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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Writer's earthenware vases made in the early 20th centuryKnoxville News Sentinel, April 30th
One the bottom they are signed "Loy-Nel-Art" and "McCoy." Can you tell me the history of these jars and their current value? I will try. These are quite interesting, and they have a history that is wrapped up in the development of the American Art...Read more
MauiTime's Maui Calendar of Events| April 28-May 4th, 2016MauiTime Weekly (blog), April 28th
McCoy Studio Theater, Maui Arts and Cultural Center, (One Cameron Way, Wailuku); 808-242-2787; mauiarts.org. An Evening with Mark .... Browse sculptures, paintings, photography, woodturnings and ceramics from select local artists. Located in the lobby ...Read more
Baton Rouge area calendar for Apil 29-May 5, 2016The Advocate, April 28th
Mother's Day shopping edition. Featuring over 50 local and regional artists with hand-made arts, including pottery, blown glass, jewelry, and much more. artsbr.org .... 4715 Bennington Ave. Featuring Billy Sorells, Yo Gotti, and Shaddy “Feel Good” McCoy...Read more
John Eggers: What is an antique?Bemidji Pioneer, April 23rd
Scarce Roseville, Weller, North Dakota and McCoy pottery pieces, as well as other well known good pottery, are still a good buy. “Scarce” is the key word. Coins and stamps that fall into this category are also good. Is it still worth it to hunt for the...Read more
Your guide to the weekendHuntington Herald Dispatch, April 20th
Bishop Nash/The Herald-Dispatch Paula Bailey of Harper's Ferry, W.Va. pulls out freshly-painted fabric from a water basin at her stall as the 43rd annual Dogwood Arts & Crafts Festival returns to Huntington on Friday, April 24, 2015 at the Big Sandy ...Read more
Matt Stebly's road to downtown bumpy, but Twisted Anchor sailing to Thursday ...The Sun Herald, April 18th
Government Street. "I wanted to be in downtown Ocean Springs in general. Both of my parents grew up a few blocks down the road," Stebly said. Shearwater Pottery -- about a mile away, closer to the beach -- is where you'll find other limbs of his...Read more
Volunteer opportunities available at Heritage FarmHuntington Herald Dispatch, April 13th
Storytelling is a unique part of Appalachian heritage and will be brought to life with book making, a storytelling festival featuring Bill Lepp (five-Time West Virginia State Liar's Contest winner), and Hatfield McCoy re-enactments in the same day...Read more
Appearances countBeckley Register-Herald, April 8th
Ancient civilizations would have pits outside their settlements where they got rid of their worn out tools, broken pottery and other items. The resulting collections give archaeologists ideas about how past cultures functioned. What would an ... The...Read more