A lot of the sets of shakers in my collection are what the world of salt-and-pepper-set collectors, apparently, call “go-withs”–the ones I like to call binary opposites: the shakers depict two quite different objects that have some logical or linguistic collection to each other, like the common opposites of black and white or good and evil or adults and children, or for that matter, salt and pepper.  Take, for instance, this pair: The two shakers look nothing like each other, and so it might take a moment or two to figure out the puzzle:  it’s a goose and an egg, and geese lay eggs, and the egg is golden so, wait, I get it now, it’s the goose that laid the golden egg.  And considering the size of the goose and the size of the egg, it must have been really, really painful.

In the next series of posts here, I’m going to consider a series of go-withs in which one of each pair is also to be found in the next pair.  So now it’s a guessing game:  which of the goose or the egg will appear in my next post, and what will be paired with it?

And Now for Something Incompletely Different

These set appears to offer yet another set of racial stereotypes–but not, this time, aboriginal ones:The pitch-black skins, the big round eyes, the thick lips, the overall roundish dehumanizing cuteness–these are, it seems, a version of the standard classical caricature of people of African descent.  Much like the one in this old advertisement:Or like the traditional Golliwog:The figures on these shakers are just as offensively stereotyped as these old images are.

But I’m actually kind of hesitant about identifying the figures on the shakers as black stereotypes, for a couple of reasons.

First, the shakers have a kind of nautical feeling about them.  The figures appear to be wearing sailor hats, they are standing on what appear to be ship’s wheels, and the image on one of the shakers appears to be representing some kind of boat or ship.

But second, why do they represent ships–and why, for that matter, would they be representing people of colour–when they claim to be souvenirs of a place called Clyde, Alberta:I don’t know much about Clyde, Alberta, but I do know that it is a very small village north of Edmonton on the bald Canadian prairies–nowhere near a body of water where any sailors, especially any African-seeming ones, might ply their trade.  I asked my brother Joel, who lives not far from Clyde, if he knew of any nautical connection the place, or if he had any knowledge of its connection with sailing, and he told me this:

No idea.  Clyde is a really tiny village on the bald ass prairie.  They are primarily a farming community and they are slowly shrinking into a ghost town.
And I really have no idea why the sailor would be black.  Up until the recent influx of immigrants from Africa here in Edmonton, I don’t think there was ever an African American within 500 miles of the place.  A Ukrainian theme I might understand.  Perhaps some French Canadian.  But a black sailor – no idea.  Maybe they got a sale on discontinued salt shakers.  In that kind of small Alberta town – thrift I understand.

So perhaps it is just thrift.  After all, these shakers consist of various kinds of wooden beads and plastic buttons glued together–a kind of making something sort of useful out of leftover remnants, perhaps; what Claude Lévi-Strauss identifies as bricolage?

But then, I realize, there is a sort of seagoing connection, at least in the place name:  Clyde in Alberta might have been named after the river Clyde in Scotland, the banks of which  in and near Glasgow were the centre of the British shipbuilding industry for many decades.  So it’s possible to imagine some retired shipbuilder, perhaps very grimy from years of toil in the shipyards, being a founder of the town and memorialized here.  Or maybe a wealthy shipbuilder retired to Clyde and brought some of his former slaves along with him?  Or perhaps the stereotypically thrifty Scot who named the place got a good deal on leftover shakers from some town in Mississippi.  I don’t know.  And one way or the other, why are the sailors wearing pearl earrings?  Are they pirates?  Are theyAfrican-American  drag queen sailors lost on a spree in the wilds of Alberta?  It remains a mystery.

One other thing that I forgot to mention; the ships wheels on which the figure stand move sideways to reveal the holes the salt and pepper come from.  So these are a set of shakers with moveable parts–shakers moving into the category of toys, then.  I have just a few other pairs that move in various ways also.

A Different Pair of Binaries

The aboriginal salt-and-pepper sets I’ve been describing in my latest group of posts are all gender-based.  They all consist of of one male and one female–or to be more accurate in the light of their indulgence is stereotypes, one cliché-type brave and one cliché-type squaw–the poem on the female of the pair I looked at in my last post even specifically identifies her as the “chief’s squaw.”   But this one is part of a different pair.  First off, he’s not human, but some kind of animal–a mouse, I think, but a mouse so entirely chubby-cheeked and cutesified that the actual species the shaker might claim to be representing remains a little uncertain.  Whatever else he is, though, he is cute–cute and aboriginal; you can tell he’s aboriginal by the headband with a feather in it (and also, a view from the back makes it clear that he is wearing a loincloth).  But this time, his partner is not an equally cute “squaw.”  Instead, we have this:Another mouse, but this one wears what looks like a cowboy hat and sports a pistol.  A cowboy and an Indian, then.  And most likely, two males.

What is most noticeable about them (beside the weird fact that even though they represent animals who have furry faces, their cheeks are nevertheless the cute rosy pink of an adorable human blush) is the devilish and mischievous look they share.  The Indian is either saluting or scouting, but in either case, he does so with a sly grin and arched brows.  The cowboy winks slyly as he shoots into the sky.  Neither looks very trustworthy.  Both imply something transgressive–the kind of defiantly uncivilized boyishness that used to be associated with various frontiers, perhaps, as in Frederick Jackson Turner‘s frontier thesis.   As Huck Finn says at the end of Mark Twai ‘s novel,

 I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.

At any rate, this set of shakers seem to be more like compadres than enemies, more Tonto and the Lone Ranger  than the Whitehats against the Redskins. Once more, the racist stereotype seems to insinuating itself into allowability by being harmlessly cute, like a bad but adorable little boy saying bad words or wearying his muddy boots into the house.

