black Americana Alligator Plastic Salt And Pepper Ozarks Mo-occupied JapanVintage Scottie Dogs In A Basket Salt & Pepper Shakers Turkeys Vintage Retro 1950s Turkey Ceramic Salt And Pepper ShakersVtg Black Cat & Kitten Bobblehead Nodders Patent T.t Salt & Pepper Shakers Jeannette Jadeite Range Set Salt, Pepper, And FlourVintage Nude Naked Lady/ Pin Up Girl With Boob Salt & Pepper Shakers RisqueLot Of Antique, Vintage, Collectable Character Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Enesco "dearie Is Weary" Salt & Pepper Shakers, Napkin Holder Set JapanVintage 1960's Santa Claus And Mrs. Claus Kissing Salt & Pepper Shakers ChristmVintage Antique Bakelite Treadle Sewing Machine Salt & Pepper S&p ShakersVintage Lefton S & P Shakers/santa & Mrs Claus In Rocking ChairsVintage Napco Japan Ceramic Salt & Pepper Shakers Musical Peach & Pear GuitarVintage Planters Mr. Peanut Salt & Pepper Shakers. 4 Inches Shawnee Heart Flower Jug Range Size Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Pair Ceramic Salt/pepper Shakers: Cat KittenVintage Ceramic Japan Anthropomorphic Owl Salt & Pepper ShakersFiestaware Pitcher And Salt/pepper Shakers Great ConditionVintage Kromex Spun Aluminum Salt & Pepper Shaker Set Pink LidsVintage Mid Century Wooden Salt & Pepper Shaker Modern Teak Pigs Danish DesignVintage Salt And Pepper Of Siamese Cats Lot Of 17 Christmas Salt & Pepper Shakers New & VintageVintage Fenton Crystal Green Glass Salt And Pepper Shakers. Silver Lids. AmazingVintage Mid Century Retro Tiny Tv Television W/ Pop Up Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Norcrest Christmas Mice Mouse Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Mini Ball Perfect Mason Canning Jars Pepper ShakerVintage Slavery Salt & Pepper Shaker Set - Aunt Jemima And Uncle Mose Vintage Orange Crab Ceramic Salt Pepper Shakers Vintage Miss Priss Winking Kitty Cat Salt & Pepper Shakers Enesco JapanVintage Anthropomorphic Baby Lemon Head Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Mouse Salt And Pepper Shakers