One of the most colorful and jolly kitchen items ever is, of course, the cookie jar. Cookie jar is an American term, in Britain, they are called biscuit jars or biscuit barrels. The first biscuit barrels appeared in Britain in the second half of the 18th century. They were initially made of glass with a metal lid or of metal. Some of the early versions were decorated with floral motifs. After a while, they found their way to the United States.
In the United States, cookie jars became popular in the Great Depression, from 1929. The Brush Pottery Company of Zanesville, Ohio is believed to have made the first ceramic cookie jar in America. It was a simple green jar that had the word “Cookies” imprinted on it. The ceramic cookie jars were much more decorated than the previous glass or metal ones. Other companies started following Brush Pottery’s example and in the early 1930s, a large number of new cookie jars appeared on the market.
The earliest were made in a simple cylindrical shape with little or no decoration at all. The next few years brought more innovative designs and included jars in the shapes of fruits, vegetables, animals and popular characters. The “golden age” of cookie jars began in the 1940s and lasted until the 1970s. During this time they were produced and sold in huge numbers.
One of the most important manufacturers of cookie jars was Nelson McCoy Sanitary Stoneware Company. Established in 1910 in Roseville, Ohio, McCoy pottery is believed to be the most collected pottery in the United States. Their cookie jars, which started being produced in the 1930s, are among the most popular with collectors. They are the leaders in number of cookie jars produced in the United States. The company eventually went out of business and closed in 1990.
Another giant in the American cookie jar history was American Bisque Pottery Company. The majority of the cookie jars in American kitchens come from these two companies. American Bisque opened in 1919 in West Virginia and its cartoon characters, people and animal themed jars were extremely popular. Their jars had U.S.A. marked on the bottom. Other major manufacturers include Red Wing, Hall, Hull, Regal China, California Originals and others.
Because of their increasing popularity after the war, cookie jars started being used for advertising. Big companies realized the potential of the cookie jars which would stay in the kitchen for years and would remind the users constantly of their brand name. Companies like Coca-Cola, Quaker Oats even the famous motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson commissioned pottery companies for cookie jars to promote their company. The earliest advertising jars appeared in the late 1940s. One of the more successful was the Aunt Jemima plastic jar introduced in 1951. The success of this cookie jar prompted the Quaker Oats Company to introduce a variety of Aunt Jemima kitchen items such as salt and pepper sets and toothpick holders.
The famous artist Andy Warhol was practically obsessed with cookie jars. He had a collection which numbered 175 ceramic cookie jars in various shapes and sizes. Most of them dated from the 1940s and the 1950s and were bought at flea markets.
When at one point someone asked him why he collects the jars, Warhol answered: “They are time pieces”. The New York times writes about an auction held at Sotheby’s in 1987 where Warhol’s cookie jars were sold. The auction house expected around $7,000 from the cookie jars. Amazingly enough, they sold for a close to $250,000. The most expensive lot of cookie jars sold at that auction was worth $23,100. Almost all of the artist’s cookie jars ended up in possession of Gedalio Grinberg, the chairman of the board of the North American Watch Company and a friend of Andy Warhol.
Cookie jars are a highly collectible item today. Most of them are not very expensive and can be found at flea markets. Cookie jar collectors are among the most passionate collectors, probably because cookie jars are almost always connected to beloved childhood memories.