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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Franklin Road renaming on Marietta City Council agenda
Marietta Daily Journal, February 7th

The road takes its name from J.W. Franklin, who operated a brick and pottery business there beginning in the early 1900s, Tumlin said. The city is using proceeds from a $68 million bond issuance to tear down aging apartment complexes on Franklin Road ...Read more

Mayor denies gentrifying Franklin Road
Marietta Daily Journal, January 30th

Mayor Steve Tumlin and YELLS member Niya Butler, who serves as Director of Community Planning for YELLS Community Action Cafe, speak during a town hall meeting hosted at YELLS headquarters on Franklin Road on Tuesday evening. / Special to the ...Read more

News in brief
La Crosse Tribune, January 28th

The Whitetail Ridge Ski Area at Fort McCoy will host its annual Winter Extravaganza event Saturday, Jan. 30, with special events from .... The second-place winner will receive a one-hour private pottery lesson at All Glazed Up for four children, ages 8...Read more

This Week events in South Mississippi: Jan. 18-23
The Sun Herald, January 17th

AMANDA McCOY/SUN HERALD/FILEGearing up for Mardi Gras on Feb. 9, South Mississippi is celebrating Carnival ... Focusing on clay technique, project, pottery wheel, ceramic Mardi Gras masks and clay sculpture. Details: 374-5547. Coloring workshop for ...Read more

Purebreds and non-pedigreed cats compete in CFA Cat Show
KHON2, January 15th

There's also a bazaar at the show with handmade items for sale such as quilts, pottery, pet items, pillows, toys, and more. The proceeds go to the non-profit club to help produce the shows in Hawaii. The clubs bring in four All Breed CFA judges and pay...Read more

Media Circus roundtable: Inside the life of a sports radio producer
Sports Illustrated, December 14th

Do we go out and spend segments on if Chip Kelly is a racist because of what LeSean McCoy said? No. We cannot offer first-person perspective but the .... Lots of shows have “faux anger pottery barn controversy.” They manufacture arguments and anger...Read more

Pottery Festival connects two villages for 50 years
Zanesville Times Recorder, July 9th

•The McCoy Pottery Collectors' Society is hosting in-room sales at Comfort Inn in Zanesville. Friday. •8 a.m.: Pottery Lovers Show and Sale at banquet room of Holiday Inn Express. •9 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Hull Pottery Convention Show and Sale at Crooksville...Read more

Antiques & Collectibles: On pottery search, keep an eye out for the real McCoy
Post-Bulletin, November 13th

Chris Rand Kujath, part-owner of Old River Valley Antique Mall, Rochester, said, "McCoy Pottery made a lot of different types of pottery that includes some that we already know, but also birdbaths, canisters, a unique Bruch McCoy rolling pin and more...Read more