Unique U.S. Museums: The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum


By Carla Charter

GATLINBURG,TN. –   At the gateway to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, is the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  The 10,000 annual visitors to the museum come for several reasons.  “It’s like walking down memory lane for them, like visiting grandmothers house. They always have a set they remember.  It connects everyone in the world.  There is not a single house that does not have a container for salt.  Collectors come through the museum appreciate what they have at home, said curator Andrea Ludden.

The museum began when Ludden’s mother, the late Andrea Ludden, returned to California from South America where she had spent much of her life as an archaeologist. She began collecting after a trip to try to find a working pepper mill.  “You can trace how society changes over time through salt and pepper shakers.  Salt and pepper shakers take creativity and ingenuity to create.  They also serve as mementos from trips,” Ludden said.

Ludden explained that salt is a rock and will clump.  Thus it was originally placed in a container called a salt cellar. “This is where the term pinch of salt came from,” Ludden said.  “It wasn’t until 1908-1910 Morton developed an additive that allowed salt to be poured,” she continued.

No one really knows when the first salt and pepper shakers were made. “The biggest boom in shakers was right after World War II. Servicemen fighting war came home and there was a boom in taking vacations.  The forties and fifties were the boom eras of salt and pepper shakers.”

In the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum are a little over 20,000 pairs of salt and pepper shakers. “The salt and pepper shakers at the museum come from antique shops and antique malls all over the United States. However, they have originally come from all over the world,” Ludden said.

“The oldest shakers we have are a pestle and mortar which is 3,000 years old. “It was part of my mother’s archeological collection,” Ludden said. “The earliest one we have that looks like a shaker is from the 1860’s. It has holes, and you shake a stick with prongs at the end to break up the salt in the jar,” she said. Among the more unique salt and pepper shakers the museum has a music box. “It looks like a platter with a salt and pepper shaker and a China doll in the middle. When you lift the shaker and it plays a little tune,” she stated.

Along with the salt and pepper shakers, the museum also has 1500 pepper grinders on display, including their oldest, a Scandinavian mechanism whch crushes the pepper. “It has a small millstone works like millstones in the old mills,” Ludden said.  The most unique grinder the museum has, she continued, is in the shape of Mount St Helens and shows the mountain before and after the explosion. “It is made out of the ashes of Mount St. Helen,” Ludden said.  The Peugeot company who made steel in the 1840’s and 1850’s created first pepper mill.

The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum has a sister museum in Spain which has 20,000 salt and pepper shaker sets, Ludden said.  She continued the museum has also sent 14,500 shaker sets to an independent Salt and Pepper Shaker museum in Israel which was started by a fellow collector.

More information about the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum can be found at the www.thesaltandpeppershakermuseum.com

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