About This Blog, and How to Find My Discussions of Some of Its Key Ideas

NOTE: I stopped actively adding to this blog in 2013.

A quote from my first post on this blog:

The purpose of this blog is to make a record of the salts and pepper sets I have collected–to account for why I collect them, to think about why they interest me both as individual sets and all together as a collection, to explore what my having this collection might say about the culture that has produced and then purchased, given as gifts, used, and collected the salts and peppers over the last century or so–and perhaps, even, what the collection might say about who I am myself.

For more information about how this collection of salt and pepper shakers came into existence, take a look at that first post.  For a little on the history of novelty shakers, this post might help.

For more information about my sometimes conflicted feelings about owning these shakers and having them on display in my house, see  this post, in which I identify myself as  an “ironic collector,”  and this one on “oppositional curating.”

For some key explorations of theoretical contexts that have become important to me as I think about shakers, see this post on “scriptive things” and the five posts that follow it chronologically on the same subject (or follow the tag “scriptive things), this post on kitsch, and this post on cuteness.

Gendered Elimination?

Since my last few posts have been about creatures taking their pants off, a look at this shaker set seems appropriate:

toiletsAs a set, they have an interesting binary-oppositional relationship.  I’m tempted to suggest that they replicate the insistence of the shaker miniverse on dividing things into opposite pairs: salt and pepper, black and white, male and female.  They might be doing so in this case by suggesting a gender opposition:  one of the object depicted is used, usually, only by males, and the other is depicted in a position that makes it convenient for females.  And in that way, they might represent the common tendency in shaker sets of distinguishing the two components of each set in terms of gender: by dressing one cute bear in a blue shirt and the other in a pink dress, for instance.

The objects depicted in this set, however, are not wearing dresses or shirts (although, as a hardened veteran spectator of the salt and pepper miniverse, I can all too easily imagine someone producing a set that did show cute toilets in clothing and with smiley faces).  So maybe I’m just imposing that whole gender thing on this set.  After all, if you’ve decided to depicted plumbing fixtures that aid in human elimination in a salt and pepper shaker set, are there really any other choices of two objects to depict?  I can’t think of any offhand–it’s hard to imagine how you might go about depicting a hole dug in the floor of the forest.   Perhaps you could include an old-fashioned outhouse?  So maybe the manufacturer of this set, having chosen to do sanitary facilities, was merely lucky enough to be confronted with just two possibilities, one of which is usually associated with males and one which isn’t, a difference which then makes them suitably oppositional enough to act as subjects for tabletop containers of salt and pepper.

I am, once more, taken aback by the idea that you might get some pleasure out of putting miniature representations of sanitary facilities on your dinner table.  A momento mori sort of reminder of our essentially animal nature, perhaps?  Nor do I get the pleasure of symbolically shaking the contents of a toilet and/or a urinal on your food.  It somehow seems to be implying a reversal of the usual order in which the processes of eating and digestion take place. You put what was once food and rink into toilets and urinals; you don’t usually put what was once food and has now been deposited in toilets and urinals on food.  And call me an old-fashioned conservative, but really, why would you even want to?

For a Spicy Experience, First Take the Pants Off

Here’s a little guessing game.  This is a salt or pepper shaker:
blob man

So what do you think its companion shaker might be?  I suspect that most people would guess the other part of this pair would be another similarly doughy creature–possibly, in the light of the associations between salt and pepper and black and white, a black doughy creature.

In point of fact, however, the other shaker turns out to be an item of clothing.  In my last post, I described a set of shakers depicting somebody taking his pants off.  This time, it turns out, we’re dealing with a creature who has his or her pants off already.  And I know that because the other shaker is its pants:

blob pantsThe pants are much too big for the little guy, and indeed, with the set stacked as intended, as in the photo above, it actually seems that what the creature is doing is standing in an oddly-shaped barrel.  But the set was sold in a box identifying it as Salt & Pants.   That black barrel-like thing is, really, supposed to be a pair of pants, as can be confirmed by various web pages currently selling this set:

salt and pants

As the copy in this offering from http://www.perpetualkid.com/ suggests “This spicy little guy dispenses salt from the top of his head and he’s got something special in his trousers… pepper!”

