Canister Sets

When we got engaged 44 years ago after setting our wedding date, we had the arduous task of deciding what we wanted to register for at the local shops and larger department stores. There was no internet register, there was no electronic register gun to point and shoot at the UPC codes, there were not even UPC codes. We had a huge list of blank spots on pages on a clipboard and walked around every store writing down longhand what we wanted on our register. One of the things that I thought would help define our kitchen was a canister set. Something to hold all those staples in a beautiful design lovingly displayed on the kitchen counter. At the time, 1975, there were many ceramic sets decorated with huge flowers, mushrooms or fruits. Tupperware was popular too but I wanted something different for the counter. My Tupperware canisters hold my larger staples like sugar and flour. I use my glass canister set for things like brown sugar, rice, beans, etc., things I do not use in large quantities.

I have a set of Tupperware canisters like these but the lids have been replaced with other colors so this pic is from Pinterest.

I wanted a ruby red glass set with rubber seals on the glass lids that I saw at a small specialty store nearby. My Aunt Gloria got the set from a small shop in the neighboring town and I still use it and love it. Throughout our married life, I have never displayed it on the counter. My kitchens have always been too small to give up that much real estate on my counter for a canister set so it stays in my cupboards. Maybe that’s how it lasted so long.

My red glass canister set with the embossed smiling sun decoration; so 1975.

This past weekend, the Hubby and I were in Saugatuck, Michigan puttering around and decided to visit a huge antique mall just outside of town on the Blue Star Highway. I saw so many types of canister sets that I thought I’d share.

Some of the oldest sets were ceramic, mostly ironstone and decorated with the name of whatever staple should be kept in each container. Some of these sets included full sets of spice containers(most commonly: cinnamon, pepper, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, ginger), a salt box, and a cruet set as well as large containers with Barley, Oatmeal, Prunes, Rice, Sugar, Coffee and/or Tea. Notice flour missing? It was kept in large bins in the pantry because most homes made their own bread and needed more flour than could be held in a 1 or 2 quart container. All beautifully decorated most often in a blue delft pattern, floral or graphic design some with a lusterware finish, these canister sets are quite collectible and can run hundreds of dollars when complete. A complete canister set from the 1890’s through the 1930’s can have as many as 14 to 20 pieces and finding a complete set is extremely unusual; almost impossible.

If you are lucky enough to find a complete set look carefully; there could be damage. The ceramic sets often lost a piece to breakage or missing a lid. They sometimes have cracks or chips on their edges or what I see most often are lids that broke and were glued together. If it was a set with ingredient names on them, they tended to look even more incomplete when important pieces are missing such as one of the cruet set, or the sugar canister(one that is almost always included in each set). These beautifully decorated ceramic sets suffered the biggest losses due to breakage but continue to brighten a kitchen counter or shelf with their lovely graphics.

A set of brightly painted metal canisters.

The 30’s, 40’s and 50’s saw canister sets made in metal and the “NEW” plastic. These sets often included the same set of canisters for staples and spice or salt and pepper shakers.

The hard plastic sets were most likely to break or crack when the plastic aged and got brittle making handling the canisters a little tricky. The metal sets often got dented when banged into or dropped. When Mom decided to replace the dented or cracked canisters with something more trendy to decorate her kitchen counter, the metal sets usually got relegated to the garage along with coffee cans and mason jars to hold nuts and bolts .

Do you have canisters in your kitchen?


  1. I don’t have them for the reason you gave: they take up too much room so get hidden away in cupboards so there’s not much point.Here they were ideal for the English farmhouse kitchen or similar.
    Interesting that you told us a lot with “things I do not use in large quantities”. Eg, I use only unrefined sugar and we eat quite a lot of rice, of various kinds.

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  2. I used to have canisters for tea, sugar, coffee, biscuits and bread. Now I hve just one canister in the cupboard for tea bags, though flour, sugar, pasta, dried fruit etc are all in plastic containers. I used to be a tupperware dealer, and remember the latest designs and collectables. I haven’t a single official item left, mind you, that was 40 years ago!

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  3. My aunt and uncle had wooden canisters from the late 60’s and I my grandmother did, but for some reason I can’t picture what they looked like… I know they were plastic. Probably 60’s also. Great post! 🙂

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  4. Tupperware was a necessity when I lived in Florida….I still have my dark blue set (7 pieces with lids) and use them today as I now live in a mobile home in New England…near the woods which is prone to an occasional mouse! They certainly work well to keep the unwanted critter out!!! I did have the Pfaltzgraff Yorktowne canisters, but alas, they have chipped and broken over the years…sad to say they are now history.

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