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Salt & Pepper Shakers

A meticulously set table always includes perfectly paired salt and pepper shakers. For as essential as the spices have become, the pairing of salt and pepper shakers is a relatively modern creation that built upon the vast history of salt-containing vessels.

Both salt and pepper have been key table condiments since the dawn of the royal courts in Europe centuries ago, but salt has maintained a particular prestige as it was a more expensive commodity to acquire. Salts and saltcellars, or small vessels to house salt that were often covered were included among the essential table accouterments. These cellars were standard, as the natural tendency of salt to cake together meant that it needed to be carefully spooned on to entrées.

All this changed in the '20s, when the Morton Salt Company of Chicago deduced that the addition of magnesium carbonate could prevent salt from caking. Without caking, the potential of the saltshaker was realized. Soon after Morton Salt's discovery, salt shakers flooded the market and, since salt and pepper are perennial partners, sets of salt and pepper shakers became popular. Contemporary ceramic makers channeled this popularity into their dinnerware and tableware lines, resulting in an amazing variety of collectible sets today.

Quick Facts

  • In the Middle Ages, the phrase "below the salt" referred to commoners or lower class individuals as they could not afford salt, let alone an elaborate container to store or serve it on their table
  • Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper" features an overturned salt dish near his depiction of Judas as a symbolic foreshadowing of the character's future deception. Salt was such an expensive commodity that to spill it in such a manner was considered bad luck
  • One of the world's largest collections of salt and pepper shakers is owned by Andrea Ludden in Tennessee. Totaling more than 40,000 sets in 2012, part of Ludden's collection is on display at the Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers in Gatlinburg

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