Salt & Pants is the kind of shaker set known to collectors as stackers or, more specifically, nesters:  The salty guy fits onto, or actually, into the pants.  You can, then, actually put the creature into the pants–dress the creature up just like a little doll.  Or, if your pleasure tends more in the opposite direction, you can start with the pants on and then remove the creature from them.  Actually, come to think of it, and as the Perpetual Kids ad copy suggests, you have to separate the creature from its pants in order to help yourself to pepper–maybe even salt.  So this set then consists of what Robin Bernstein calls scriptive things”  that imply a strangely salacious script of actions for those who might choose to use them to season their food: an act of depantsing.  You don’t get to experience the pepper without first removing the clothing.  Such is life.

My thanks to Asa Nodelman for the recent addition of this set to my collection.

Shake Your Booty

In recent posts, I’ve been talking about animals and other objects depicted in salt and pepper shakers as wearing various items of human clothing.  This time, I’m going to look at  a set that depicts a more or less human-like being who isn’t wearing quite enough clothing.

I begin with the actual shakers:

gnome cheeksReaders who have been following this blog for some time might be reminded of an earlier set of similarly-shaped and equally mysterious shakers:

Not Cute?

These, you may recall, turned out to be the detachable breasts of a peculiarly incomplete woman who was not completed even by them:

The Feminine Ideal?

This time, the strange objects are not breasts–no nipples, right?  But they do in fact turn out to be representations of naked body parts:


Yup, it’s some sort of gnome in the process of mooning us–a vision particularly disturbing from a certain angle:gnome back

This is a shaker set that makes me (and others I’ve shown it to) particularly curious about the answer to the question, “Why would you ever want to have a thing like this on your dining table?  And also in this case, related questions, such as, “Why would you want to shake stuff that comes from buttocks–even imaginary ceramic buttocks–onto your food?  On the other hand, thinking about these buttocks as what Robin Bernstein calls scriptive things, as I’ve discussed in a number of previous posts, I might have to add some further considerations to my earlier suggestion that there might be some pleasure in the imagined violence of shaking shakers that represent things like Aunt Jemima and Asiatic and Aboriginal stereotypes.  What are we to make of the imaginary act scripted  by these things of shaking your miniature booty?

This set, like a few others I’ve discussed in earlier posts, has magnets that keep the buttocks attached to the gnome they belong to.  You can see them here:gnome plus two

I guess that makes them a particularly attractive set of buttocks.

For Those Who Might Like a Fantastic Fork (or a Satisfying Spoon)

In the salt-and-pepper miniverse, it’s not only animals who wear human-type clothing.  Other objects can do it also.  Here, for instance, are a nattily dressed fork and spoon:fork and spoonIn addition to wearing aprons–certainly an appropriate garment for a pair of kitchen utensils–they have also grown arms and legs and even the barest beginnings of faces, thus, supposedly, humanizing them even more.  In fact, however, those weirdly tubular, weirdly awry limbs emerging from the sides of inert forks or spoons, and those strangely primitive faces, seem to me more horrific than human.  There’s something zombie-like about the wild arms and the blank stares.  I can see in this case why it might be tempting to actually put salt and pepper in these objects, because it would be comforting to give them a good shake and thus confirm one’s authority over them, lest they continue to mutate in even stranger and more unsettling ways.  Beware the devious fork, the frenzied spoon.

I do not, incidentally, know why they are sitting on bowling balls.

