Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Collecting Salt and Pepper Shakers

Salt has long been a staple of mankind’s diet, and from the earliest days, people have looked for various ways to store and serve salt. Initially, salt came in rock form and had to be scraped or grated in order to flavor food. The grated salt was served in salt dips (also know as salt cellars, open salts) which were small glass (such as Vaseline, carnival, EAPG, depression ear, etc.) or ceramic bowls approximately 1-2 inches in diameter. Some of the nicer salts were made of silver with glass inserts, or crystal. Often they came with small spoons which were used to scoop the salt from the individual dips and then sprinkle the salt on the user’s food.

Quite often
individual salt dips were accompanied by a master salt. The individual salts were filled from the master salt, and placed around the table by or between the different seats. Many of the salt dips that are found in today’s collections are pressed or pattern glass (EAPG), depression glass, carnival glass, Vaseline glass, Czech crystal, or some other early form of glass, usually dating from the 1700’s to the early 20th century.

With the advent of the salt mill, a device which contained a grinding mechanism that broke up the salt rocks into fine granules. Salt and pepper mills are still found today in many homes and restaurants. Eventually, when methods were found to mass produce salt as fine crystals, salt mills fell into disuse, and the salt shaker was born.

With the birth of mass produced ceramics during the 1940’s, salt and pepper shaker production hit an all time high, and shakers of all shapes and sizes could easily be found. The market for advertising and novelty shakers grew due to the affordability and availability of shakers.

Today, most homes have at least two or three shaker sets for different uses. Whether everyday use, holidays and special occasions, or even picnics and outdoor barbecues, shakers are usually in abundance in most homes. There are some, however, that just can’t resist the charm that many shakers possess, and they collect shakers by the score. Glass, ceramic, wood, metal, and plastic shakers line shelf after shelf, and the adoring owner can usually tell you a story about each and every one. And no wonder, it is an enjoyable hobby, as well as in many cases a good investment.

If you’re just beginning to get in to the hobby, there are a few things that you may want to consider. Do you want to specialize in a particular style of shaker such as nodders, condiments, hangers, figural, stackers, huggers or minis? Perhaps you are interested in a particular material such as glass, wood, ceramic, plastic, or metal; or maybe a specific maker or era? All are important questions to ask yourself as the more general your collection, the larger it may become, perhaps to your own dismay as they take over your home!

Another thing to consider is condition and storage. When purchasing additions to your collection, pay close attention to detail and possible repairs. If possible, use a black light to check for repairs which will often fluoresce under the black light. (Remember, a small portable handheld black light should be a part of your buyer kit!). When examining salt and pepper shakers look to see if they have their original stoppers or have they been replaced? And while checking stoppers, check to see if the shakers still contain salt or pepper. Although these spices do wonders for many foods (especially those I cook), they can cause some damage to the shakers if stored in the shakers for long periods of time. Never store salt or pepper in your collectible shakers.

Also consider half sets or single shakers. Not only do they often display nicely on their own, but you may want to have a spare to that favorite set or two that reside in your collection in the event of a possible mishap.

As I mentioned above, many folks specialize in a particular style of shaker. Here is a list of some of the more popular styles.


These unique shakers, usually figures of people, will feature double sides that are opposite of each other. For example, on one side, you may find a happily married young couple, but on the reverse side of the same shakers you will see a pair of grumpy old folks.


Nodders are shakers that sit balanced on a base, and will wobble or “nod” when gently touched.

Carriers / Carts:

The base for shakers in these sets is usually a small animal or animal drawn cart. The shakers will hang from the animals saddle or sit in the cart.


Again, huggers do what their name implies. The two shakers in a set stand together in a hug. Some of the most well know of the huggers are made by Van Tellingen.


Hangers are a set of shakers that hag from the third piece in the set, which is the base.


A stacker set of shakers is a set where one of the shakers sits upon its mate.


Minis are just what they sound like, miniature shakers. They usually measure between ½ inch to 2 inches in height.

Bench Sitters:

As you may have guessed, bench sitters are designed to sit on a bench. The bench was sold with the figural shaker set, usually people, and the bench was their base.


A condiment set consists of two shakers on either side of a base which contains a small covered center tray or bowl which is used for mustard, relish, sugar or other condiment.

Long Boys & Tall Boys:

These are shakers, usually animals or people, with unusually long elongated bodies or necks that measure 6 inches or more.

These are only a few of the many types of shaker sets that are collected and available today. Below is a list of related books and web sites to help you in your research of salt and pepper shakers.

Web Sites:

The Novelty Salt and Pepper Shakers Club

Kim's Salt and Pepper Shaker Page

Cathy's Open Salts Page


Collector's Encyclopedia of Salt and Pepper Shakers: Second Series (Figural and Novelty 2nd Series) by Melva Davern

Florence's Big Book of Salt & Pepper Shakers: Identification & Value Guide by Gene Florence

The Complete Salt and Pepper Shaker Book by Mike Schneider

Some Shakers Found on eBay:

Sterling Bird Form Salt Pepper Shakers MARTIN BROTHERS

Sold As Best Offer for $700.00

Vintage Gas Pump Salt & and Pepper Shakers Hancock Gas

31 Bids, Sold for $560.00

RARE Mt. Washington Opaque Peachblow Pear Salt Shaker

2 Bids, Sold for $495.00

Mckee Depression Glass Salt and Pepper Shaker

10 Bids, Sold for $380.00

Today's Word of Wisdom: "Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. It comes to us at midnight, very clean, perfect when it arrives, and puts itself in our hands and hopes we learned something from yesterday."

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