You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t delight at the sight of a cookie jar. Oh, what treasures does it hold? Chocolate chip? Snickerdoodle? Peanut butter? Oatmeal raisin?
Just kidding. Raisins have no place in cookies.
Regardless, the jars, not unlike the cookies inside them, have delighted children and adults for decades. And while Great Britain has had their own “biscuit barrels” since the eighteenth century, it wasn’t until the Great Depression era that the prototypical American cookie jar—colorful, shapely, ceramic—made its way into U.S. households.
It’s generally accepted that the Brush Pottery Company is responsible for the first ceramic cookie jar as we know it. But other pottery and glass makers were close on their heels. This is unsurprising, since most of the popular American potteries of the time resided in eastern Ohio. Word travels fast, and Joneses must be kept up with. So the market for those culinary treasure chests quickly expanded.
And while contemporary cookie jars are certainly still being made, collectors and casual cookie connoisseurs alike find the vintage jars, like those that once sat on their mothers’ and grandmothers’ counters, hard to resist. And lucky for all of us, those jars can frequently be found at estate sales.
The history of vintage cookie jar companies tend to be intertwined. Companies frequently joined forces, separated, or shared a distributor or licensed materials.
We at EstateSales.NET are just coming down from our own cookie jar binge—a local sale recently featured hundreds of cookie jars, and several of us hoped to be first in line when the doors opened. So this seems like the perfect time to look at some of the bigger names in collectible cookie jars, how they’re connected, and some tips on how to identify them.
Brush Pottery Company
Brush Pottery was started by George Brush in 1925. Located in Zanesville, Ohio, it was one of the city’s many potteries in the early twentieth century.
Though its first—the first—cookie jar released in 1929—green, with the word “cookies” emblazoned on it—was not the most ornate design, Brush made up for it with creativity and vigor over the next 53 years, before ceasing production in 1982. Their colorful and whimsical designs frequently now come with a considerable price tag—some of the most expensive in the collectors’ world, in fact.
Brush jars can be difficult to identify for authenticity because of the variety of ways the pottery chose to mark its work, if they marked it at all.
McCoy Pottery Company
McCoy is the most well known and most prolific maker of mid-century cookie jars, producing some of the most popular and sought-after jars among collectors. And while McCoy’s rare “Mammy” jars are likely the most well-known and most problematic (offensive is probably the better word for it), the pottery produced a wide variety of figural jars, and was also commissioned by companies like Coca-Cola and Harley Davidson to produce themed cookie jars.
There was a period between 1911 and 1925 when George Brush and Nelson McCoy worked as a team—the Brush-McCoy Pottery Company. And while Brush-McCoy made a variety of ornate and colorful bowls and vessels, all of which are collectors items today, none are cookie jars. This is important to note, because there are a number of jars currently on the market with “Brush McCoy Pottery” etched on the bottom. A quick search on eBay, for example, will provide dozens of images of “Brush McCoy” cookie jars.
These jars were not made by the early twentieth century ceramics company. The hyphenated Brush-McCoy Pottery Company that operated in the early 1900s never made cookie jars.
There are Brush cookie jars and there are McCoy cookie jars, but if you’re buying a Brush McCoy, you’re buying a reproduction.
American Bisque was second only to McCoy as far as productivity when it comes to early- and mid-century cookie jars. The West Virginia company is particularly known for pieces depicting animals, many with their hands in pockets. Licensed cartoon characters were also a popular item for them.
Their pieces can be difficult to identify because they are marked sporadically, occasionally with an “A.B. Co.,” and more often only with “USA” and an identifying number.
Hull is a prolific art pottery manufacturer, but as far as cookie jars are concerned, they’re probably best known for their Little Red Riding Hood pottery, which included not only the jars but also canisters, sugar bowls and creamers.
Little Red Riding Hood jars are frequently reproduced, many with the same makers marks as the original pieces. If you’re preparing to spend a pretty penny on what you believe is an original Little Red Riding Hood jar, it’s important to be familiar with what an original is and isn’t.
The best way to identify an original LRRH jar is height. Originals are around 13¼" tall, while reproductions tend to stand no taller than one foot. There are a number of other identifying characteristics, which this website lays out well.
Leeds China (Chicago)
More a distributor than a manufacturer, Leeds sold several cookie jars featuring licensed Walt Disney characters. The jars themselves were made by Ludowici Celadon Company and American Bisque, among other companies, but Leeds had the license.
One of their popular and collectible designs are the “turnabout” cookie jars that feature two different disney characters—for example, turned one way, the jar will feature Mickey Mouse, and turned another, Minnie Mouse. Others feature Pluto and Dumbo or Donald Duck and José Carioca.
Collecting these jars come with a real danger of reproduction. New collectors should keep in mind that the original jars were painted over the pottery’s glaze, which means the paint flakes off easily. Be wary of well painted turnabouts, particularly those that clearly have glaze over the paint—those are likely reproductions.More caveats
Collectors have more than just well-disguised reproductions to consider. There are people who, lacking a complete piece, create “marriage jars” from different jars from the same maker. Because they’re made by the same company, the molds are similar enough to fit well. Figural jars, with the head as the lid and the body as the base could potentially be switched, either intentionally or accidentally, without detection.
Whether you’re searching for an original Hull, or simply enamored by the idea of putting fresh-baked spitzes in a silly green bespectacled ceramic turtle, you’re sure to find what you want at an estate sale. I know we did.