From over 200 sets, these treasured pairs have a unique personality and past.

By Nikki McIntosh
March 23, 2017
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vintage salt and pepper shaker collection

Take a seat at any restaurant in the Western world and you're likely to find a pair of salt and pepper shakers on the table. These prolific mealtime helpers may seem somewhat mundane to us today, but if you take a peek into their history, you'll find that they're anything but bland!

MORE TREASURES: 10 Collectors and Their One-of-a-Kind Finds
vegetable salt and pepper shakers
Fruits and vegetables were a popular motif throughout the history of salt and pepper shakers, as they're cheerful, colorful, and fit into just about any kitchen's theme.
| Credit: Nikki McIntosh

The first screw-top salt shaker was invented in 1858 by John Landis Mason. Fun fact: he also happens to be the man who invented the Mason jar. Though Mason's jars were an immediate success, his salt shakers didn't catch on quite as quickly, as salt had a tendency to clump together, making it impossible to shake out of the perforated cap. In fact, it took another half a century for Mason's invention to catch on - thanks to the ingenuity of the Morton Salt Company of Chicago. In the 1920s, the company began adding magnesium carbonate (an anti-caking agent) to their salt, making it resistant to clumping and perfect for sprinkling through the top of a shaker.

vintage salt and pepper shakers cat and dog
The excitement surrounding newly invented forms of plastics in the 1940s and 1950s led to plenty of fun plastic shakers. The red and white shakers shown here were made to match a popular line of kitchen canisters, and the cat and dog were advertising pieces for the Ken-L-Ration pet food brand.
| Credit: Nikki McIntosh

While earlier salt and pepper shakers were more traditional in style, the Great Depression led to an abundance of inexpensive, cheerful, whimsical, and colorful shakers. However, the event that really sparked the collecting of salt and pepper shakers was the increasing ubiquity of the automobile.

sea vintage salt and pepper shakers
These nautical shakers are a perfect example of the type one might typically find at a seaside souvenir shop in the 1950s or 1960s. The smokestacks on the St. Lawrence Seaway barge are removable from the ship-shaped caddy and contain the salt and pepper.
| Credit: Nikki McIntosh

As travel became more and more popular, so did the souvenir industry - and salt and pepper shakers made an ideal gift to bring back home to friends and family. Suddenly, some people found they owned more salt and pepper shakers than they could possibly put to use (or maybe they were just too darn cute to use), and the salt and pepper shaker collector was born.

tv vintage salt and pepper shakers
Television sets weren't cheap when they first came out, but anyone could afford a TV-shaped salt and pepper shaker set! Turn the knob on this Bakelite set and the shakers pop out of the top
| Credit: Nikki McIntosh

Today, vintage salt and pepper shakers are a joy to collect for many of the same reasons they were when people first started collecting them - they come in an astounding array of styles, colors, and materials, and are still quite affordable.

lucite vintage salt and pepper shakers
Even higher-end companies joined in on the shaker trend! Here, the turquoise acrylic shakers were designed by Luigi Massoni for Guzzini, a long-standing Italian tableware company.
| Credit: Nikki McIntosh

Vintage-lovers will appreciate the fact that shakers have a knack for representing what was in vogue at the time of their production - from color schemes to themes, and even the material out of which they were made.

pottery vintage salt and pepper shaker
Ceramicist David Gil designed the figural shakers here for his own company, Bennington Pottery of Vermont. ​
| Credit: Nikki McIntosh

Are you a fan of vintage jadeite? There's a shaker set for that. Love the 1960s flower power aesthetic? There's a psychedelic shaker set for that. And there's a shaker set for just about every interest in between, too!

snail vintage salt and pepper shakers
A personal favorite, these Snappy Snail shakers were manufactured by Enesco, a popular Japanese import company.
| Credit: Nikki McIntosh

Like many types of vintage home goods, the easiest way to identify a vintage shaker is by turning it upside down (be sure to throw a pinch of salt over your shoulder if any spills out!) and looking for a back stamp or manufacturer's mark. If you see "Made in USA" or "Japan" somewhere on the bottom, you're almost definitely looking at a vintage piece, as the United States and Japan were the leading producers of shakers during their heyday. If you're very lucky, you may even find a rarer set marked "Occupied Japan" - this means that the shakers were produced in post-WWII Japan.

dachshund salt and pepper shakers
You can find shaker sets (and new friends!) in the strangest places — you just have to look! These "Hi Friend" dachshund salt and pepper shakers were found at an estate sale.
| Credit: Nikki McIntosh

Sets with multiple parts or moving pieces are also highly sought-after, as they were more likely to break or become separated from the other pieces in the set.

vintage salt and pepper shakers collection

The main thing to remember when searching for vintage salt and pepper shaker sets is to just have fun. Collect sets that inspire and excite you, and before long, you'll be a well-seasoned collector, too!

Feeling inspired to start a collection of your own? Watch here as Martha Stewart Living's collectibles expert Fritz Karch offers his tips for new collectors:

Comments (2)

Anonymous
December 26, 2019
The salt bottle that reads "mason Pat Nov 30 1858" is without a doubt my favorite find! It took me 4 months to figure out it's purpose and origin.. I'd love to have it appraised.. perhaps even get it somewhere that others might be able to appreciate the brilliance of that tin smith from Vineland NJ.
Anonymous
October 30, 2017
Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Ms. McIntosh. I collected salt and pepper shakers back in the 60's-70s. So much of the collection was lost or broken during our many moves (USAF) that other, less breakable collections became necessary.