An Odd (Really Odd) Couple in Lots of Clothing

I’m fairly well convinced that this pair was always intended as a shaker set, because their colour palette is more or less the same:  the same dark green, with dark pink accents–and the smaller one’s face is the same brown as the larger one’s hair and shoes:    
Odd Couple

But for all that, they are surprisingly unlike each other.  One is a bunny, maybe, or perhaps  a mouse–or at least so its perky ears would suggest.  The other?  Well, not only does it not seem as bunny-like as its companion, but if we turn it around, we can see that it has wings like a bug:

Odd Couple Back

So then, is this pair a fairy small bunny and a bug-sized bug?  Or is it a very large bug and  a bunny-sized bunny?  One way or the other, I can think of no explanation for what these two might have to do with each other, or why one is wearing a clown hat and sucking a sucker.

The clown hat might well be the only piece of clothing the bug is wearing–the rest of it might be just naked bug surface.  Oh, except what seem to be a pair of brown shoes.  The bunny, on the other hand, has on, not only a similar pair of brown shoes, but what might a pair of fancy patterned bloomers, a shirt the same green colour as the bug’s bugskin (but which seems to be a shirt because it stoops at the wrists and reveal hands of a different colour, unlike the still-green hands of the bug), an apron, and a bow in the hair near her (I’m assuming) ear.

To add to the strangeness of this pair, the brown dots on the bug’s hat are exactly the same as the ones on his wings.  So perhaps I am wrong in assuming that the cone of his head is a detachable hat; maybe it’s just the permanent shape of his head.  Or more likely, maybe those aren’t real wings at all, but just a costume, another item of clothing that is disguising an actually non-bug-like bunny child.  The two figures do have similar pudgy cheeks and half-moon eyes.

Or maybe not.  Once more, I have to conclude that these animal-like creature wearing items of human clothing in shaker sets are neither animal nor human, but often occupy an eerily ambivalent state of in-between, creatures apparently in the process of morphing from one species to another.  Seen in those terms, they are more like nightmares from horror movies than the apparently harmless cutie-poos a first glance at them would suggest.  Maybe looking too closely at novelty salt and pepper shaker sets like this is not actually a good idea after all.

A Lobster Dressed for Lobster Fishing.

Here’s an addition to my series of posts on animals in human clothing that introduces a new hat but begins with a memory of some old ones. Some time ago, I wrote a post on this blog about these lobsters and their participation in their own death by boiling (see earlier post here):


Back then, I didn’t say all that much about their clothing. These lobster are wearing both chef’s hats and aprons–which bizarrely, makes them human enough to be cute enough so that the fact that they are preparing themselves to be eaten seems somehow perfectly acceptable. That acquiescence in their murderous fate is quality they share with another jolly lobster:
lobster 2This time, the lobster wears a sou’wester, just as does the fisherman who accompanies him. And he seems perfectly happy to sit by that fisherman while carrying one of the tools of the fisher’s lobster-catching trade, an anchor. The fisherman himself carries something that I recognize as another lobster-fishing-related tool–although I had no idea about what it was called or for that matter, what it was for, until Google identified it for me as a float for a lobster pot–i.e., a trap like the one the lobster in this shaker set is so casually and happily sitting on.

Like the two lobsters sitting in the pot, this one appears to be smiling like a human, using the backward-j-shaped slot below and to the left of its eyes. And yet, of course, as I pointed out in my earlier post about the pot-sitters, lobsters mouths are actually at the front-end of their bodies, i.e., in this case, somewhere under the sou’wester. that these lobster should have been provided with an extra and more-human looking (and smiling) mouth is another way beside their hats that helps to humanize them, and make them seem somehow less alien and more like us. Although, of course, I have to ask why we would want to think that way about something we eat. Imagine this shaker set sitting on the table on which you are serving a meal of lobster. It seems to be a way of turning a tasty feast into a horrific act of cannibalism. And yet, somehow, it is meant to, and in actual fact seems to, actually make the lobster less monstrous, and the act of eating it more a matter of just accepting its charitable gift of its own delicious self. That’s intriguingly paradoxical; why would we rather ingest something we can think of as human than something we can think of as clearly not human? Why is pseudo-cannibalism preferable to eating the Other?

