Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Real McCoy

QUESTION: I love to collect cookie jars. I don’t have too many unusual ones in my collection, so you can imagine my joy when I came across this Mission Apollo cookie jar, made by the McCoy Pottery Company.  It’s one of the most unique ones I’ve seen. What can you tell me about this cookie jar and about the company that made it?

ANSWER: Cookie jars are a very popular collectible and have been since the 1960s when figural cookie jars reached their peak. You found one of the more unusual ones because not only is it one of McCoy’s best, it also commemorates the Apollo mission to the Moon in 1969. But the McCoy company in all its forms has been around for a very long time.

In 1848 William Nelson McCoy started a modest pottery business in Putnam, Ohio, producing simple, sturdy, utilitarian stoneware items for both local consumers and folks located further downriver from the plant. This began a four-generations family potting venture that would continue for over 40 years. As decades passed, the factory site shifted from Putnam to Roseville, Ohio, and the product lines evolved from utilitarian stoneware to useful earthenware table and artware. At its height in the 1950s, the Nelson McCoy Pottery Company employed 500 people whose combined efforts produced 500,000 pieces every month. The design department created up 50 new designs every year. Then potters produced them in three or more glaze colors.

Early on, the company produced mostly stoneware,  decorated with a variety of glazes. Glaze decoration on stoneware ranged from solid colors to blended and matt glazes. Common matt glazes included a brown and green combination, a dark green, and a white glaze color.

In 1886, J.W. McCoy, the son of W.N. McCoy, opened the McCoy Pottery Company, which over the next 12 years would merge with another company and sold to yet another.

J. W. McCoy, assisted his son, William Nelson McCoy, to form the Nelson McCoy Sanitary Stoneware Company on a site north of Roseville, Ohio, on April 25, 1910. The company employed a combination of local and English immigrant potters. Among the company's early wares were butter crocks, churns, jars, jugs, meat tubs, mixing bowls and storage containers. Other practical early products included foot warmers  and poultry fountains. Workers labeled early churns, jars and jugs on the side with the company's stenciled “M,” double shield and clover mark. By the 1920s, the company began putting its mark on the bottom of its pieces.

In 1926, the firm expanded its range of wares, producing earthenware specialties and artware for the first time. Among the new wares, glinting with the bright glazes popular during the period, were cuspidors, umbrella stands and jardinieres with pedestals, for which McCoy became widely known.

The 1930's brought a lot of changes at the company, including a change in name to "The Nelson McCoy Pottery Company." They also shed their old image of the producer of crocks and jugs and ushered in the new techniques, designs and products. In 1934, Nelson McCoy hired an English designer named Sidney Cope, whose designs were very distinctive.

By the end of the 1930s, the demand for jardinieres and large vases was decreasing. The Nelson McCoy Pottery Company turned its attention to the production of artwares, along with novelties like figural cookie jars, an idea that came from Duncan Curtiss, from the firm’s New York sales department. Curtisss felt that cookie jars shaped in the forms of fruit, flowers and characterizations would be well received by the public. And he was right.

By 1967, McCoy Pottery had begun to have financial problems because it couldn’t compete on the international import market. The Mount Clemens Pottery Company bought the company, and in 1974 , they sold it to the Lancaster Colony Corporation. In 1990 the McCoy Pottery ceased operation after a number of declining years of sales and profit. Today the company is best remembered for it's many collectible cookie jar.

Though McCoy marked most of their cookie jars with an incised “McCoy” on the bottom, there  are some exceptions. Over the years they used a variety of styles for their logo and a jar can often be dated by knowing which styles where used during each era. But be careful, as the McCoy mark is one of the most copied marks out there. Just because a jar or seller says it’s a "real McCoy" doesn't mean it is. Caution is always advised when it comes to the higher priced cookie jars.

Because of the prolific production of the company, collectors of McCoy pottery will be able to find pieces in a variety of designs and colors for a long time. This Mission Apollo or “Astronauts” cookie jar, produced in 1970, is one of the harder ones to find.

For more information on collecting cookie jars, read “Cookie Jars—Good as Gold” in The Antiques Almanac.

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