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.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Gouda Design

Gouda Design

Stuart Lonsdale and Kim Lindley's excellent tribute to and reference on Gouda Dutch Art Pottery and Delftware. The … [read review or visit site]

Cowan Pottery Museum Associates

Cowan Pottery Museum Associates

Dedicated to raising awareness of the ceramic art work of R. Guy Cowan and his Cowan Pottery Studio in northeastern… [read review or visit site]

The Pottery Studio

The Pottery Studio

This 7,000-plus page site lives up to its self-billing as a 'knowledge base' with examples of work from all major a… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Wild West Rodeo Mccoy Usa Pottery Planter Cowboy Bucking Bronco Horse Lot (11) Vintage Mccoy, Shawnee & Other Pottery Planters / Pots - Yellow GreenLot Of Three (3) Vintage Green Flower Pots. Mccoy, Usa . Rare Mccoy Minature Gnome/hillbilly Flower Bowl OrnamentMatte Aqua Blue Embossed Butterfly Nelson Mccoy 9" Tall VaseSmall Green Mccoy Flower PotVintage Mccoy Pottery Green Stoneware Hanging Basket Planter 1930s Vintage Mccoy Pottery Marching Parade Of Elephants Green Planter, Saucer, Pot Vintage Antique Mccoy Pottery Rare Berries And Leaves Ball Lamp 1930's GreenNelson Mccoy Matte Glaze Art Deco Ivory 1940s Vase Mint!Vintage Mccoy Black Man With Guitar And Bananas Majolica Planter 1930's - 40'sVintage Art Pottery Nelson Mccoy Lily Bud Vase Soft Green 10 InchMccoy 8" Vase Pottery Green Brown Flower & Leaf 1930s2 Vintage Mccoy Green Two Handled VasesAntique Mccoy High Relief Floral Leaf Berries Art Pottery Hanging Planter Footed1930's Mccoy Pottery Jardiniere Sand Butterfly Matte WhiteLot Of (6) Vintage Mccoy Pottery Ceramic Planters / Pots - Yellow, Green, IvoryVintage Mccoy Pottery Green Stoneware Hanging Basket Planter 1930s Vintage Shawnee/ Mccoy,??? Blue Miniature 3" Vase W/ Leaf Design1940's Mccoy Reed Strap Leaf Art Pottery Vase Double Handle White 12" TallVintage Mccoy Art Pottery Flower, Yellow Sunflower Wall Pocket VaseEarly 1920's Mccoy Pottery Leaves & Berries Matte White 4" Jardiniere Nice!Rare Vintage Nelson Mccoy Hobnail Pink Pitcher Mccoy Frog Watering PitcherVintage 1970's Era Smiley Face Yellow Have A Happy Day Mccoy Cookie Jar W/lidArt Pottery, Mccoy, Flower Pot, Quilted With Leaves, Tourquoise Green, Post 1940 Vintage Mccoy Bright Yellow Vase With Leaf Trim 8.5"Mccoy, Yellow Chile Pepper, #157, Cookie Jar/canisterRare Mccoy Collection Pottery Arcature Birds Original Sidney CopeMccoy Pink Basket Weave Planter .Mccoy Stove Oven Black Cookie Jar Lid Cast Iron Style Ceramic Vtg PotteryVintage 1940's Mccoy Pottery Art Deco Jardiniere & Saucer Sand Dollar Flower PotVintage 4" Tall White Mccoy Leaves And Hobnail Planter Flower Pot With SaucerVintage White Mccoy Ceramic Flower Pot From The Tiara Line 1960's, Marked 634Vintage Mccoypromo Sailor Seamen's Bank Of Savings Us Navy SeamanRosey Red Mccoy Planter Vintage 1940s Mccoy Art Pottery Green Embossed Calla Lily Pot Planter JardiniereMccoy Pottery Green VaseVintage Mccoy Usa Smiley Face Mug Cup White Yellow Art Pottery1962 Mccoy Mcm Art Pottery Vase ~ Vesta Line ~ Made For One Year OnlyMccoy PotteryVintage 1960’s Wood Kitchen Stove Cookie Jar Made By Mccoy U.s.a.Vintage Mccoy Pottery Vase White Novelty Bird Robin On Branch W Nest PlanterVintage Mccoy Art Pottery~bananas Wall Pocket~excellent~minty~super Cute!!Vintage Mccoy Girl With Watering Can Bowl ~ 10" ~ Usa 166 ~yellow Ware YellowareMccoy Pottery Double Tulip White Bird Planter Green 1940's Art Pottery Rare Vintage ' Mccoy Usa' Small Planter Pot 4" X 2.75" Original Vintage Dan The Dog Alpo Ceramic Pottery Sheepdog Mccoy Treat Jar RareMccoy 1930s Tiny Burgundy Berry 4" Mixing BowlVintage Mccoy Pot Belly Stove Cookie Jar 10" Tall Flat BlackSale!!! Czech Bird Wall PocketVtg. Yellow Mccoy Duck And Wagon PlanterMid-century Pottery Deer - Mccoy?Vintage Mccoy Green And Pink Pottery VaseVintage Mccoy Milk Can Style Bi-centennial Cookie Jar #154 No Chips,cracksVintage Mccoy Pottery, Pitcher With Grape Vine Pattern 641 Painted In BrownsLqqk Rare Htf Mccoy Pottery Spotted Green Frog Pink Lotus Lily Pad Planter Mid Century Mccoy Black Matte Footed Vase Or Planter, Owned By Artist Rob ArcherVintage Mccoy Pink Swan Vase LargeBlack Mc Coy Pottery Gondala Planter With Red Flowers- 1950s