A sticker on the bottom of the lobster says that this set was made in China. The writing on the lobster trap identifies it as a souvenir of Halifax NS.

Cute as a Bug in a Rugged Shirt and a Pair of Trousers

Here’s another set of nonhuman creatures wearing human clothing.  At first glance, indeed, this pair of shakers appears to be quite completely clothed:

bugsThey seem to be wearing black shirts with white stripes–their shirthood implied by the fact that their hands emerge from the arms of them.  And on top of their shirts are what certainly seem to be the straps of two pairs of pants–red pants with black polka dots on them. The creatures seem to be holding onto those straps like a pair of yacky old cartoon farmers holding on to their suspenders while they gossip about the weather and the evil guv’ment and kids these days.

And yet: look again.  This pair are meant to represent bugs, I think–possibly ladybugs:

ladybugThe shakers have two protuberances emerging from the tops if each of their heads, sort of like ladybugs, and they have shell-shaped wings–again, sort of like ladybugs, although if those shell-like wings or wing-covers are their ladybug-like parts, then what are we to make of their trousers?  Actual ladybugs are black down there, not reddy-orange and polka-dotted like their backs are.

But in any case:  if those things that emerge from their back are indeed something buggily winglike, or something like the coverings of ladybugs, then their pants can’t be pants, for they are of the same colour and have the same dots on them and so must be an integral part of their bug-like bodies. But then, the pants must be pants, because they have straps that go over their shirts.  But then if they are pants, the winglike or shell-like things on their backs must be fake, not authentic bug parts at all, but merely removable add-ons.  They are merely something else pretending to be bugs.  And yet their face are distressingly bug-like–or rather, distressingly like conventional cartoon versions of bugs with semi-humanized faces.

Oh, and I suddenly just now see that I’ve been taking for granted the fact that these supposed bugs do in fact have hands and arms.  And are capable of holding flowers in the hands.

Okay, then so what are these things?  Not bugs, certainly.  But not not bugs, just as certainly.  Amorphous creatures, then, ambivalently existing somewhere in the mysterious space between pure bughood and pure humanity. They are cute as a bug, certainly, at least on the surface.  But having now taken a closer and more observing view of them I have to admit that I’m beginning to find them more than a little disturbing. Like many creepy-crawly creatures who don’t wear pants, they are pretty creepy, and mostly because they may or may not have pants on.

Shirtless and Pantless, but with a Hat

Continuing with this series of posts about salt and pepper shaker sets that represent animals and the clothing that they do and do not wear, there is this set, which trumps the various pantless and/or shirtless sets I have been describing by depicting creatures wearing nothing but hats (and glasses):


They are, I assume, owls, I assume that in part because they have bird-like beaks and claws and wings (albeit wings that can also act like arms and hands and hold packages–or are those things that they are holding labelled “salt” and “pepper” meant to be academic degrees? Degrees in salt-and-pepper-ology, perhaps? Or doctorates in the seasoning arts?). I also assume these two are owls in part because of their hats and glasses. The hats look something like academic mortar boards, although without the tassels. That, and the fact that this pair are wearing glasses, an evocation of the stereotype that only smart nerdish people–“four-eyes,” as people used to say in my long-ago youth– need glasses, almost automatically identifies them as wise professors–as wise, as the saying goes, as owls.

Curiously, therefore, the few visually-represented human wardrobe items of this pair can identify them as being representations of a specific kind of human being because their visual representation of these particular items of clothing evokes a verbal phrase, and therefore a language-based stereotype. They are owls because owls are representatives of wisdom in folk culture. They can be identified as especially wise (or marked with the visual signs of wisdom) because they have the hats of professors and because professors are, of course, wise. As a former professor myself I can readily confirm that professors generally exhibit a truly terrifying degree of wisdom. All it takes is a hat and pair of glasses, and two mere birds become two humanly wise ones.

