Set 'em up, Joe: Cocktail shakers of '30s, '40s are collectibles now


September 01, 1991|By Lita Solis-Cohen

While the rest of the art and antiques market is on the rocks, vintage cocktail shakers are making a comeback. They are appearing at antiques shows and shops, and some art deco designs by Russel Wright and Norman Bel Geddes can be seen in museum cases.

Fifty years ago no one spoke of stirring a martini so as not to bruise the gin. Gin and vermouth were shaken vigorously over ice, then strained into a cocktail glass and sipped by the likes of Noel Coward, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, William Powell and Myrna Loy.

"Cocktail shakers shook the world out of the Great Depression, and now they are back; there are handsome new ones on the market," says Stephen Visakay, who has been collecting cocktail shakers for nearly a quarter of a century.

Cocktail shakers characterized the swanky set between the two World Wars. By the end of the 1930s they were familiar objects, but in the 1940s they gradually became passe. The metal they were made of went into the war effort; the companies that made them made artillery shells. When the war was over the cocktail shaker was supplanted by the electric blender.

Relegated to the back of the china closet, they remained forgotten until they began turning up at flea markets. Then Mr. Visakay and a few other pioneer collectors went on a binge.

Mr. Visakay, a production manager in a sheet metal company that makes coin boxes, considers the cocktail shaker an art form. He has more than 700 of them crammed into his small apartment in Nutley, N.J.

He traces the shakers back to Cortez, who wrote to King Charles V of Spain from the New World in 1520 describing a certain drink made from cocoa, served to Montezuma, frothing and foaming from a golden cylinder.

The 100 shakers Mr. Visakay put on exhibition for the month of August at Arlene Lederman's antiques shop at 150 Main Street, Nyack, N.Y. 10960, were made between 1920 and 1940.

Some have unusual shapes -- a zeppelin, chrome and glass barbells in several colors, and bowling pins. One is sterling silver with an enameled rooster on it, from the 1920s, and there are several chrome-plated pewter and stainless steel ones in the shape of skyscrapers and rocket ships from the 1930s. Some have red or black bakelite trim and others have inscribed recipes for pink ladies, Palm Beaches and sidecars.

International Silver Company made one in the form of a golf bag with a golf ball finial. Mr. Visakay values it at $1,000. Russel Wright produced a set in spun aluminum with a cork grip, and matching cups; the set is worth slightly less than $1,000.

Glass companies such as Heisey, Cambridge and Imperial made cocktail shakers in clear and colored glass. Some were decorated with etched designs ranging from sailboats to pink elephants. At Arlene Lederman's shop a blue glass shaker with a fox hunt was priced $75 and a similar one with pink elephants on it cost $95.

Among Mr. Visakay's favorites are those shaped like penguins, which pour from the beak. He also prizes his zeppelin, with four spoons stored in its gondola. Two of his glass ones are in the shape of a woman's leg with a high-heeled silver-plated sandal on the foot and with a silver-plated garter at the top. One is red ruby glass and the other clear glass; the latter is a souvenir from the New York World's Fair in 1939.

Another, in the form of a metal milk can, comes with eight matching small milk pans. It looks like new. "Shakers were just a symbol of good times; lots of them were never used," Mr. Visakay contends.

Chase Brass and Copper Co. of Waterbury, Conn., made a tall chrome-plated cylinder with black bands called "the Gayety Shaker"; another Bel Geddes design with a blue top and cobalt blue and chrome glasses and a serving tray sold for $9. Now it's worth around $300.

At the New Hampshire Antiques Dealers Show in Manchester earlier this month, a silver-plated penguin-shaped shaker with traces of gunmetal wash on its beak and wings sold for $325. Mr. Visakay says it's worth $900 all shined up. "That's the fun of it; you can still make buys at a garage sale, a flea market or even at a top-drawer show," he claims.

Three companies made the bulk of the cocktail shakers. Farber Brothers Co. was the leader under the name "Krome Kraft." In 1932 it patented a glass insert that clipped into its chrome glasses. Chase Brass and Copper Co. produced a higher-priced line, including the tall chrome cylinder with black bands, which sold for $4.50. It's now worth around $65. Manning Bowman, in New York, marked its high-priced line "M and B."

Many shakers have no trademark and are only stamped on the bottom "chrome" or "chrome plated stainless steel." Glass shakers are never marked.

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