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Salt & Pepper Shakers

Author: Maria Matson
Issue: May, 2013, Page 40
Photos by David B. Moore

Available in an array of materials, styles and subsets, salt and pepper shakers range from the highly elegant to the cute and wacky. Pictured from left to right: a vintage Florentine salt shaker and pepper grinder, a set made of cobalt blue glass encased in a silver filagree overlay, and statuesque bowling shakers.



history, Highlights and helpful Hints

It’s hard to imagine salt without pepper. It’s like Romeo without Juliet, Batman without Robin. And, among the classic culinary pairings—peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, cookies and milk—there is arguably none more ubiquitous than salt and pepper. The duo can be found, side by side, almost anywhere food is served, from white-tablecloth restaurants and greasy spoons to stately dining rooms and cozy home kitchens.

But it hasn’t always been this way. Both salt and pepper have long been prized for improving the flavor of food. However, one common theory notes they didn’t come together on the table until the 17th century, when King Louis XIV of France deemed pepper the only suitable spice for the extravagant meals served to his court at Versailles. There, on dishes that gave birth to classic French cuisine, salt and pepper ruled, although in small bowls rather than in shakers.

The pairing trickled down to the masses and, when Morton Salt introduced free-flowing salt in the 1920s, ceramics manufacturers started churning out salt and pepper shakers in all shapes and sizes, subsequently setting off the collecting gene in folks around the world. 

Aptly named “Bunny Hug,” these shakers are a style known as “huggers.” The separate shakers can essentially be held together to dispense salt and pepper at the same time. Made in the 1940s, this design was created by Ruth Van Tellingen Bendel. The shakers are available at Antiques on Central.
As collectibles go, salt and pepper shakers are probably the least fussy of them all. They’re small, easy to find, typically affordable and available in a dizzying variety of what are generally colorful, playful styles described more often than not as “cute.” Shakers, or S&Ps, as they’re sometimes called, also can be found in a range of materials, from ceramic and wood to glass and plastic, as well as in an array of forms, including nesters, longboys, nodders, go-withs, hangers, snow globes, kissers and stackers. No question about it, there’s something for everyone.

“Because of the large variety of sets available, the beginning collector has only to decide on an area of interest and start acquiring shakers that fit into that area,” says Sylvia Tompkins of Lancaster, Penn., a decades-long collector and co-author of several books on the subject. “However, many collectors do not focus on any particular category but buy whatever they like.”

Phoenix collector Tamara Kopper falls into that latter category. “I collect whatever strikes my fancy,” she says. “I also collect ones that are pertinent to other collections I have.” These include bowling balls, miniature TV sets, Fiesta dinnerware, “things Oriental and things Western.”

There is, however, one hard-and-fast rule that every serious shaker collector knows: Never put salt in the shakers; it’s corrosive. Pepper, too, can harden and cake, so it’s best to leave your shakers empty.

Other than that, anything goes. But beginners beware: Collecting salt and pepper shakers can be addicting, and collections can grow beyond the imagination, even when the collection is tightly focused.

Photos - Clock-wise from top left: This set of pig-riding clowns was made in Japan and includes traditional cork stoppers. The pair is available at Antiques on Central. • Approximately
4 inches tall, these vintage devilettes hold painted pitchforks and are circa 1950. The devious duo belongs to a collector in Phoenix. • Known as “nesters,” these shakers rest in a divided base. The Route 66 gas pump set is from a private collection. • The collectible Jadeite used in these ribbed shakers was produced mainly from the ’40s to the ’60s. They can be found at Antique Gatherings.
 
Pat and Barry Yedlin of Surprise, Ariz., can attest to that. “Years ago, Pat wanted a salt and pepper grinder for Christmas so, since we collected Steiff bears at the time, I bought her a little set of bear shakers along with the grinder,” Barry says. “We put them on the kitchen windowsill, and they just multiplied.” They now have 2,300 sets displayed in shallow glass-front cabinets Barry builds himself.

“We got hooked pretty much because they’re cute and they’re little, so you can put a lot of them in a space,” Pat says. “We collect anything that’s a bear; we never dreamed there were so many types of bears.”

In addition to shakers in the form of polar bears, black bears, brown bears, koala bears, Winnie-the-Pooh bears, Hamm’s Beer bears, Smokey Bears, Paddington Bears and every other bear imaginable, the couple collects yellow lab shakers that look like their dog, Taffy, and just recently started collecting “Arcadia minis,” miniature sets made by Arcadia Ceramics in the 1940s and ’50s.

