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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Club NotesNewton Daily News, September 17th
The first ceramic cookie jars was introduced in 1929 in Zanesville, Ohio, and were produced by the Brush Pottery Company. Two other companies became popular: McCoy Potteries, American Bisque and Red Wing. Cookie jars were made in a variety of ...Read more
Club newsSanford Herald (registration), September 14th
McCoy showed us the District 7690 website (http://www.rotary7690.org) and the Rotary International website (https://www.rotary.org). The next three meetings ... A pottery tour of Seagrove planned for August was postponed until Oct. 3. Prospective...Read more
WPBW to host inaugural studio art tourWoodstock Independent, September 10th
The 18 participating artists will be featuring a variety of works, including pottery, painting, art glass, jewelry, photography and mixed media. WPBW program coordinator Tricia McCoy said the art studio tour replaces the Woodstock Garden Walk, which...Read more
Unique collectibles, antiques available at The Ranch HouseLiberty Hill Independent, September 7th
There is also McCoy Pottery and depression-era glass. Some of the items are more of a practical nature such as vintage tools and actively used and lived-with, everyday items. Also in stock are every Hallmark ornament ever made. Mrs. Mount says there...Read more
A few things worth mentioningZanesville Times Recorder, August 29th
Remembering Billie McCoy, who died Sunday at the age of 90. Billie and her surviving husband, Nelson, were best known for their work in the pottery industry and the Nelson McCoy Pottery company. While Billie was a sharp businesswoman, she also was a ...Read more
Billie McCoy remembered as 'full of joy'Zanesville Times Recorder, August 26th
ZANESVILLE — Billie McCoy is being remembered as not only a prolific pottery designer but also a woman whose strength and sweetness endeared her to a community. Working for years in the design department of Nelson McCoy Pottery, run by her ...Read more
Pottery Designer DiesWHIZ, August 25th
A pottery legend has died. Billie McCoy passed away Sunday at her home. She was 90 years-old. Billie was born in Texas and married Nelson McCoy in 1945 and move to Zanesville. She was in the design department of Nelson McCoy Pottery and was an ...Read more
Nelson McCoy Pottery Historic Marker brings generations closerPerry daily.com, August 12th
Some of the participants in the Summer Youth Employment Program through Perry County JFS recently had the opportunity to attend the Historic Marker dedication for the Nelson McCoy Pottery Company. The nine youth — Kassidy Adams, Holly Cox, ...Read more