by Diana Bulls
Most of us pay little or no attention to salt & pepper. They don’t cost much and are easily obtainable at any grocery store. Every household has a container of salt & pepper on the table or in the cupboard, but it wasn’t always this way. At one time, both salt and pepper were literally worth their weight in gold! Modern salt mining techniques and expanded pepper growing regions have made them an everyday item rather than a luxury.
The use of salt and pepper at the table came into being sometime in the Middle Ages in England. Salt was typically served in a small bowl or container , usually with a spoon, because it had a tendency to attract moisture and become lumpy. These early “salt cellars” were made of pewter, horn or wood, but by the 15th century, cellars were ornate and elaborate pieces made of silver or gold and studded with precious gems. Pepper never suffered from the same susceptibility to dampness but, like salt, it was also served from a small container.
Many people believe that the salt shaker was invented by John Mason around 1858–the man who invented the Mason jar. His shaker evenly distributed salt on food, just by shaking it through the holes punched in its tin cap. The salt still became lumpy and the Mason shaker was short-lived. Fifty years later, the Morton Salt Company of Chicago added magnesium carbonate to the salt, which prevented lumps and caking from moisture, making it possible to pour from a closed container. “When it rains, it pours” was developed by ad execs in the early 1900s to sell Morton salt. To this day, it is still one of the most successful advertising slogans ever written.
Salt and pepper shaker sets came into being in the mid-1920s. By now, it was a habit to serve salt and pepper together, so it was only natural that they became a pair. The German fine pottery maker Goebel was one of the earliest producers of salt and pepper shakers and they introduced their first three sets in 1925. During the Great Depression many ceramics companies needed to concentrate on producing lower priced items in order to stay in business. Salt and pepper shakers were the answer. They were produced in many shapes, sizes and colors and could be purchased for just a few cents. Japanese ceramic companies also had a large share of the salt and pepper market beginning in the late 1920s through the 1950s, although production was halted during World War II. Shakers produced in the years following the war are marked “Occupied Japan” and are very collectible.
Fun Facts About Shakers and Collecting
• the salt shaker has fewer holes than the pepper shaker
• Salinopeperophilia: the love of salt and pepper shakers
• There are two museums in the world dedicated to salt and pepper shakers: Gatlinburg, TN and Castell de Guadalest, Spain. Owned by the same collector family, the Luddens, they each house over 20,000 shakers.
• The Salt Shakers Collector Club started in 1983, but eventually split into two sections, antique and novelty shakers.
As you can imagine, salt and pepper shakers are readily available today. New sets can be found anywhere and old sets can still be found at yard sales, second-hand stores, antique stores and your grandma’s cupboards, a great place to look for shakers while you are on vacation. In fact, this is probably how a lot of collections got started. A shaker set was an inexpensive gift or souvenir that could be easily tucked in a handbag or suitcase.
Believe me, it doesn’t matter if you visit a famous place or somewhere very obscure–look for those odd little shops along the road (what my father termed “tourist traps”), and you will be able to find a salt and pepper shaker immortalizing the local attraction. Visit San Francisco and bring home a shaker set in the form of the Golden Gate Bridge or trolley cars. Visit Tombstone, Arizona and bring home a set of (what else?) tombstones. Visit the Everglades in Florida and score a set of alligators or a crate with two oranges. Visit the World’s Largest Hand Dug Well in Greensburg, Kansas…yep, you know what’s coming…a set recently sold for $39.95 on eBay!
For those who are interested, check out the Novelty Salt and Pepper Shakers Club for lots of fun information and examples of collectible salt and pepper shakers. The club also hosts an annual convention–2013 will be in Las Vegas, July 18-20.
Reedley native, Elizabeth Angangan, has been collecting salt and pepper shakers for many years. Although she has never counted her collection, her husband Bill estimates she has at least 350 sets. Elizabeth says “Anything goes!” when it comes to collecting. “I have no particular style. If it looks interesting or cute it’s my style. My older sister Erma got me started by giving me her doubles. She went to the Sunnyside Flea Market on a regular basis. What kept me interested in the collection was the reasonable prices, how unusual some of the sets were and that they fit in with country kitchen decorating.”
The majority of Elizabeth’s collection came from flea markets and are a combination of old and new. She has several sets that were gifts or given to her by people traveling and picking up sets as souvenirs. “The very last set I received was from Scotland,” said Elizabeth. “That one is special as it is the last set my sister gave me before she died. I also have a small TWA airline set that my dad gave me when he flew back to Oklahoma in the early sixties. I have a Route 66 gas pump set one of my brothers gave me, which reminds me of all the trips on Route 66 that we used to take to visit relatives in Oklahoma.”
The average price for her flea market sets was about 75 cents, although some special sets cost as much as 8 or 12 dollars. Elizabeth shared that the most she ever paid for a set was $12.95. “They were Popeye and Olive Oyl. I saw them and couldn’t resist. I actually bought two sets and gave one to my mother-in-law as a present. I got her started collecting.”
Elizabeth displays her favorite shaker sets in her kitchen and in a shadow box in her living room. At one time she had the majority of her sets displayed in a curio cabinet, but she and Bill have recently remodeled their kitchen, so she just keeps her favorites out. “I have the seasonal sets that I use-Thanksgiving (this set was given to me by my son when he was about 8 years old), Christmas and Halloween. Most of the others are just for show, ” she says.
I asked Elizabeth if she had a favorite set of shakers and she replied “I Have a McCoy pig cookie jar and matching pig shakers that were given to me. I didn’t consider them my ‘favorites’ until we were at the Oakhurst Antique Show and saw the set for $500. They quickly became a favorite!” She also shared that her ugliest set “Is an old wrinkled up cowboy with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. His hat is the salt shaker and the body is the pepper shaker.”
When Elizabeth was actively collecting shaker sets, she says “I did not do any research. If I liked the set and it was priced reasonably, I bought them. “As far as advice to new collectors,” she says,”My theory is very simple: buy what you like. I never bought anything for value. If the set was interesting or unusual, I purchased it.”
Call for Collectors
Do you have a special collection, kitchen or otherwise, that you would like to share with our readers? Contact me via Kings River Life. Let’s spread the joy of collecting around.