A pair of Shawnee ceramic owls keeps an eye out for one another. They are available through Antique Gatherings.
Likewise, Tompkins’ collection of 10,000 “water-related” sets encompasses fish, mermaids, boats, penguins, lighthouses, ducks and more.

Broader themes also breed big collections. Larry Carey, a Pennsylvania collector and Tompkins’ friend and co-author, has “easily” 10,000 sets of Black Americana, advertising and souvenir shakers he started collecting when he was seven. “I have a 60-year collection of salt and pepper shakers,” he says. “I’m getting to the point now where I think I should be slowing down because I’m going to have to give up a chair in the living room or put a cabinet in the hallway. I’ve been in homes where you can hardly get around because people have so many cabinets. Running out of room—that becomes the problem. But I love the hunt.” 

For most collectors, prime hunting ground these days is eBay. “EBay changed everything drastically,” Barry says. “For the better, if you’re buying; worse, if you’re selling. It flooded the market with sets collectors had never seen before. There were sets we paid a lot of money for because, before eBay, we had never seen them. Now they go for nothing because they’re everywhere.”

Another favorite shopping spot is the annual convention of the Novelty Salt & Pepper Shakers Club (saltandpepperclub.com). “When you go to the convention, you’re with a couple of hundred people who have the same passion for collecting and looking, and they sell out of their hotel rooms,” Pat says. “Members bring hundreds of thousands of sets to sell. You go from room to room and you see sets you typically don’t see, the rare ones, and you also see a lot of well-priced ones. You just don’t see that in an antiques store.”

Photos - From left: These small vintage shakers are scaled versions of the popular “Sleeping Mexican” statues seen throughout the Southwest. They are available at Antiques on Central. • A special category within shakers, this set is referred to as a “kisser” and features two smooching chimpanzees. The animals’ lips (and kissers in general) are kept in a touching position with small magnets. However not all kissers depict actual “kissing.” This pair is part of a private collection.

Sets can sell for as little as a dollar or as much as $5,000, depending on age, condition, rarity, material, maker and, of course, the current market.

“The one thing you shouldn’t do is go out and start spending major dollars if you don’t know what you’re doing,” Carey says. “Collect what you like. If it’s cute, and if you can afford it and it fits on your shelf so you don’t have to build an addition on your house, go for it.”

As with any other collectible, reading up on the subject and learning from other collectors is a good way to become familiar with the market. The club’s website offers a wealth of information for new and seasoned collectors. The site includes links to additional sites where its members are selling and, perhaps most importantly, offers a ready-made, welcoming community of like-minded folks, a perk its current members believe is priceless.

“The neatest part about collecting is the friends you make,” Tompkins says. “As one California collector says: “If I lost my collection to an earthquake, I would still have my friends.”

Photos - Clock-wise from top left: A popular shaker category known as Black Americana, this vintage set can be found at Antique Gatherings. • Two miniature sterling cowboy boots are adorned with detailed emblems of the Texas-based Alamo and even sport tiny spurs. The unique set features two right boots and is from a private collection. • A pair of Japanese Azalea Noritake china shakers (left) features hand-painted detailing and is available through Antique Gatherings. These vintage, fish-shaped shakers from Japan (right) balance gracefully on their fins and can be found at Antiques on Central. • Perfectly suited for Southwest homes, these robust Brahma bull shakers can be found at Antiques on Central.

What to Look for
In general, look for shakers in good condition, with no chips or cracks. Keep in mind, though, that older pieces, especially plastic, may discolor over time.

If you’re buying online, view all images carefully for damage or obvious repairs not mentioned in the description. If you need more information on a set, don’t hesitate to contact the seller.

Also, don’t get hung up on resale value. “Some people ask me what’s going to be worth the most 20 years from now,” says Larry Carey, collector, seller and co-author of six books on salt and pepper shakers. “If I knew, I’d be a gazillionaire. Who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow? Collect what you like and what you enjoy. If you like cats and dogs, go for it.”

Where to Buy
Antique Gatherings, Antiques on Central, Brass Armadillo Antique Mall, eBay.

Also consider attending the annual convention of the Novelty Salt & Pepper Shakers Club (saltandpepperclub.com).

*This year’s annual Novelty Salt & Pepper Shakers Club convention is scheduled for July 18-20 in Las Vegas. For event details, visit saltandpepperclub.com.
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