The clean-lined geometric forms of these salt and pepper shakers show American modernism’s affinity for simplicity. During the 1930s the emergence of chromed metal, steel, and aluminum tableware coincided with the rise of modernist designs for everyday objects. These simple metal cubes were created with cost-effective manufacturing techniques, stamping and piercing, to create utilitarian and cheerful tableware with an astronomy theme, reflecting a machine age fascination with science and new technologies. Only the shaker tops are decorated, showing simple stamped “stars” and pierced holes that form the ringed planet Saturn on one, and a comet’s tail on the other. The holes are just large enough for shaking out the contents. The removable ivory-toned plastic bases allowed the user to fill the shakers, and offered an elegant visual contrast to the reflective metal surfaces.
The Skyway shakers were manufactured by the Chase Brass and Copper Company’s Specialty Division. Founded in the late nineteenth century, Chase was a major producer of copper and brass industrial parts and plumbing components. By the early 1930s, feeling the financial effects of the Great Depression, the company began marketing a line of tableware and household gifts to bolster sales, and commissioned practitioners in the new field of industrial design to create many of the wares. Lurelle Guild, Walter Von Nessen, and Russel Wright were among the industrial designers engaged by Chase. The use of chromed metal and plastic offered Depression-era consumers a cost-efficient, durable, and low maintenance alternative to silver at the dining room table. The Chase catalog offered Skyway shakers at the cost of one dollar for a set of four, and during the run of the 1939 New York World’s Fair, visitors could purchase special promotional pairs of Skyway shakers sporting bases in orange and blue, the fair’s official colors.
Cynthia Trope is the Associate Curator of Product Design and Decorative Arts at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.