Few kitchen items are as cheerful and welcoming as a cookie jar. Whether it's a rare McCoy Mammy jar kept behind glass or just a colorful clown container placed within easy reach for the kids, a vintage cookie jar is exactly the sort of thing you want to get your hand caught in!
Decorative cookie jars as a category of vintage kitchenware first appeared in the United States in the early 1930s, although a 10-inch-tall ceramic cookie jar in the shape of a trash can from Brush Kolorkraft of Roseville, Ohio has been dated to 1929.
Other early cookie-jar manufacturers include McKee Glass Company of Pennsylvania (glass manufacturers were the first to capitalize on the public’s desire for cookie jars) and Louisville Pottery, which made lidded jars for the Harper J. Ransburg Company of Indiana. Ransburg is credited with being an early contributor to the cookie-jar genre because the firm hand-painted so many of them—a quarter-million a year during its heyday in the 1930s. Designs ranged from floral patterns, Davy Crockett coonskin caps, Humpty Dumpty, and Mary and her little lamb.
McCoy Pottery, also of Roseville, Ohio, joined the cookie-jar fray in the late 1930s. By no means the first, McCoy is arguably one of the most important and sought-after names in this category. McCoy’s first figural cookie jar was Mammy with Cauliflower (Blackamoor figures were associated with good eating during the ’30s). Other Mammy jars featured large women whose equally spacious dresses formed the bases of the jars. The words “Dem cookies shor am good” on the outside of one jar from 1944 were replaced in 1946 with the far-less offensive “Cookies.”
Another sought-after cookie-jar manufacturer was American Bisque of West Virginia, which excelled at character and people jars. They made grannies, clowns, and chefs; Dutch girls and boys (sometimes in pairs); and many different iterations of Davy Crockett. American Bisque also produced jars featuring the likenesses of licensed cartoon characters such as Popeye, Yogi Bear (holding a sign that reads “BETTER THAN AVERAGE COOKIES”), Fred Flintstone, and Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Many manufacturers, including American Bisque, produced countless jars in the shapes of animals. Pigs were especially popular— American Bisque is known for its “paws in pockets” jars. Other pink-cheeked creatures included elephants, kittens and puppies, lamps, and rabbits.
In the postwar era, countless ceramics companies made cookie jars. Sought-after producers include Brush Pottery, whose cows with cat finials and circus horses from the 1950s are tough to find in good condition. Purington Pottery made jars shaped like Howdy Doody heads, while Red Wing Stoneware produced Dutch girls, bunches of grapes, and chefs in assorted colors. Those are all nice, but the prizes for Red Wing are the cinnamon-colored King of Tarts jars and any color of cabbage jar you can find...
Regal China Company cranked out umpteen versions of Little Red Riding Hood, made an entire series of “Alice in Wonderland” products for Walt Disney, including an Alice cookie jar, and even made a jar shaped like the head of Harpo Marx. As for Shawnee Pottery, it is best known for its Smiley and Winnie Pig jars, each of which was made from the same mold but featured different colored scarves and articles of clothing.
One other important cookie-jar category is the advertising jar. Coca-Cola, Harley Davidson, and Quaker Oats are just a few of the firms who turned to McCoy for their cookie jars. Mrs. Field’s had jars made in the shapes of its trademark paper bags. And then there was Oreo, whose jars were shaped like—you get only one guess—its famous cookies.