I’ve learned a lot in the last few years about vintage salt and pepper shakers. In researching the owl shakers from my grandmother’s collection I have come across some excellent manufacturers including Holt Howard, Napco, Lego, and Enesco. Most of these seem to be imported from Japan. Here is some background and lovely examples of these great companies.
Brothers John and Robert Howard, and Grant Holt met and became friends while at the Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. The parents of the boys loaned them $9,000.00 to start their business. The business started in 1949 in an apartment on 35th Street in Manhattan, New York.
Originally they did not start out as an importing company. In the beginning they concentrated on Christmas items since in the 1950s Christmas items were very popular. Soon Holt-Howard began to branch out into kitchen-related items which also met with great success.
Pixieware is what the Holt Howard company is best remembered for, produced from about 1958 until the early 1960s. Holt Howard Pixieware is immediately recognizable for the elf heads which adorn the condiment jars and other kitchen ware, painted with bright colors and clever facial expressions from happiness to sadness.
Holt-Howard ceased production in 1990.
Established in 1938 in Bedford, Ohio, the National Potteries Corporation, otherwise known as Napco, imports various styles of ceramic, glass, and china giftware. Irwin Garber, who would later launch INARCO, joined the company in the mid 1940’s and spearheaded its development of head vases. Owned and operated in the Midwest, Napco distributed a variety of collectibles, including decorative wall accessories, ashtrays, ceramic and wood house wares, floral arrangements, ceramic planters, decorative glass, novelty figurines, mugs, trivets, and Christmas ceramics.
Napco used a wide array of marks for its head vases—some transfer marks and some paper labels. The paper labels feature various wording, such as: “A Napco Collection,” “Napco originals by Giftware,” “National Potteries Co., Cleveland, OH, Made in Japan,” and “Napcoware, Import Japan.”
Lego Imports-Goldman Morgan, the company’s full name, which represents a fusion of the first and last name of the company’s president: Leo Goldman. Based in New York, the manufacturer is known for distributing a variety of collectibles, including bar accessories, figurines, and mugs. The company’s head vases feature a paper label that reads: “Fine Quality Lego Japan.”
One of the largest head vase manufacturers in the world, Enesco was founded in 1959 by Eugene Freedman. Originally operating a small plastics and figurine company in Milwaukee, Freedman soon joined a Chicago-based import company, which had spun off of a prominent wholesale merchandising operation, N. Shure Co., the name of which morphed into N.S. Co.—and ultimately, Enesco.
The company began by marketing Southeast Asian giftware out of its modest Elk Grove, IL facilities; by the 80s, Enesco had expanded its presence throughout the U.S., and into Canada, Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, and Europe. Most designs of Enesco head vases were made by Japanese pottery makers and are marked exclusively with paper labels