Punxsy Phil & Phyllis shaker spices up Groundhog Day debate: Sun or snow?

PUNXSUTAWNEY — It's a typical example of the battle of the sexes, with a taste of Groundhog Day to spice it up: A nodding Punxsy Phil says yes to an early spring, but Phyllis, shaking her head, says no, and wants six more weeks of winter.

But don't call an attorney just yet: It's not a case of domestic discord at Phil's Burrow. In this case, Punxsy Phil and Phyllis are salt and pepper shakers.

Saturday, the Shakin' Up Pennsylvania chapter of the Novelty Salt & Pepper Shakers Club chose the Pantall Hotel for its annual fall meeting, specifically to reveal something for which its members have waited for years: The Punxsutawney Phil and Phyllis salt and pepper shaker.

“Punxsutawney Phil is a worldwide character,” said Sylvia Tompkins, of Lancaster, who came up with the idea for the new shaker with a friend a few years ago. “He is world-famous. There is only one Punxsutawney Phil.”
The new shaker — unveiled to chapter members from Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Canada and elsewhere, with the help of Punxsutawney Phil himself, Inner Circle Vice-President Mike Johnston and Phil's co-handler, Ron Ploucha — is known among the salt and pepper collectors' community as a “nodder.”

But don't go looking for the shaker — of which only 60 were produced: It was available to only chapter members.

According to the club's Web site, a nodder set “consists of a base, usually rectangular, with two holes on the top in which the tubular-based shakers rest. Each shaker is longer than usual and has a figural top with a long 'tube' base for balance that sits down into the hole in the base with tiny flanges on either side near the top of the tube portion. The flanges enable the shaker to balance on the rims of the holes and nod up and down or back and forth when gently touched.”
Think of a bobble-head, but according to Tompkins, this set is not one's ordinary bobble-head.

The shaker not only shows Phil and Phyllis nodding their heads, but in different directions: The Phil part of the shaker nods yes — up and down — to the idea of an early spring, while the Phyllis portion shakes its head — left to right — as if to say no, opting for another six weeks of winter.

The piece was created by Allyson Nagel, an artist from Madison, S.D., who has created numerous salt and pepper shakers for other chapters of the Novelty Salt & Pepper Shakers Club.

“I always enjoyed it, even as a child; I was always aware of Groundhog Day,” Nagel said. “When Sylvia presented this project to me, I was even more interested and did research and looked at many pictures of Phil.”
En route to Rhode Island last summer, Nagel stopped in Punxsy to take in the sights and tributes to Punxsy Phil.

Nagel — whose primary medium is porcelain to create elaborate eggs — was first drawn to salt and pepper shakers through her daughter.

“My daughter was about eight years old at the time she started a collection, and when she was a child, we would go to flea markets, and we ran into a dealer at a flea market,” Nagel said. “We were just blown away. She was so excited, and it tripped my imagination.”

The salt and pepper are contained in the heads of the Phil and Phyllis figurines — although it would seem strange that collectors would actually use the set to flavor their food. Pieces such are this are considered strictly collector's items.

“The shaker always has two pieces, and the nodding shakers are a prize for a collector novelty,” Nagel said. “It's very fun for me to dream up. It's a different way of the mechanics. When Sylvia talked to me about the idea, I said, 'Well, one could be nodding yes, and one could be nodding no, just like any couple.' When I found out there was a Phyllis, it was fun to dream up the shaker.”

Formed in 1983 and founded from the Antique Glass Salt & Sugar Shaker Club, the Novelty Salt & Pepper Shakers Club is a collectors' group comprised of members from around the world with various backgrounds who have one thing in common: The love of collecting novelty and figural salt and pepper shakers.

The club's annual convention was held in Vancouver, Wash., this year. Next year, the group will meet in Buffalo, N.Y.

Tompkins said she's missed only one convention since 1985.

Tompkins explained that in exchange for the Groundhog Club's permission to license its unique Phil and Phyllis shaker, the chapter provided three shakers to the Groundhog Club for its use in fund-raising.

Instead, Johnston and Ploucha offered one of the three donated shakers back to the chapter to auction among its members, yielding the chapter $400.

Connie Cullison, a chapter member from Fayetteville, said this weekend's gathering was not only special due to the Phil and Phyllis shaker, but also because members could check out collections and inform each other about finds elsewhere.

Cullison said she has about 10,000 salt and pepper sets, while another chapter member has about 26,000.

“We find shakers at flea markets, eBay, auctions,” she said. “We look out for each other.”