Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Collecting Teak Pepper Mills

Modest Teak Peppermill Collection
If you're like me you tend to collect things - actually I think just about everyone that I know collects something whether they realize they do or not. I once heard a collection defined as 3 or more of anything - for some that means tools, for other it's shoes. I first became a collector at  about age 8 - that's right around when my dad started bringing home comic books. I think he bought them for himself (he always read them first), but I got them after he was done. This would be the latest in Superman, Batman and Action comics from the 60's and 70's - I can't remember a time when I didn't have them, but of course at the time they were so cheap that everyone I knew growing up read them and looked for  those missing issues - that's the seductive part that gets you into being a collector, hunting for missing issues. When I became a bit older I would frequent the local flea market with my dad and really that's when I really got into collecting which entices me into thrift stores to this day.
Besides all of the other things I collect (First Edition Science Fiction books, vintage space toys, Japanese robots, antique tools and woodworking equipment, the list goes on), my interest in modernism had me picking up inexpensive household items at thrift stores. I would frequently find teak items by Dansk, Nissen and other manufactures usually for a couple of dollars, but I really became a collector with my first teak pepper mill. Dansk and Kobenstyle was the brainchild of designer Jens Quistgaard who become the father of modernist kitchen items during the 50s, 60s and 70s and the company continues to this day. While he made some really wonderful items including the well-designed and brightly colored Kobenstyle pots and pans, what I really fell in love with are the unusual teak pepper mills he began producing in the 50s. From the first time I found one at Goodwill, I've been hooked and look for these at every thrift or antique store I visit. 
Dansk Mills

What makes these fun to collect is that they are still small enough that you can accumulate quite a few without them taking up your home (sounds silly but I've seen more than one collector who's habits have consumed every bit of space in their home and I've always joked that if Cindi and I ever break up it will because of all the junk I collect - I get the side-eye frequently and the occasional terse word). The second thing that's awesome about teak pepper mills has to do with the materials - the early Dansk mills and some others like Nissen, used high-quality metal Peugeot grinding mechanisms so they can last indefinitely (the later mills are a combination of metal and plastic and are more subject to failure with time). Third, you can still find them at thrift stores for a pittance (however it's becoming more and more difficult - I  only found two last year) but even if you buy them elsewhere, you can build a collection without breaking the bank. Finally and perhaps the most importantly, these mills come in an infinite number of beautiful, symmetrical shapes that epitomize the modernist aesthetic.

Better Pugeot grinder

Later Plastic Grinder

My own collection is I think slightly larger than modest - almost all of mine were found at thrift stores although I have splurged at an occasional antique store find. They are mostly Dansk with a couple of Nissen, but there are some unknown makers also represented as well as some Japanese makers. In general these are made of Burmese or Siamese teak (from Thailand) which has a more honey-brown color that mellows with age. Teak is a naturally oily wood with extreme weather and water resistance making it perfect for use in the kitchen and a natural material for pepper mills. Some day I plan to setup a big display on the wall in the dining room - the small size allows for tight quarters and an expansive array. You can see some of the varieties in the photos - the first is of the Dansk mills which follow a certain style.
Danish Mills (not Dansk)

Japanese Teak Mills

The larger photo at the top is a mix of Dansk and other manufacturers, some are obvious knock-offs of Dansk while others went a bit with their own thing. Most recently the remains of the Dansk family issued some new mills (some were a rehash of classic mills done in Acacia but they did do one that bits of teak in the top so of course I had to buy one). There are also some extremely rare mills that were made as part of the Rare Woods line and featured Ebony, Cocobolo and other species - these sell for hundreds of dollars to collectors and are highly coveted (and no, unfortunately I don't own any but am always looking, looking...)
Newer Dansk Mill
If you're thinking about a hobby collecting can be quite rewarding as there's usually a lot to learn about what you like including the history and relative value of items like these pepper mills. One way to start is to visit our upcoming Black Friday Holiday Market for items made locally. 

Previously published in the Northcrest News. Copyright 2016 John Eaton.

-- John