Or perhaps it goes the other way. Perhaps it takes only a hat and a pair of glasses to change two birds from being just birds to becoming symbolic representations of a certain kind of human. It’s this latter possibility that might drive someone to give the gift of a shaker set like this one to a professorial (or merely brainy) friend as a symbolic representation of that friend. “Here’s some owlish representations of your high IQ, smartie-pants. Enjoy.” Well, in the absence thereof, I guess not “smartie-pants.” Smartie-hat, maybe.

The other odd feature of this set is the fact that the eyes inside the frames of the glasses are not made of the ceramic material that the rest of the pieces consist of. Instead, they appear to be rhinestone or some other form of fake diamond, glued on to the surface. They are, therefore, especially sparkly, and give the two owly professors an entirely suitable look of zoned-out derangement.

The bottom of one of these pieces identifies them as coming from Japan, and there is also a glued-on label saying, “Napco Originals by Giftcraft.” According to this website,

The Napco Company, or National Potteries Corporation, began production in 1938 and their products were extremely popular in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Napco produced figurines, collectibles, decorative glass and porcelain ceramics. Napco is still one of the most famous names for porcelain ceramics, antique pottery, vintage products and other collectibles. As collectors’ items, it is important to identify NAPCO Ceramics by their marks and numbers.

In the light of that importance, I therefore also record here that my owls are identified on the bottom of the pepper shaker as Napco no. 2T2927.

And incidentally: I am finding it very odd that a company named “Giftcraft” exists, with its announced purpose being to produce objects exactly and only intended to be gifts, and apparently, with no other specific use or purpose. Isn’t that just a teensy bit weird? Gifts of giftware? And were “giftcraft” sets like these owls ever actually intended to be salt and pepper dispensers or anything else but just plain gifts?

Pantless and Topless, But with a Strategically Placed Towel

In response to my earlier post about a pantless pair of pigs and the phenomenon of pantlessness in humanized depictions of animals in cartoons, children’s books, and elsewhere, my friend Tina Hanlon made this comment:

I wonder if it has something to do with pants being a more recent invention than cloaks/shirts/robes of various kinds. I wondered years ago why Porky Pig has these habits you describe–some clothes but not pants, yet when he got out of the shower he covered the lower part of his body with a towel.

I have some doubts about the significance of the relatively recent historical development of pants, mainly because I can’t see how that would affect what artists would choose to draw.  Pantless Porky represents an earlier stage of human evolutionary development?   When we were more like pigs and less like the gods we’re gradually turning into (according to the poet Tennyson, anyway)?  Well, Tina might well be right about the historical connection, then; but if so, I’d like to understand more about why and how that  history would come into play here.  And actually, I suspect that for most artists who choose to depict an animal with a shirt and/or a hat but no pants on, it’s just a more or less unconscious choice, a matter of allowing conventions and knowledge of previous artists’ work to take over  (although there is, of course, always the question of what you do about a tail when the animal attached to it has pants on.  A back bulge?  A tail hole?).

But here’s what is most interesting me now: I wasn’t aware of Porky Pig’s after-bath wrapping options. Tina is, of course, right about those.  Here’s Porky as he is usually dressed:

porky_pig  2

And now here’s a series of moments in a sequence in the Looney Tunes cartoon Porky’s Pooch, released in 1941, in which Porky’s bath is interrupted by his door bell ringing:

porky bath 1

porky bath 2 porky bath 3 porky bath 4

Okay, so Porky, who usually wears only a jacket to cover his upper torso, emerges from the tub feeling the need to hide, not his upper torso, but the lower, usually exposed lower parts of it. Why?

Well, let see.  First off, apparently, he has to wear something.  If he were completely without clothing, he would just look like a pig, and not like the humanized Porky at all.  To be Porky is to be partially covered.

