Want to shake off the summer doldrums? Then pay a visit to the Novelty Salt and Pepper Shakers Club national conference, to be held at the Newark Liberty International Airport Marriott Hotel this Thursday through Sunday. Members of the group will descend on New Jersey for a convention titled "Shake! Shake! Shake! In the Garden State."
These avid collectors — like those of cookie jars and ice cream scoops —scour America for the most unusual kitchen items."The typical response is, ‘You collect what?' People don't think of salt and pepper shakers as figural [in the shape of objects or people]. They think of them as what you put on your kitchen table," national president Cindy Mott said.
Ms. Mott is a New York native who resides in Orlando, Fla. Her father owned a restaurant on West 79th Street in the 1950s called La Concha.
Arriving from Lancaster, Pa., will be a former club officer, Sylvia Tompkins, whose collecting specialties include water-themed salt and pepper shakers such as ships, mermaids, fish, sailors, frogs, lighthouses, and alligators. Among her collection is a set of sea horses on crutches and a shark playing pool. But what does this author of nine books about shakers have at her dining table? "I don't use my collection," Ms. Tompkins said.
"A lot of us actually don't use our shakers since salt is corrosive," the convention chair, Rosalie Friedberg, said.
A Manhattan-based real estate attorney, Ms. Friedberg has a collection that features Humpty Dumpty shakers. "People are shocked to find out that there are so many Humpty Dumpty ones," she said. So far, she has counted 60.
The prices of her finds range from a few dollars to a Mickey Mouse set from Germany worth more than $500. She stores some of her shaker collection in a Lucite case at work.
She also collects "nodders," which are salt and pepper shakers with heads that bob. Ms. Friedberg said there is a pair of Bill and Hillary Clinton shakers. His head nods "yes" and hers shakes "no."
Attendees at the convention can build their collection."We bring things to sell in our rooms. People wander the halls shopping," said Ms. Tompkins.
To attract younger members, Ms. Mott initiated a junior program for collectors under 18. One former junior collector is Joshua Weaver, 25, who attended his first convention at age 9. Now a medical doctor, his collection includes shakers in the shape of skulls.
The Novelty Salt and Pepper Shakers Club formed in 1987 as a splinter group from the Antique and Art Glass Salt Shaker Collectors Society. In earlier times, salt was generally served in open dishes. During the 1800s, technology advanced such that one was able to grind salt fine enough that it could be poured.
Upper Montclair, N.J., resident Mara Terrone is president of the Garden State chapter, which is hosting the convention. At the hotel, there will be lectures, costume contests, and a special reception for first-time attendees.
Collecting can be contagious, said Ms. Friedberg. Her sister, Linda Rice of River Vale, N.J., was not initially a collector. But a few years back the two went to a convention in Ohio together. She recalled her sister said she planned to buy "one pair" of shakers as a remembrance. But the time the convention was over, her sister had shipped home two cartons of shakers and carried others on board. Now, her sister's collection is "up to four curio cabinets," Ms. Friedberg said.
Gloria Winslow of West Hempstead, N.Y., owns 11,000 sets. Where does she put them? "Anywhere where there's not a window or door," she said, adding that the collection filled wall space from floor to ceiling.
Sometimes collections can grow to enormous proportion. The New York Sun spoke with Irene Thornburg, a Michigan resident who has been collecting since 1949 and has 20,556 pairs of shakers. A building in her backyard houses her collection.
What is most rewarding about this hobby? Ms. Tompkins said, "The best thing is the friends you make."
That is nothing to sneeze at.