Collector's Corner: Salt & Pepper Shakers
By Michele Alice
I don't know about you, but I seem to see salt and pepper shakers everywhere-yard sales, estate sales, at the Salvation Army store, The Goodwill,... And thank goodness, because the ubiquity of this popular collectible means it's still possible to create an extensive collection at modest cost.
Originating in the mid-nineteenth century with the development of free-flowing salt crystals, the earliest utilitarian salt (and pepper) shakers have morphed into designs of unimaginable variety. A collector can not only specialize in a particular material (plastic, glass, ceramic, etc.) or maker (Red Wing, Shawnee, Occupied Japan, etc.), but also in almost any subject matter, from animals and animation characters to souvenirs, television crossovers, and vegetables.
Prices, too, are as variable as the sets themselves. They can be as little as a dollar or two at a neighborhood yard sale to several hundred dollars (and more!) at a shop or auction. Of course, except for the older and/or rarer pieces, condition should always be "mint," though some collectors are willing to temporarily fill holes in their collections with lesser quality specimens until better examples come along.
While on the subject of condition, it should be mentioned that collectible shakers ought not to 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 almost impossible to completely remove from interior surfaces.
Now, a few tips when on the hunt for salt-and-peppers:
First, remember that not all search engines are alike. When using an Internet auction site, several slightly different searches can result in wildly different results. For example, at Yahoo! Auctions, I keyed in salt & pepper, salt and pepper, salt pepper, and found 543, 417, and 417 items respectively. eBay's search engine, on the other hand, is sensitive to words like "and" and "the", so a search using salt pepper gave me over three times as many items as a search using salt and pepper (9446 to 2721). (All searches were conducted on June 6, 2003.)
Secondly, don't overlook "singles." Many an unusual shaker has 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, if you already possess a matched set, you might want to consider keeping the piece as a possible replacement should one of yours ever suffer a mishap.
Finally, watch out for hidden repairs. When an item is advertised as "mint," it should be exactly that. A repair may not affect your appreciation of the item's appearance, but it could affect the price. A black light inspection, which causes repairs to fluoresce, ought to be performed on at least the more expensive pieces. Black lights are inexpensive, easy to use, and are not just for inspecting salt-and-peppers. (You might want to try Reproduction News http://www.repronews.com/blacklightrepair.html for a more thorough and nicely illustrated explanation of black lights.)
Below is a list of related books and Web sites to aid you in your study and appreciation of this very popular collectible.
The National Novelty Salt and Pepper Shakers Club
This Web edition of The Old Times Newspaper, a monthly Minneapolis-based publication about antiques and collectibles, has a wonderful article by David Christenson on the history of salt-and-peppers. http://www.theoldtimes.com/past/499_1.html
"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
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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