Second, though, why not wrap the towel around his neck and leave his bottom as bare as usual?  I think that this might have something to do with the ways in which we perceive nakedness. Porky in a jacket but without pants does in fact not seem to express the idea of nakedness–although why he doesn’t continues to remain something of a mystery.  But I suspect that Porky emerging from a bath and choosing to wrap a towel around his upper body, but with his lower torso exposed as in his usual clothed state, would indeed seem to be naked still–perhaps because we have to get naked to take baths, and thus the significant and usually taboo bits of nakedness need to be covered when baths are over, if Porky is to continue seeming human. Also, since he just came out of a human bathtub in a human bathroom, his nakedness would almost inevitably seem to be a human, i.e., forbidden or tantalizing, form of nakedness.  Having been established as a human-like creature, he would not, without clothes, just be an ordinarily and unsalaciously naked pig.

There’s also another complication  in Porky’s Pooch, the cartoon in which Porky’s bath is interrupted, the dog who rings the doorbell is there to try to persuade the humanized pig to take him on as a pet.  He is merely a dog then–even though he does speak human English–and as a mere and only minimally humanized dog, he of course wears no clothes–as dogs usually don’t.  Their pethood and animality are confirmed by a lack of clothing. But later in the cartoon, in an effort to persuade Porky that he’d make a good pet, the dog pulls a tablecloth from under a potful of flowers, wraps it around his lower torso like a skirt (or–and here’s the thing–like Porky’s bath towel) and, the flower-pot having landed on his head, does an imitation of the South-of-the-Border singer Carmen Miranda:

porky dog

So the dog is now dressed similarly to Porky in the towel–but we are to understand that it means something quite different.  The humanized pig has simply wrapped himself in an after-bath towel, the way human beings do, whereas the dog is doing a masquerade, only putting on an act–pretending to be a human while remaining a more or less unhumanized dog (except, again, for the ability to communicate in human language).  Weirder and weirder, eh?

Or maybe this business of Porky’s towel has nothing to do with any of that at all.  I’m really just doing a lot of guessing here.  All other suggestions gratefully received and considered.  And thanks to Tina for suggesting this aspect of this fascinating topic.  Even if it only relates peripherally to salt and pepper shaker sets.

Incidentally, a perusal of my salt and pepper shaker collection reveals not a single depiction of any creature in a towel–although the two bathers of an earlier post might be near one?

Wholly Cow, Partly Human

As did one of the flamingos of my last post, this cow is wearing sunglasses.

milk cow 1

But in this case, sunglasses is almost all she wears, except for what might be some grey fur on top of her head but what is probably intended to represent some sort of a motorcycle helmet . But like the pigs in scarves and hats of a few posts ago, she wears nothing below the neck.

It seems that the sunglasses are the helmet are necessary because the milk delivery vehicle is, it seems, a topless convertible.  The cow would get grit in his or her eyes if it weren’t for the sunglasses, and presumably needs some head protection in case of an accidental roll.

It is, however, still somewhat strange that a cow–or for that matter, any creature–might choose to wear sunglasses and a helmet but absolutely nothing else, Well, perhaps a human being in a hurry to get to or on the lam from at a nudist park might wear those things?  But it does seem odd enough to suggest once more how very little it takes to humanize an animal,  One scarf and hat, or as here, one little pair of sunglasses and the mere suggestion of a helmet, and suddenly the creature is transformed from a farm animal very much stuck in the wrong place behind the wheel of a vehicle to a dashing driver whom we can think of as being pretty well completely human, even without pants. Or a shirt  And what was just bovine is now throughly and completely cute.

Even cuter, the vehicle being driven here is in the shape of a milk bottle, as can more readily be seen here:milk cow 2

And also here, where we can see the label on the milk bottle top:

milk cow 3

That’s a milk delivery vehicle for sure.  I suppose that the ability to drive it is an additional way of humanizing the driver, on top of the sunglasses.  Cows don’t generally have their driver’s licences.  (Mind you, cars don’t usually look like bottles of milk.  But that’s a whole other issue–the cutification of non-humanized physical objects, perhaps?)

This is, incidentally, the kind of shaker set known as a go-with: the cow goes with the milk bottle truck.  and it is also a stacker, since the cow sits on top of the truck.