The joy of collecting Victorian shakers and condiment bottles

One of the most interesting aspects of collecting Victorian art glass shakers and condiment sets is that you can collect just about all types of Victorian art glass and display it in a small area.

Circa 1880-1900 Cactus pattern shaker with opalescent stripes; most commonly found in opaque and clear colors, it is seldom found in opalescent stripes. This particular shaker was dug up with several bottles under a paved street in Jersey City, NJ. The street had to be opened as a result of a water main break. It’s amazing that it survived for several decades in that environment.

These types of items include salt, pepper, sugar shakers as well as mustard jars, small cruet bottles, and toothpick holders.
Some manufacturers who made these items are Mount Washington, New England Glass, Consolidated Glass, Hobbs Brockunier, Challinor Taylor, Northwood and others. They made the shakers from cased glass, decorated opalware and many other forms of enameled glass. Shakers can be found in Amberina, Burmese, Peachblow, Findlay Onyx, Opalescent, Chocolate glass and many other colors and combinations.

Victorian era shakers can have either a two-piece or a one-piece cap. Two-piece caps contain a collar that is cemented to the shaker using plaster. This collar contains the threads that the top screws in to. The glass itself does not contain any threads.
A one-piece cap doesn’t have a plaster collar, as the shaker’s glass top has molded threads and the top screws on like modern-day tops. You will notice a very thin rough top edge on most shakers that use a one-piece cap. This rough, chipped edge is a tell-tale sign the shaker is an old one, but there are exceptions.

There are some reproductions out there; most reproductions will have a ground or smooth top edge and may be made of heavier glass. Not all old shakers have rough, chipped edges on the top; experience will give you the skills to differentiate old from new.

Every shaker and mustard had a cap of some sort. They were made of many types of materials – typically brass, nickel, pewter, and silver – that are either plain or embossed with designs and flowers. Specialty tops were reserved for certain shakers made by Mt. Washington and Monroe’s Wavecrest line to name a couple. For example, Mt. Washington made some shakers in the forms of tomatoes, eggs, and figs that had specific caps that served as part of the form’s design.

When buying a Victorian era shaker, should it not have a cap, don’t let this discourage you. Unless it’s a shaker with a specific cap that is part of the identity of the shaker, you can always find a replacement. Most shaker collectors have a box of old caps just for this reason.

Mustard jars are a natural to go-along with a shaker collection. They come in all the same patterns and glass types. Mustards are harder to find in most cases, as there was only one mustard for every two shakers made. Other “go-withs” would be toothpick holders, small oil bottles and larger cruets. And, if you are lucky enough, you may run across a silverplate holder of the period that will hold the pieces. The holders can be very ornate and really enhance the shakers that they hold.

Some of my favorite pieces are odd or nonproduction colors, slag glass shakers, as well as old carnival glass shakers; none of which are found very often. Enameled shakers can be miniature works of art representing flowers, designs, Mary Gregory type figures, and even flying insects like butterflies. Also, figural shakers, such as owls, chickens and people, can be most interesting but hard to come by.

Shakers come in all price ranges. There are many very nice pretty shakers that can be bought for less than $50. At the other end of the spectrum, high-end collectors can spend several thousand dollars for some very rare, unique pieces. In my opinion, most of the better pieces fall between $75 and $300 each.

Collecting shakers can be addictive like any other type of collecting and, even though they are small, they do have a tendency of building up and surrounding you. They can be a bit of a challenge to display properly to get the real impact of a large grouping. I use old general store display cabinets and narrow wall cabinets. The narrow wall cabinets work the best.

The Antique Glass Salt and Sugar Shaker Club unites many collectors from around the United States and Canada. The collecting club produces a quarterly newsletter and has an ongoing shaker identification project, as well as an annual convention.

If you are looking for a great collecting subject, look into the world of Victorian art glass shakers and condiment sets. I would be more than happy to answer any questions and help you get started in this fascinating collecting subject.

Scott Beale is a member of the Antique Glass Salt and Sugar Shakers Club and enjoys con­tributing to it. He would be glad to talk to anyone who may have questions or needing advice in how to start collecting antique shakers; contact him via email or 973-347-4313.

Collectors’ Resources

  • Antique Glass Salt and Sugar Shaker Club The AGSSSC is a group of salt and sugar shaker collectors who encourage, promote, and support the collection and study of late 19th and early 20th century glass salt and sugar shakers

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