Known for its clever kitsch, as well as more sober examples of dinnerware, vases, and garden planters, McCoy pottery has been popular with collectors for a century. Whether you are drawn to tankards resembling pigs, monk-shaped cookie jars with the ominous inscription "Thou Shalt Not Steal" on their sides, or elegant Art Deco flower vases decorated with geometric designs in pastel hues, chances are your eye has alighted on a piece of McCoy.
One of the hallmarks of McCoy pottery is its functionality. A cartoonish sailor figurine, for example, striding along in bell-bottom trousers with a pack slung over his shoulder, has a slot for coins — he’s also a bank. Similarly, a woman peeking out from under a red brimmed hat appears to carry a basket in her arms, but the object she cradles is designed to hold topsoil and tulips—in other words, a planter.
When the Nelson McCoy Sanitary Stoneware Company opened in 1910 in Roseville, Ohio near a good supply of local clay, functionality routinely trumped style as McCoy focused on serviceable food-storage jugs. Decorative touches to the stoneware were simple, using mostly salt- and slip-glaze techniques, but in 1925, when McCoy built the area's first tunnel kiln, expansion into a new world of whimsy became possible.
McCoy began producing the artware for which it became famous in 1926. Fired in the bright glazes popular in the mid-20s was everything from planters in the shapes of rhinoceroses and pineapples to umbrella stands.
In the market for a cuspidor? McCoy’s were green, with bunches of grapes in high relief on their sides. Designers at the company created green cider sets with mugs shaped like barrels rather than basic beer cups, and instead of giving plants a plain home, McCoy bulb bowls featured parading elephants loping around their circumferences.
In the kitchen, McCoy introduced advances in decoration as well as functionality. For example, its mixing bowls of the 1920s were glazed in green rather than the standard yellow, and embossed with flowers and line motifs — more detail than home cooks had previously enjoyed. McCoy's mixing bowls also nested, so several could be stored in the space of one, a handy trick Homer Laughlin later employed in its famous Fiesta line.
In 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression, the company changed its name to McCoy Pottery Company — the term "sanitary" had fallen out of vogue. Because cash-strapped families...
Returning to its roots, McCoy’s first stoneware containers for baked goods were adorned with understated floral designs, but Duncan Curtiss, a savvy McCoy sales agent from New York, thought his company would do better if it had a little fun with these kitchen staples. Accordingly, McCoy started manufacturing novelty cookie jars, beginning in 1939 with “Mammy with Cauliflower,” whose billowy apron called up warm thoughts of buttery, home-baked goodness.
World War II slowed production (the company made ceramic land-mine casings), but by the end of the 1940s, McCoy’s cookie-jar and jardinière lines were in full swing again.
Most cookie jars from these postwar years are readily available because they were mass-produced, but collectors should be on the lookout for lost glaze and color. Grubby hands reaching for gingerbread snaps and chocolate pinwheels made this pottery form more susceptible to daily wear than other ceramics collectibles.
Despite their use, it's still possible to find well-preserved cookie jars in the shapes of kangaroos, Indians, clowns, Chinese lanterns, turkeys, grandfather clocks, and bananas, to name but a few of McCoy’s styles.
By the 1950s and ’60s, McCoy was producing some of its most sought-after cookie jars, as well as TV lamps, which exploded in popularity during this time. In the '70s and '80s, corporations routinely commissioned McCoy to produce advertising jars trumpeting their brands, Coca-Cola, Harley Davidson, and Quaker Oats among them.
Less likely to be damaged through use were McCoy vases and figurines. Today, collectors can score prime examples of Grecian-esque urns with slim looping handles, or yellow gnome statuettes. Other vases were swan-shaped or triangular, some resembled cornucopias, and still more were embossed with flowers in every shade of the pastel rainbow.
McCoy’s production reached its peak in the '50s, when the company employed almost 500 workers, but the times they were a-changing. By the 1970s, the company was cranking out barbecue sets with Old West themes and punch bowls with matching cups that dangled from the sides.
Earth-toned Lazy Susans held chips and dip at cocktail parties while Woodsy Owl was among the characters to grace the sides of McCoy cookie jars. These were old-looking styles in a youth-obsessed nation, and by 1990, after several ownership and management changes, the factory finally closed its doors.
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Social Encore: Going GreekHonolulu Pulse, August 27th
great company is an ideal vacation for me. But who says we can't experience authentic Greek culture here in Hawaii? This weekend at McCoy Pavilion, the 34th annual Greek Festival will immerse you in traditional Greek food and fare. ... If you want...Read more
Scientist behind the return of “The X-Files” to televisionWashington Times, August 23rd
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) - It was long past 2 one recent Wednesday morning when Anne Simon finally arrived back at her hotel room in central Vancouver. She had just clocked 15 hours on her feet. Most people in this situation would sleep in. But Simon set ...Read more
University of Maryland biologist is scientist behind the return of "The X ...Daily Journal, August 23rd
COLLEGE PARK, Maryland — It was long past 2 one recent Wednesday morning when Anne Simon finally arrived back at her hotel room in central Vancouver. She had just clocked 15 hours on her feet. Most people in this situation would sleep in. But Simon ...Read more
Look what they brought back from RussiaDetroit Free Press, August 20th
I, on the other hand, really enjoy my $4 Michigan-pride Alaska souvenir. — Emily Panchenko, 35, Dearborn. GK: Resale stores are a great place to look for souvenirs! One of my best souvenirs ever — a piece of McCoy pottery — came from a thrift store...Read more
Yesterday into Today: Olompali: A 60s CommuneLivermore Independent, August 20th
The commune was founded by Donald McCoy, a California native in his mid-30s and a wealthy Marin real estate developer who developed the first modern houseboat marina at the Sausalito Heliport at Richardson Bay. After separating from his wife, McCoy ...Read more
Texas Collection displays ceramics donation from Harding BlackWaco Tribune-Herald, August 14th
“(Baylor's collection) is one of the biggest collections of Harding Black material,” Garland said, noting that it landed at Baylor thanks to Baylor ceramics professor Paul McCoy. Black, who died in 2004, was known for his detailed, inventive work with...Read more
Texas Collection displays ceramics donation from Hardin BlackWaco Tribune-Herald, August 12th
“The Texas Collection is one of the biggest collections of Harding Black material,” Garland said, noting that it landed at Baylor thanks to Baylor ceramics professor Paul McCoy and Texas Collection director John Wilson. Black, who died in 2004, was...Read more
Meet the scientist behind the return of 'The X-Files' to televisionWashington Post, August 9th
Carter, who had spent years working at a surfing magazine and making pottery, said he had no choice. “My formal science education ended somewhere around college education, and I hadn't been such a great student,” Carter wrote in the foreword to ...Read more