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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Recent News: McCoy Art Pottery

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Making the most of a tiny master bathroom
San Antonio Express-News (subscription), July 2nd

Most vanities sold at traditional retailers, such as Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware, are built with 21-inch depth and 24- to 30-inch width. We had about 18 inches, max. We found one online to fit our style and space constraints. ... For example...Read more

Heritage Farm wraps up artisan series with woodworking
Huntington Herald Dispatch, June 27th

HUNTINGTON - Heritage Farm Museum and Village closed out its series of monthly Artisan Workshops on June 20 with a session focused on woodworking. Participants in the beginner's level course on handcut full dovetails, a type of woodworking joint ...Read more

Making the most of a tiny bathroom without clutter
The Killeen Daily Herald, June 27th

Most vanities sold at traditional retailers, such as Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware, are built with 21-inch depth and 24- to 30-inch width. With ours, we had about 18 inches, max. Given our space constraints, we ended up ... For example, if your...Read more

Pace schedules hearings on expanding Fox Valley routes
Chicago Daily Herald, June 19th

3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 30, City of Aurora Customer Service Division, 3770 McCoy Drive. Feedback from riders .... The festival featured paintings, jewelry, glassware, pottery, photography, mosaics and more from about 80 artists based mostly in the...Read more

Treasure: Colorful jardinieres popular in Victorian era
The Detroit News, June 18th

I have searched books attempting to locate the pattern without luck. It's in the style of McCoy, but doesn't match any known patterns of theirs. The only mark is a 307 on the bottom of the jar (nothing is on the pedestal). I would love it if a pottery...Read more

Making the most of your tiny bathroom
Houston Chronicle (subscription), June 15th

Most vanities sold at traditional retailers, such as Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware, are built with 21-inch depth and 24- to 30-inch width. With ours, we had about 18 inches, max. We ended up finding one online that fit our style and space...Read more

Knight Arts Challenge names 70 finalists in $3M contest
Detroit Free Press, June 15th

Anders Ruhwald: Embracing fire's destructive and constructive qualities in an art installation where everything inside a Detroit apartment is made of charred wood, molten glass and black ceramics. ? Andrea Maio: Helping students tell the stories of...Read more

Built around art: David Butler and Ted Smith make their mid-century home a gallery
Knoxville News Sentinel, June 4th

In the dining room a color wood block by Andrew Saftel, who is mostly known for his paintings, hangs above a sideboard holding turquoise McCoy Pottery chosen for its color and a bronze gladiator head David and Ted call “Bruce.” Displayed a couple of...Read more