Cookie Jar Collecting

What’s in the Attic?
Linda Hamer Kennett
(reprinted with permission)

In the late 1700’s the British needed a way to keep their tasty morsels fresh, so they invented the biscuit jar. It took about 125 years for this idea make it’s way across the Atlantic to America, but when it did it was an instant hit. We restyled it, renamed it and made it our own. We call it the “cookie jar”.

By the 1920’s the cookie jar was a staple in homes throughout America. The early jars were made of glass with either a matching glass top or a graduating screw on lid. Many of the glass patterns of the Depression era were available in cookie jar form and are a nice addition to an advanced collection. But, the purist will always base the bulk his collection on cookie jars made by the American pottery companies.

The first ceramic cookie jar made in the U.S is commonly accredited to the Brush Pottery Company of Zanesville, Ohio. It was a plain green cylinder shaped jar that simply said “Cookies” on the front. Collectors watch for early Brush cookie jars. They are easily identified by the BRUSH U.S.A. mark that almost always will appear on the bottom. But please beware if you are a novice to collecting in this field. Brush jars, especially the very early ones, have been reproduced in large quantities. This is where you would be wise to invest in an identification guide and do your homework before you shop.

Following Brush’s lead, most of the major American pottery companies were offering a line of ceramic jars by the mid-1930’s. Competition was fierce and design exploration became more innovative with the introduction of cookie jars in figural shapes, as well as in the shape of vegetables, fruit, and animals. Famous figures from children’s stories, such as the Hull “Little Red Riding Hood” were very successful and remain top priority with collectors today.

McCoy cookie jars, produced in Roseville, Ohio, from 1930-1987 are another favorite with collectors. Their very first jar, A black “Mammy” in a long white work dress is a valuable addition to any collection, as are the first issue fruit and vegetable shapes. Again be advised that these jars are mass-reproduced. Very early pieces are marked with a number inside a shield. After 1938 the jars were marked with the embossed McCoy name. In 1967 McCoy sold out to Mount Clemens Pottery Company and it changed owners again when purchases by the Lancaster Colony Corporation in 1874. If you intend to be a serious collector it would be wise to study the McCoy marks as the marks changed after 1967 and the jars since that date are of lesser value.

Other late 1930’s potters of note include: American Bisque, of Williamstown, West Virginia, known for their cartoon character cookie jars marked U.S.A; Red Wind of Minnesota best known for their 1940’s apple, grape, pineapple, pear, bananas and grapes cookie jars designed by Belle Kogan, and their 1941 series of “Thou Shall Not Steal” figural jars; Metlox, one of the leading California potters, is best known for their late 1960’s and early 1970’s animal series. Of special note are the the “Katy-Cat” and the “Year of the Dinosaur” series; and the Shawnee Pottery company of Ohio, noted for their Winnie, Smiley, and Muggsie jars. When looking for these it is important to remember that Shawnee was purchase by the Terrance Ceramics Company in 1961. Although Terrance jars are of similar quality and will look very much like the popular cookie jars made by the Shawnee factory, collectors have little interest in the jars that are not authentic Shawnee.

The 1980’s and early 1990’s saw tremendous returns for some private cookie jar collections. One of the most famous liquidations came at auction when the estate of pop icon Andy Warhol was sold. Warhol had been an avid collector of cookie jars for most of his adult life. After his death, his collection of 175 jars sold for over $250,000. Friends confided to the auction handling the estate that he was an incredible “tight wad”, purchasing most of the jars at flea markets and having less that $500 invested in the entire collection.

While most collectibles go in and out of popularity with the collecting public, the cookie jar has remained a constant favorite. There is just something about a cookie jar that is more than a piece of pottery. Perhaps Andy Warhol said it best when asked why, of all things available to him, he collected cookie jars. Warhol replied. “because they are time pieces”. And so they are. Until next time… Linda.

{Linda Hamer Kennett is a professional liquidator specializing in down-sizing for seniors and the valuation of estates and may be reached for question or comment at 317-356-8967 or lkennett@indy.rr.com}

Some current live auctions for cookie jars on eBay:

Our picks for books on cookie jar collectibles:

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