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    

Antique Nelson Mccoy Cookie Jar Clown In Barrel Vintage Mccoy Pottery Sunrise Pattern Green Smallest Mixing Bowl 5 1/2" HtfRare Antique Mccoy Yelloware Green Glazed Mixing BowlVtg Mccoy Pottery Fish Scale/feathers Mixing Bowls1916 Brush-mccoy Pottery Jardiniere Cala Lily 8.5" Excellent ConditionVintage Mccoy “ Traveling Mother Goose ” Cookie Jar ~ Rare DuckVintage 1953 Mccoy Pottery Lemon Orange Fruit Wall Pocket Wallpocket Vintage Mccoy Chipmunk Cookie Jar Vintage American Bisque Pottery Co. Cookie Jar - Pig In A Poke JarVintage Mccoy Pottery Letter Holder Lot KlMccoy Pottery Alligator Planter Antique In Wonderful ConditionVintage 1950's Mccoy Usa Clown In Green Barrel Cookie Jar Rare 1930's Mccoy Pottery Hunting Dog Dish Good Condition No DamageVintage Mccoy Ceramic Bobby The Baker Pillsbury Dough Boy Cookie Jar 1970sMint+scarce 1948 Mccoy Double Tulip VaseVintage Ceramic Cooky Cookie Jar Mccoy Bunch Of Bananas 1940'sVintage Mccoy Pear Cookie JarVintage Mccoy Pottery Beagle Dog Cookie Jar With Write PadVintage Mccoy Pottery Usa Mr And Mrs Owl When Shadows Fall Cookie Jar1950's Mccoy Yellow And Green Art Pottery Grape Leaf 7" Wall Pocket Signed Ec NrVintage Mccoy Pottery Bird Bath Shaped Planter VaseVintage Mccoy Bamboo And Koala Bear Cookie JarRare Vintage 1940's Nelson Mccoy Pottery White Lily 8" Wall PocketVintage Mc Coy Planter Brush Pottery - Rare Puppy Dog Basket Planter - Rare - Cream Color9" Mccoy White Matte Double Handled Vase.Vintage Green Hand Painted Pottery Cookie Jar Usa1970s Mccoy Pottery Turtle Planter Basket Flower PotMc Coy Kitten PlanterVintage Mccoy Pottery Yellow Swan VasePair Of Pink Mccoy Basketweave Flower Pots 4 " Tall, Very Nice Condition - NrVintage Mccoy Pineapple Cookie JarVintage Mccoy #274 Art Pottery Multi Colored Ring Necked Pheasant Planter Exc.Matte Yellow Glazed Rooster Vintage Nelson Mccoy Usa Pottery Planter VaseVintage Unmarked Mccoy Planter Brown Quilt Design Very Heavy Excellent ConditionVintage Mccoy Pottery Vase Unmarked 1930's Vintage Mccoy Pottery Green Planter Bottom Marked No DamageMccoy Cascade 5" Tall Vase. Great Colors And Great Condition.Vintage Made In Usa Strawberry With Stem Cookie JarVintage White Ceramic Mccoy PlanterVintage Mccoy Yellow Tulip VaseMc Coy Pottery Planter VintageMccoy Pottery Retro Planter Low Rectangle #5026 Gloss Black Bottom MarkedVintage Mccoy Sack Of Cookies Cookie JarVintage 1950s Mccoy Lamb Basketweave Ceramic Cookie JarVintage American Pottery Mccoy Vase Urn Turquoise Green FruitMccoy Pottery Green Bucket Planter With Metal Stand Hard To Find ShapeMccoy Pottery Aqua Turquoise Blue Water Pitcher Basket Weave Iris UsaVintage Mccoy Smiley Face Cookie JarMccoy Double Yellow Tulip And Swallow Bird Planter VintageMccoy VaseMccoy Pottery Oval Pedestal Planter Brushed White & Gold Bottom Marked1940’s Vintage Mccoy Usa Pottery Lady Hand Vase Green Teal AquaMid Century Mccoy Usa White VaseMccoy Pottery 6" Brown Drip Teapot Great Shape Bottom MarkedVintage Mccoy Golden Brocade 6" Vase Original Label 24 Carat Gold EffectVintage Mccoy Arcature Planter Green With GoldfinchMccoy Calypso Banana Barrel Planter 402Vintage Mccoy Triple Tulip Planter 1950s Yellow VaseMccoy Strawberry Jar With Bird