Gail Anderson | Collections

Gail Anderson’s Collection of Salt and Pepper Shakers

Nipper and his Gramophone: The shaker that started the collection

I got hooked on salt and pepper shakers in the mid-1980s, after a visit to the NBC Store with my cousin, Roger. My first set was Nipper and his gramophone ("His Master's Voice"), and while I knew Nipper was but a lowly reproduction, I was in love.

Consider that my burgeoning collection took form in the pre-internet days — meaning there was no eBay. In the olden days, people went to flea markets and antique fairs to hunt for treasures and looking back, it was actually much more fun than bidding online. I made a huge score on what I imagined was some dear old lady's shaker collection at an antique store in Bordentown, New Jersey and the shop owner was surprisingly reluctant to sell them to me. He assumed I was a dealer (antiques, not drugs). I assured him that I really did want the shakers for my own collection — I was just one of those kooks who was one step away from hoarding. And in the mid-1990s, salt and pepper shakers were affordable; maybe $3-$7 a pair, so you'd still have money left over for matchbooks and Fiestaware.

I could have focused my collection on a theme — lcute froggies, for instance — or only hunted down shakers with the Occupied Japan stamp on the bottom. Some people just collect plastic and celluloid and others look for solely anthropomorphic sets. And of course, there are lots of collectors who seek out those creepy racist mammy and pappy shakers. My only stipulation was that they were original and not reproductions, though I did grow partial to fruits and vegetables with faces. I think I was afraid of who would buy them because they were "funny" or "cute" so I decided instead to rescue them myself.

The problem with collecting shakers is that you need the real estate to display them and they require frequent cleaning. Both were concerns, since I pretty quickly ran out of space in my small Manhattan apartment and am, admittedly, not a great housekeeper. I'd built custom shelves just for my little guys, but filled them up quickly and watched them grow increasingly dustier (next time, glass doors). And pretty soon, people start giving you shakers as gifts, which sounds nice, but basically means that before you know it, you end up with a lot of cute froggies.

Some of my shakers now live in upstate New York and get to see sunlight and mountains a lot more than I do. Others still occupy their original home in the city and today, most are relatively dust-free (they've all just had their annual kitchen sink bath). We've suffered a few casualties over the years; two decapitations and a busted leg (the shakers, not me — I still have my original head, thank you very much). I don't actively collect anymore since I really, really don't have space at this point — and honestly, the thrill was gone once eBay made the whole thing way too easy. I worry about becoming one of those people whose collection sort of takes over their home as well as their better judgement. So I moved on to bottle caps (smaller) and then Mexican crosses, although a house full of crosses seems to make some people uncomfortable.

There's a new item that I've got my eye on these days, so we'll see if 10 soon blossom into 100. I guess in the end, I do things obsessively — again and again, until I get it right, or grow bored— whichever comes first. And then it's on to the next conquest.

Posted in: Social Good

Comments [23]

Gail--these are amazing! What an inspiring show!
debbie millman

Its one thing to collect these, and another to make them.

Thanks for such a lovely article on why you collect. Now let's find those who spend their waking moments thinking how to make a roast chicken into a salt and paper shaker.
Steve Heller

This was absolutely charming to read!

As the owner of two ceramic mice salt and pepper shakers and the coveter of many more, I can identify. I've kept myself from collecting only by reminding myself I only need so much salt and pepper.

Very impressive! Gail, do you know about how many sets you have in your collection?
Amanda Spielman

I hate to admit it, but I have at least 300 sets... maybe more. It's a novice collection by the standards of a REAL enthusiast, but it's a little out of control for someone with square footage issues like me. It was getting a little creepy when they ALL lived in my tiny apartment. Too many eyes watching me.
Gail Anderson

Ok! I have to publicly admit that I was the one responsible for the casualty in Gail's collection. BUT in my defense I would like to say that I was trying to be nice by cleaning it at the time. (Grin!)

Great essay Gail! It's great to see the shakers nicely photographed like this. Sorry again about grandma's head. Thanks for not chopping mine's off!
Gary Montalvo

I'm in love with your s&p shakers. And you are so right about pre-ebay. The hunt was a big part of the experience. I recall buying my "mammy and pappy" at an all-black store in florida. Can't imagine what they thought of a white girl even being in their store, let alone buying those sweet shakers.
aldona charlton

Go to Zingerman's Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, MI to see an amazing collection.
Kathe Stoepel

I remember babysitting a few of those shakers about a decade ago...oh yes, and the cat too.
Christine Maichin

Amazing stuff. Tell me the holes in the JFK shaker aren't on his head... awkward!

I'm curious to see what set you're currently using to dispense your salt and pepper with.
Lisa Marie Tsering

pretty sure i was along for the ride to some flea markets and probably bought some tacky for you pairs over the years. love the piece and the shakers.
rena sokolow

I have seen the collection up close. Have not selected a favorite but there is a large number of very unique shakers. Shakers created by people who obviously love them themselves and have creative imaginations. Cool stuff.
Mike Anderson

Very impressive Gail! Is the book in works?
Sadao Davis

it's a interesting collection, looking at this may be makes us nice but the feel may different when it is been used real time,


And just in case you need something to put in them!

Jessica Helfand

Enjoyed your collection. Here's how I solved displaying my own collection.

Dan Frazier

Dan, I love your collection, and the poster is great! I may have to order one for the small amount of wall space that's left...
Gail Anderson

ebay has stolen the fun out of a lot of things, right? i once thought i had the only collection of rare primitive tree fog fertility dry good canisters on earth. then i saw them on ebay and my heart and their value sank. as for a lack of space putting limits on collections i recommend either one of those organization consultants who can turn any small nyc apartments into one of those japanese sandalwood chest of a 10,000 drawers...or buying one of those 15K 3 bedroom houses in detroit for extra storage.
matthew Porter

i have some salt and pepper shakers 1.) looks lik a lamp with hu rricane shades Willow Grove written onthe front they are over fifty years old plastic double shades 2) cowboy boots metal has Arizona on front where arizona its mother of pearl 3. minature salt and pepper the glass looks like pebbles black tops and another set plain with redtops 4. small metal salt pepper from west point military school over fifty years old does anyone know any thing about these thanks
diane miller

I have you beat, I have at least 400-500 sets with no duplicates. I am preparing to downsize, are you interested in enlarging your collection.
melissa tucker

My mother collected many many salt and pepper sets over the past fifty or more years and I'm looking to sell them. Mom passed away this May and I don't have space for them in my home. Can you advise me as to whom I can sell them to? I appreciate any information. Thanks
Mary Haight

I have a collection of almost 600 and my daughter doesn't want them so I have been taking pictures of all of them & information about each one because want to sell them. But I'm llike some of you don't know where to put them for sale. I have some values but there's not many books that aren't 20 yrs old to find values. So if I could sell them all at one time would really help. Does anyone have any suggestions?

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