Gemco: Matching the Chrome Top with the Right Glass Bottom
Certain Gemco Ware pieces use the same sized glass jar for different purposes, so it is the design of the top that dictates the function of the item. This is a guide to identifying the chrome tops and matching them to the appropriate glass bottoms.
Vinegar Cruet, Salt & Pepper, All-Purpose Shaker, Sugar Shaker, Pepper Mill, Large Dial-Top Salt & Pepper.
Salt & Pepper Shakers (regular size):
The top for the pepper shaker is fairly typical and simple, punched with six round holes. Conversely the salt shaker top is a complex and innovative design unique to Gemco, and it was named "The Dry One". The basis of it is a white cylinder made of a material dubbed "Gemconite". It claimed to keep salt dry by absorbing moisture in humid weather, then evaporating moisture when the air is dry, presumably maintaining an ideal climate inside the salt shaker.
Gemconite seems to be a soft fragile mineral that cracks and crumbles if not handled carefully. The cylinder slides into the chrome cap, contoured end first, and a thick cardboard gasket fits into the lid to keep it in place. The chrome cap of the salt shaker has one large hole, through which the white cylinder is visible.
Salt Shaker (left); Pepper Shaker (right). "Gemconite" can discolour with age and use.
The special design of the salt shaker top minimizes contact between the chrome surface and the corrosive effects of salt. If the pepper top has been used mistakenly for salt, the chrome finish will turn green and begin to flake away, particularly on the inside. It is possible the Gemconite concept was abandoned during the era of coloured plastic tops. Packaged sets with non-chromed tops have been seen with both shakers bearing simple six-holed tops. But most sets do have Gemconite salt tops.
The Gemco toothpick holder is identical in size and shape to the regular-sized salt & pepper set, but the toothpick top has a very specific hole configuration: three oval holes. Any piece of this size with only one large gaping hole is really a salt shaker missing its internal components.
The top for the sugar shaker is also a creative design; it is open when inverted and closed when upright, and even sifts out lumps while pouring. It was called "The Never Clog Shaker", and inside there is a sifter screen on the other end of the stem which holds the top button in place. Every sugar shaker was made with this sifter-stem-button closure; if the top is wide-open, then the stem has been broken off. The size and shape of the sugar shaker is identical to the ketchup & mustard pumps as well as the all-purpose shaker.
Button on top stays closed when upright, and falls forward for pouring.
This shaker is the same size and shape as the sugar shaker, and while it could certainly be used for sugar, it was designed to be suitable for any fine shakeable product. There are three holes on the top and a small dial turns for opening and closing, or even in-between adjustments as well.
(Photo: Adjustable top of all-purpose shaker.)
Dial-Top Salt & Pepper (large):
In this case, both the salt and pepper use the same top, with a dial that adjusts three ways. These tops are a tall tapered shape with several small holes in the dial. In opal glass, the size and shape of the base is identical to that of the pepper mill. It also appears to be the same as the older spice jars which have a more rounded profile.
(Photo: Large Dial-Top Salt and Pepper Shakers.)
The dial-top salt & peppers were also made in clear glass and since these are a newer product, the shape of the base is the same as the newer style of spice jar.
The pepper mill is meant to be used with whole peppercorns. The grinding action is achieved by turning the ribbed section of the chrome top. The glass base is identical to that of the large salt & pepper shakers.
(Photo: Pepper Mill.)
Oil & Vinegar Cruets:
Although glass bases for salt shakers and cruets couldn't be more dissimilar, they have the same diameter at the top, and use the same single-holed chrome cap. The internal parts are different though, and the white plastic insert for the cruet protrudes through the top and forms a spout. It also snaps out easily for cleaning.
(Photo: Cruet top is shown on the left, salt shaker top on the right.)
Spice jars resemble the large salt & pepper shakers, with a three-position dial top. But spice jar tops are straight-sided and shorter with six large slots, better for dispensing coarse herbs & spices.
There are two shapes of spice jars. The older style is more rounded and bulbous, and by comparison the newer style is more flat and angular.
Spice jars came in sets of six with a clear plastic rack, suitable for mounting on the wall.
(Photo: Spice jar/shaker in the newer shape.)