More Wooden Verse

Here’s another set of aboriginal stereotypes, drawn on pieces of wood with some of their bark still attached, and described in some even more wooden verse.  The usual markers, by now readily recognizable, are present: the hooked noses, the war bonnet, the headband, the braids.  The wooden poems, not so readily readable from the photos, go like thus:

Him not big chief

By default, him

Big chief cause

Him use salt.


Her not chief’s squaw

Cause she pretty

Her use much pepper

She very witty

Note the bad grammar and the lack of reason: why would you choose the person who used the most salt as your leader?  In what way is using a lot of pepper to be identified with wit?  I mean, I’ve heard of salty humour, but peppery?

I suspect these are trying to be funny, the humour stemming from the supposed ignorant ungrammaticality of natives, and I guess, the silliness of their ideas about salt and pepper.  But it’s hard to believe that very much thought or effort went into dreaming up these poems.  It’s a kind of lazy humour, then, the knd you fall into when you just coast on cliches and stereotypes and aren’t actually trying very hard–or are actually trying very hard but don’t possess the pepper, I mean wit.  The sad and telling part is how often that kind of lazy person’s wit reaches so readily and automatically into the world of racist slurs.  If you can’t come up with anything else, you can always say a few familiar cruel things about minorities.

Like a surprisingly number of my salt-and-pepper sets that claim to represent a place, this one claims to reveal the spirit of Banff.  I don’t know why I have so many Banff sets–maybe it’s just because it’s a big centre of tourism and therefore there was a market for a lot of kitsch, including a wide variety of novelty salt-and-pepper shaker sets.

Poetic Racism

At first glance, if you approach them from the right angle, this set of shakers looks like a couple of pieces cut from a small branch of a tree. But turn them around, and they look quite different.

Yes, that’s right, another couple of Indian stereotypes.  While this pair are only drawn in two-dimensions and not three-dimensional figures, they share many of the usual markers of aboriginality: she with her single feather, he with his war bonnet; the fringed outfits, the dark hair, the prominent noses.  Also, this time, they accompany a poem.

Not only a poem, but apparently, a copyrighted poem, according to the information on the salt.  Not only a poem, but a poem that purports to represent the ignorantly ungrammatical speech patterns of stereotyped natives.  Me no likum.  Me no likum at all.

This set of shakers is not only made of wood, but it seems that they have been made of an actual hollowed out and bark-covered piece of wood–the bark is authentic. It seems to be, maybe, pine?  The only F. Plasman I can find on the internet is the name of a bakery and tearoom in Den Haag in the Netherlands, where I’m fairly certain buffalo meat and venison steak aren’t often on the menu.

This indigenous couple is a souvenir of North Battleford, Saskatchewan.

More Adult Indigenes

Unlike the sets of salt-and-pepper shakers I’ve been describing in my last five entries, this set does not appear to represent children, and is not particularly cute.  The binary opposites are preserved, as they almost always are in the salt-and-pepper world, and it’s still a male and female couple.   But  the male is a noble and fairly serious-looking fellow in a war bonnet and with a prominent nose–a large, often hooked nose often appears in traditional caricatures of aboriginals, as in this portrayal of the redskins of James Barrie’s Neverland  in Loisel’s French language bandes dessinées series Peter Pan:

And the female?  Well, she’s grown up enough to develop some rather astonishing breasts, and the exceedingly low cut of the top she wears makes it clear that she isn’t the least bit modest about showing them off.  She also appears to have a pretty uplifting wired bra or corset on under that baby blue top, to emphasize her sizeable attributes.Unlike her partner or her breasts, on the other hand, her nose is not the least bit bulbous or prominent, for as again often happens with aboriginal stereotypes, the women often look more like conventional white ideas of beauty;

Loisel's Tiger Lily from his Peter Pan

if her skin were a little paler, the salt-and-pepper Indian woman could pass as the young Debby Reynolds.

Aboriginal Metallica

This set once more represents an aboriginal couple as adorable children, and with more or less the usual stereotype markers: both with chubby cheeks,  both with pigtails, both, this time, wearing headbands with a single feather, he in a loincloth, she in a fringed long-sleeved dress.  While the two figures are both the same  height, he is represented as sitting, she standing, which means he must be substantially taller than she is.  But putting that aside, there is something that makes them somehow more solemn and serious than my other cute natives: they are made of some kind of brass-like heavy metal.  It gives them weight, both literally, and somehow, more symbolically.  They seem Important.  Part of their Importance is the shields they bear, ceremonial regalia that makes them representatives of the province of Manitoba:  for him the provincial shield, and for her the crocus, the provincial flower.  And they are surprisingly detailed, even the backs:

But the weightiness disappears in another set I have:

This set appears to be the same couple, but this time, they are made of some kind of light plastic in a tinselly silvery colour.  They have lost their gravitas–not to mention some of their details; while it’s possible that they were made from the same mould as the brass-like pair, their relative crudeness suggests that they might have been made using something like a set of the brass pair as the base for a new mould.  And now they represent, not Manitoba in detailed imagery, but just CANADA in plain letters, as well as the mundane initials of the specific seasoning they are meant to dispense.

But while there’s some loss of seriousness and artistry, they remain triumphantly stereotypical, triumphantly happy to declare iconic representations of indigenous peoples, dressed as surely no specific Manitoban or Canadian First Nation ever dressed, as symbols of a province or of the entire nation: as signs of its northernness, perhaps, or its connection to the wild?  The paradoxical relationship between this co-option of a stereotype as a marker for a place, a representation of what identifies that place or makes it unique, and the actual often hostile colonial treatment of the real people the stereotype purports to represent is telling.