Salt and Pepper Grinders and the Antique Market

Antique collecting dealing is the best kept secret of professional investors worldwide; a world where a Hohnes Wagner baseball card or a Van Gogh painting can sell for millions of dollars. Whereas a salt grinder is unlikely to sell for that much unless it was used by Napoleon during a pre-Waterloo meal for example, collecting items as simple as antique Salt and Pepper Grinders can still be a worthwhile and even profitable venture.
Also known as a “burr mill”, a pepper or salt grinder very simply chops up salt or pepper when the user turns the knob at the top, manipulating the one or two blades at the bottom of the container. Grinders shouldn’t be mistaken shakers, as shakers are containers for pre-ground salt and pepper. Grinders aren’t inherently better than shakers and shakers aren’t inherently better than grinders, so buying either depends solely on buyer’s preference. Depending on its make, model, and capabilities, a modern salt and pepper grinder set can cost between $1 and $200.
If someone is seeking to make thousands of dollars per sale of an antique salt/pepper mill, they are either a good salesperson or a delusional person; in most cases, the highest price for an antique pepper mill is in the neighborhood of $500. The value of a salt/pepper antique grinder is determined first by its appearance and material it was made with, then it’s year, its working order, and finally it’s possible ownership. The earlier example that was given regarding Napoleon’s pepper mill was an impossible one, as pepper grinders were not created until 1842.
Still, special antique salt/pepper grinder sets can still be purchased in the primary place most of the best antiques are purchased: auctions. If a collector is seeking to buy a the grinder of a celebrity such as Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis, it’s likely the grinders would come in the form of a full dining set, and this dining set would be worth hundreds of thousands. For those aspiring collectors who aren’t nearly that rich, the best place to start would be EBay.
On EBay, currently one of the highest priced antique pepper mills is a circa 1844 Peugeot pepper mill, which means it might have been personally hand-crafted by Peugeot of France, inventor of the pepper grinder. As one might think such a rare grinder would be worth more than something recent, it’s not. A 1908 Edwardian Sterling Silver Pepper Grinder from the UK, noted for its beauty, is currently worth 375 British pounds whereas the 1844 Peugeot grinder is worth $135.
In the arena of tableware antiques, the value lies in look and whether or not the antique is still serviceable. Do a search for an 1844 pepper grinder; would you take pride in using that to serve guests at your next dinner party? After reading this article, if you own heirloom salt or pepper grinders, take them to your local antique dealer. You just might already own tableware that was owned by Jackie O., and you’ll reap all the serendipitous benefits of it.