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 Dansk Teak Wood Peppermill Danish Modern Mid CenturyVintage Christmas Holly Girls Salt & Pepper Set, Holt Howard-like, Made In JapanVintage 1950's Ethnic Luzianne Salt And Pepper Shakers And Coffee TinVintage Dansk Peugeot Lion Teak Wood Salt Shaker Pepper Mill Mid Century ModernLarge Lot Vintage Salt & Pepper Shakers Christmas-mr-mrs Claus Santa-elves JapanLarge Antique Hm 1872 Silver Open Table Salt Pot Cauldron Maker Rh 83g Not ScrapFab ! 40's Art Deco Vtg Gulf Station Gas Pump Salt & Pepper Shaker Set Oneida NySalt And Pepper Shakers, Vintage Miniatures Of Beach SceneLot Of 1950’s Vintage Salt & Pepper Shakers Lefton NapcoVintage Florida Souvenir Nodders Salt & Pepper Shakers Alligators Crocs JapanVintage Milk Glass White Salt Pepper Flour Sugar Shaker Set Of 4 ShakersVintage Milkglass Salt And Pepper ShakerVintage Anthropomorphic Beatrix Potter Reading Go-withs Salt Pepper ShakersMini Vintage Silver Viking Ship 830 Salt Cellar With Glass InsertRare Version Ao Smith Harvestore Systems Silo Salt Pepper Shakers S&p Farm SignVtg Rosemeade Pottery 2 Sets Of Song Bird Salt/pepper Shakers - North DakotaRare Van Tellingen Peek - A - Boo Bears Salt & Pepper Shaker Set Red Polka DotsVintage Black Memorabila Nodder Salt Pepper Shakers Watermelon T.t. JapanVintage Salem China North Star Salt & Pepper Shakers Mid-century Mod AtomicFabulous! Vintage Danish Modern Salt & Pepper Shakers Mid Century!Vintage Lion Tiger House Cat Salt And Pepper Shakers Red White And BlackVintage Plastic Salt & Pepper Shaker LotVintage Cowboy Nodder Salt & Pepper T.t. Japan ShakersVintage Pilgrim Thanksgiving Decorative Collectible Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Lot Arcadia Mini Salt And Pepper ShakersLarge Lot Antique-vintage Wooden Salt & Pepper Shakers Japan Origin HandpaintedVintage 1980 Kfs Popeye & Olive Oil Salt & Pepper ShakersOld Vintage Sarsaparilla 5 Dime Usa Astronaut, Flag Go-with Salt Pepper ShakersVintage Lot 2 Indian Nodders Salt & Pepper Shakers Japan Shy Squaw Hoosier Vintage Clear Glass Salt & Pepper Shakers Containers Canisters Names PrtVintage Chicks Amoco Pa American Gas Salt And Pepper Shakers Vintage Napco Ballerina Girl With Rhinestone Hair Pin Salt And Pepper ShakersRare Sinclair Gas Station Walford Iowa Ia Salt Pepper Shakers S&p Zebs Oil SignLettuce Head Pajama Baby Crawling Anthropomorphic Vintage S & P Shakers VgcVintage Ceramic Hen & Turkey Thanksgiving Salt & Pepper Shaker Set Made In JapanVintage Hand Painted Porcelain Salt & Pepper Shaker-tilso Japan-squirrel AcornsVintage Monk Friar Tuck Decorative Collectible Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Py Japan Anthropomorphic Sun Flower People Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Naughty Topless Mermaid Salt And Pepper ShakersVintage Leonard Silver Crystal Glass Salt & Pepper ShakersSmokey The Bear Fire Ranger Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Pepsi Salt And Pepper Shakers. Awesome!Salt And Pepper Shakers, Cherry Pie And Cup Of Coffee Vintage Miniatures Lot Of 4 Vintage Salt & Pepper ShakersAntique Art Glass Salt ShakerVintage Shawnee Smiley & Winnie Pig Salt & Pepper ShakersVintage Metal Virginia City Nv Piper's Opera House, Territorial Enterprise +traySalt And Pepper Shakers Rosemeade Cats Rare Great Shape Vintage CollectableRare Vintage Kitchen Witch Health Happiness Collectible Salt Pepper ShakerVintage Cobalt Blue Silver Plate Glass Salt And Pepper ShakersWaechtersbach Mr Dudley Red Christmas Tree Salt Shaker Pepper Grinder Vintage/retro Ribbed Glass Salt & Pepper Shakers Red Aluminum TopsVintage Salt And Pepper Shaker A Japan PieceOld Vintage Rosemeade Pottery Fox Terrier Salt Pepper Shakers -single 2 Hole Vintage Green Milk Glass Salt And Pepper ShakersSalt & Pepper Shakers - Nodders - CowboyNapco Salt & Pepper Shakers,anthropomorphic Vegetables,tomato & Cucumber,vintageVtg Mij Anthropomorphic Japan Peanut Baby Crawling Salt & Pepper Shaker 5 Pairs Vintage Japan Salt And Pepper Shaker Lot Porcelain Zoo AnimalsVintage Cat Salt And Pepper And Sugar Bowl, Japan