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Ready to shake up your vacation? Want to add a little spice to your day?
That’s right, we’re talking about Gatlinburg’s Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, one of only a handful of salt and pepper shaker galleries in the country, featuring a collection of over 20,000 shaker sets and 1,500 pepper mills from around the world.
The museum is also one of the most affordable attractions in The Smokies at just $3 per ticket for general admission.
Understandably, it’s only natural at this point for the average non-shaker-aficionado to roll their eyes and ponder – “what’s so great about a salt and pepper shaker museum?”
But give me just a few paragraphs to tell you why this vast collection of what some would call “knick-knacks” holds a special place in my heart and how it helped me form a deeper understanding, and a deeper connection to my own mother.
Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum owner Andrea Ludden is an archaeologist by training. Her collection began with a simple search for the perfect pepper mill for her kitchen. She was struck by the variety available, and became fascinated by the cultural significance many held – just like a historical artifact found at a dig site, these collector’s items tell a story of the era in which they were created.
The museum’s shakers are organized chronologically, beginning with the 1800s. Here, you’ll find shakers made of glass, tin, metal and even wood.
As you move into the early 20th century section, the shaker sets begin to feature more color and novelty shapes.
Fast forward a few decades and you’ll notice the salt-and-pepper-shaker world went crazy in the1950s. You name it – any popular piece of pop culture or historical reference you can think of from “I Love Lucy” to Dwight D. Eisenhower – and there it is, in the form of a shaker.
Some themes seem more abundant than others – I guesstimate at least 200 sets featuring various forms of corn … ceramic husks, baby kernels labeled with “s” and “p,” smiling pieces of corn on the cob and even a “corn couple” (featuring a lady dressed with a detailed painted dress and the gentleman in overhauls – each with kernels for eyes).
The vegetable collection isn’t limited to just corn – also represented is a plethora of veggie-themed miniature works of art: cauliflower, broccoli, beans (shelled and loose of course), peas, and all kinds of peppers. I’m pretty sure I even saw a set of artichokes.
While some might consider the vegetables a little kitschy, no one can doubt the value and beauty of the shakers located in “The Vault.”
“The Vault” is located in the center of the museum – this is where the REALLY valuable sets are housed. Antique shakers sit among those made with precious metals and gems. Some look to be depression-era glass and some were made in occupied Japan. A beautiful pair of pearls made into tiny shakers caught my eye.
The Vault also houses shakers made by some of the world’s best china companies, including a very impressive assortment made by Royal Delft – which made me wonder if some of these had famous owners in a previous life, but little information accompanied the displays.
The second half of the museum is home to a more modern collection – representing shaker sets from recent decades. This is when the collection becomes “cool” – at least to my young nephews, who originally wanted to wait in the car but were thrilled to see their favorite cartoon characters, superheroes and sports teams celebrated in their full-glory shaker form.
I found my favorite set here – John F. Kennedy and his rocker. I’m not sure which one was the pepper and which was the salt.
I was also really impressed by a visitor map. Non-collectors are asked to mark their hometown with a stick pin. Collectors, like myself, mark their location with a push pin.
You see, I was born into a family of shaker enthusiasts.
My mother began her collection with a set of ceramic lobster claws she found while on vacation with my dad in Rhode Island ten years before I was born. As the years went on, her collection would grow to over 5,000 shakers before we stopped counting. Truth be told, she called it at 5000 “and a half” because she never quite appreciated the humor of the “Lost Shaker of Salt Set” from Margaritaville. She died convinced I had broken it’s mate.
I’ve spent years caring for, dusting, organizing, researching and pouring (shaker joke) over information about the pieces in my mother’s collection. I’ve even gone to conventions and scoured eBay for her “must haves”.
Mom’s collection is the archeology of her life. The sets represent the places and the people she loved. The curio cabinets, spread throughout my house with hardly room for another set, tell my family’s story.
Perhaps this is the reason why the Salt and Pepper museum holds such a special place in my heart – and left me, my nieces and my nephews (who accompanied me on this trip) with a new appreciation and a new respect for the incredible collection amassed at the Salt and Pepper Shaker museum, and the history represented within.
About the museum
General admission is just $3 per adult, children 12 and under are free. Your $3 admission price can be used toward the purchase of a set in the gift shop. My nephews selected a “Dr. Who” set to add to mom’s collection.
The museum is open everyday from 10am-2pm – even Christmas. Hours may vary due to inclement weather – but the museum is great about posting last-minute closures on their Facebook page – so always check there first if there’s any doubt.
The museum is located at 461 Brookside Village Way in Gatlinburg. Visit TheSaltAndPepperShakerMuseum.com for more information.
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