This is the time of the year to get out your cute little salt and pepper shakers for picnics or just to show them off in your summer kitchen.
These novelty shakers were manufactured from the mid-1920s, prior to World War II. Most were imported from Japan and Germany. Collectors can find shakers in a particular material, such as plastic, glass or ceramic, from makers such as Shafford Japan or Occupied Japan. They come in a variety of designs, including animals, animated characters, souvenirs, TV crossovers, and vegetables.
Prices vary on collectible shakers and sets. They can be found at a thrift shop for a couple dollars, up to a hundred dollars online. Advertising sets and premiums are always good, since they appeal to many collectors and are a good buy. The F & F Mold & Die Works of Dayton, Ohio, made plastic shakers with painted details for such companies as Quaker Oats, Kool Cigarettes, Ken-L-Ration Pet Food, gas stations, the Campbell kids and more that can sell up to $50 or more.
The rare and hard-to-find shakers are what we call “all-in-one” — two shakers joined together to look like one. An example is the organ grinder with monkey set by Shafford Japan, 1950 “Stretch Poodle Chasing Tail” from Japan, or a 1960 Majolica frog condiment set from Japan, with many selling from $20 on up.
Where to find them
I don't know about you, but I seem to see salt and pepper shakers everywhere — yard sales, estate sales, Salvation Army and Goodwill stores, antique malls and more — so it's still possible to create an extensive collection on a modest budget.
Joan Thilges, New Generations of Harmony: “We don't currently have any cute ceramic one-piece shakers, but we do have an Exxon 'Tiger in Your Tank' advertising piece. It is priced $14. We do have other shakers in the $5 to $30 range.”
Neil Hunt, A-Z Collectibles, Winona: “What I call 'single unit' is a shaker that has both salt and pepper, but in one pottery piece. I have about five, maybe six. One is from a china set; the others are cats, bottles and vegetables. I have sold two over the years. Most people do not even know they are a thing.”
When using an internet site, several slightly different searches can result in different results. For example: I keyed in "salt & pepper," "salt and pepper" and "salt pepper" and found 400-500 shakers. I did the same on Etsy and found a few, even the all-in-one sets. In my eBay search, where they are more sensitive to words like "and" and "the," I used “salt pepper,” which gave me over three times as many shakers.
Don't overlook lonely shakers. Many have ended up on a yard-sale table because its mate had been broken and thrown away. You may not need or want that lonely salt or pepper, but somewhere out there is a collector with a matching piece who would love to complete the set. On the other hand, you might want to consider keeping the piece as a possible replacement.
Finally, watch out for hidden repairs. When an item is advertised as "mint," it should be exactly that. And collectible shakers should not be filled with salt or pepper. Salt, especially when damp, can be highly corrosive and could harm the finish, while pepper, which also absorbs moisture, can result in a caked-on mess that's almost impossible to completely remove from the interior of the shaker.
For more information, check out "Florence's Big Book of Salt & Pepper Shakers: Identification & Value Guide" by Gene Florence.
Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser concentrating on vintage, antique and collectible items. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at firstname.lastname@example.org.