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    

Mccoy Flower Pot Green Aqua Hobnail Leaves Signed Nm Antique/vintage Vintage Aqua Blue Mccoy Icicle Drip Planter Flower Pot - Mccoy Usa 115Vintage Mccoy Flower Pot Measuring Spoon Holder NiceVintage 1954 Mccoy Usa Fan Vase - Yellow/brown 10" - Vgc!Blue Green Bird With Head Down 5"long Miniature Planter MccoyVintage Mccoy Pottery Cookie House Ceramic Cookie JarVintage Mccoy 5" Planter Flower Pot Yellow DaisyMccoy 5" Bowl BlueVintage Green Mccoy Pottery Fish Scale Pattern Mixing BowlMccoy Off White VaseMccoy 1930's Matte Green JardiniereVintage Green Mccoy Planter Flower Pot Lollypop Pattern Mint No ReserveBeautiful Rare Matte White Pottery Vase Marked Usa 184 - Mccoy? Rare LargeVintage Yellow Bird PlanterMccoy Planter Flower Pot Beaded Green.minty 4 Inches. No Flaws Hard To Find!!Vintage Mccoy Vase Chrysanthemum Design In PinkVintage Mid Century Modern 15" Mccoy Scandia VaseMccoy Scandia Planter 12" Vintage 60's Ceramic Pottery Usa 35 Avocado Green Mccoy Hanging Basket Planter Art Pottery Vintage Ohio Jardiniere Art Deco PeriodVintage Mccoy Pottery Flower Pot Planter Beaded Rust Orange Brown ColorVintage Mccoy Pottery Usa White Cat In Pink Basket Cookie JarNelson Mccoy Pottery Table Lamp Double Scroll Handled Urn Green Glaze Vtg AntiquVintage American Yellow Ware Pottery Dog Bowl Walter R. Stevens & Son RibbedAntique/ Vintage Mccoy Pottery JardiniereVintage Mccoy Water Lily Pad Lilly Lotus Pottery Pitcher Green Small Cute Vintage Mccoy Aqua Blue Pottery Ribbed Bowl 5"Mccoy Pottery Apple Wall Pocket Vintage Fruit WallpocketMccoy Pottery - El Rancho - BeverageMc Coy Leaves & Berries Hanging Planter - 1930's - Matte Brn. W/ Grn. LeavesMccoy Double Tulip Vase With Original LabelVintage Mccoy Pottery Greeish Blue PlanterMccoy Usa Pheasant PlanterMccoy Owl PlanterMccoy Bud VaseCollectible Mccoy Bird Dog No Hunting PlanterMccoy PotteryVintage Mccoy Strawberry Cookie Jar Ca1955Vintage Mccoy Turquoise Diamond Flowerpot & Green Rib & Beading FlowerpotVintage Mccoy Napkin Holder. Art Deco Design In YellowVintage Cookie JarDutch Boy Cookie Jar VintageVintage Mccoy Pottery Nesting Bird Vase - 8" Light Green ColorArts Crafts Mccoy Pinecone Quills Light Green Pottery Teapot Creamer Sugar BowlMccoy Pottery Nm Baby Shoe Planter1940's Usa Mccoy Pottery Art Pastel Green Double Handle Urn VaseFab 50s Midcentury Modern Mccoy Abstract Footed AshtrayVintage Mccoy Pottery 202 Blue Willow Pattern Pitcher Cookie Jar Jug With LidVintage Mccoy 4" Small Purple Basket Weave Flower Pot 2 Smll Mccoy Pottery Plant Pots, 4" Pink, 3" Green... L@@kA Vintage Yellowish Mccoy 6" VaseWhite Mccoy Hand Vase/planterVintage Mid Century Brush Mccoy Pottery Pink Speckled Syrup Pitcher #932C.1940s Mccoy Art Pottery Rustic Grapevine Or Grape & Vine Ewer Or Pitcher Vintage Mccoy Pottery Grape Vine Pattern Design Fan Vase Planter Pot Roseville OVintage Mccoy Usa Pottery Dark Green Water Pitcher & Bowl Basin Set Nice!