Tuesday, July 20, 2010
A Poodle Bites the Dust
Since moving to Delaware about three years ago, I have traded more and more kitchen/dining space for living space as I moved from apartment A to apartment B to apartment C. Apartment C's kitchen is a little cramped, but certainly not unmanagemable. I did not and do not have a lot of special kitchen supplies, but I did purchase a set of ceramic salt and pepper shakers in the shape of two large poodles when I was preparing to move to apartment A in 2007.
Last weekend, after many a close call (I haven't been able to settle on a good resting place for the pair inside apartment kitchen C, and they have come close to death on numerous occasions since I moved into apartment C in June), I broke one. As I was washing dishes in the sink, I swiftly knocked Salt Poodle into my coffee mug. Before I knew it, I was plucking Salt Poodle's head from my stale, cold coffee.
I was so upset, I almost threw Salt Poodle and his buddy directly into the trash before my boyfriend reasoned, "just glue it back together!"
Hmph. Glue it back together. Whatever.
...well, I have not seen any salt and pepper shakers unusal enough to grace my kitchen counter in quite a while, so I rinsed-out Salt and plan to repair him at a later date once I've recovered from the ititial shock and have identified a food-friendly advesive.
But how did I, someone who does not care for dogs, come to acquire such ridiclous-looking and ugly (friends' and realives' words, not mine) salt and pepper shakers in the shape of giant poodles?
When I was a kid, my mom and her female relatives whiled away many a summer afternoon at an indoor antique co-op/mall in northeastern Pennsyvania. I hated it at first, but I grew to relish the adventures. This particular antique co-op includes a bowling alley on the upper floor, and it smells like mold, cigarette smoke, mildew, mold, and cigarette smoke. The place is not and probably never will be airconditioned (for your browsing ejoyment), and half the vendors are either never at their stalls or leave prior to 11 AM on the weekends (when half the world goes antiquing). Over the years, I have purchsed few items at this particular establishment, although I have distinct memories of lusting after specific objects such as a rhinestore tiara. (By the way, if you're interested in tiaras, crowns, etc., I recommend Tiara by Diana Scarisbrick.) At the tender age of about 10, I inquired for the price of said tiara and, upon being told [apologetically] that it was marked $100, I sheepishly put my $95 back inside my wallet, unaware that I may have had a chance to haggle to become a princess.
The weekend my extended family was in town for my college graduation party, we all decided to make the Sunday pilgrimage to the antique co-op in quetsion. It was just a few weeks before I was moving to apartment A, and I was on the lookout for decorative objects and kitchen wares. I spotted the poodles on the second floor of the antique co-op and purchsed them almost instantly from a woman who also sold jewelry and other small trinkets. $12? I didn't even haggle. Within moments, I disbursed the cash and was the proud owner of used salt and pepper shakers designed to look like poodles. The appeal? They look goofy and make me chuckle to myself, and I may have thought in the back of my mind that someone who studies material culture at the graduate level should have at least one "conversation piece" per space. If I didn't select them to entice classmates into my kitchen, genetics may have played a role. My maternal grandmother boasted a large collection of ceramic and metal chinoiserie salt and pepper shakers which she displayed in her picture window. Perhaps there is a vintage salt and pepper shaker collecting gene. I have yet to accumulate a second set (and thus starting forming a collection of salt and pepper shakers).
In any case, for the past three years, these poodles have served me well, despite my having to plug them-up using index card shards and scotch tape lest they leak salt and pepper grains all over the counter. We'll see if I can find another quirky salt and pepper shaker set before I get around to repairing the first set.
UPDATE, 25 July 2010
My curiosity got the better of me. I found an idential pair of salt and pepper shakers for sale on Ebay. The Ebay pair is priced at $49.99 (or best offer...all the more reason to find a good adhesive and a great reason to make fun of those who have and continue to scoff at the pair), and it retains a removable tag (typical for such mid-century imports) that gives me some manufacture information. My pair was “Made in Japan” by a company called Wales. Based on the style of the label’s typeface the fact that ceramics marked as such were made in Japan between 1921 and 1945 or between 1952 and today, I am assuming that they date from the second or third quarter of the twentieth century. By the mid twentieth century, less costly imported ceramics such as these took business away from American mid-western and western ceramics manufactories.
Should you want to learn more about collecting “novelty” salt and pepper shakers (no chinoiserie salt and pepper shakers need apply here), the Novelty Salt and Pepper Shaker Club website (sister club to the Antique Glass Salt and Sugar Shaker Club) offers some basic collecting information. I learned that my poodles are called a "pair," not a "set." I also learned that today's collectors refer to this "design type" as "longboys" or "tallboys." "Originally" they were known "long" or "tall fellows." Tallboys are six or more inches tall or long tend to be in the form of animals. The NSPSC pictures a few examples of tallboys, including a pair of cats that resemble my poodles.
As the current owners of the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum (which is for sale) pointed out, salt and pepper shakers are in everyone's kitchen, and they "hold two of the most commonly used spices." (It seems that salt and pepper were first paired on American tables in the mid nineteenth century. I'll do some more investigating at the library.) Now, I have a better understanding about twentieth century Japanese ceramics and American twentieth century consumption of Japanese ceramics, and I will never look at a grouping a salt and pepper shakers at an antique shop, co-op, or mall the same way again.
UPDATE, 31 July 2010
Indeed, in America, although salt and pepper had been paired together and stored within table tools such as castors at least since the eighteenth century, pairs of salt and pepper "shakers" came on the scene in the late nineteenth century.
For a concise guide to collecting all kinds of twentieth century “collectible” objects and some information on c20 Japanese ceramics production and American consumption of Japanese ceramics, see Ralph and Terry Kovel, Kovel’s American Collectibles, 1900-2000 (New York: Random House, 2007).
For the history of salt, pepper, and other foodstuffs, see The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, ed. Andrew F. Smith (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).