The origin of cookie jars can be traced to British cookie jars, also called biscuit jars, which have been sold in the United Kingdom since the late 18th century.
The popularity of cookie jars became widespread in the US during the Great Depression. The first cookie jars in the US were made of glass and featured metal lids fastened on the container. These jars were ubiquitous in early grocery stores in America.
During the 1930s, stoneware became the material of choice for making American cookie jars. The first cookie jars were generally cylindrical in shape and featured floral and leaf designs.
The company credited for making the first ceramic cookie jar is The Brush Pottery Company of Zanesville, Ohio. Its first models were painted in green and had the words “Cookies” on them. All cookie jars made by Brush are labelled with the words, "Brush U.S.A."
By the late 1930s, most cookie jar makers were using ceramics. Around this time also, other new cookie jar designs began to emerge with manufacturers shaping their jars like animals, fruits, and vegetables. The most illustrious years of American cookie jars were from 1940 up to 1970, with a number of manufacturers becoming highly successful and prominent.
One of the most collectible cookie jars today are those made by McCoy, a company that was based in Roseville, Ohio. McCoy produced cookie jars from 1939 up to 1987. The first cookie jar that they made was named “Mammy,” which today is highly prized and valued by collectors.
McCoy also produced numerous vegetable and fruit jars, most of which have the word McCoy embossed on their base.
Another cookie jar company that rose in prominence after the depression is the American Bisque, which operated out of Williamstown, West Virginia. They were known for using cartoon characters in the design of their jars. Most of the bottom of their jars was also stamped with the words USA.
Other known American cookie jar makers include Ohio-based Shawnee Pottery, Illinois-based Abingdon Pottery of Illinois (produced the Mother Goose series), Metlox of California (made the highly collectible Little Red Riding Hood) and Red Wing of Minnesota.
Popular manufacturers of cookies jars
Some of the most popular cookie jars include but are not limited to:
- Vintage McCoy Cookie Jars
- Brush Pottery Cookie Jars
- Shawnee cookie jars
- Glenn Appleman Cookie Jars
- American Bisque Collectible Cookie Jars
- Louise Beauer Little Red Riding Hood Cookie Jars
- Regal China cookie jars
- Roseville cookie jars
Cookie jar types and themes
Cookie jars come in every shape imaginable.
Vintage cookie jars that feature popular characters such as Winnie the Pooh, Santa Claus and Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster are highly prized by collectors.
Other jars are shaped or have images of animals such as owls, squirrels and pigs, everyday objects like houses and cars, themed by season or holiday such as Christmas examples, or take nursery rhyme and fairytales for their form.
The shape they take can also often be representative of popular trends in culture at the time they were produced, for example jars that depict famous icons like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Superman, or merchandise advertising cookie jars for the likes of Coca-Cola.
Cookie jars are highly popular collectors’ items. Often people collect them for one character or design, sometimes because they evoke the nostalgia of youth and the cookies of yesteryear.
Prices start at around just $5 for a relatively common mass produced example, and cost increases with rarity and age. Vintage examples are particularly sought after, and examples from the popular manufacturers mentioned stand a good chance of increasing in value over time.
The most expensive cookie jars can sell for several thousand. A rare McCoy Train cookie jar sold for $6,100 at Belhorn Auction Services in November 2010. A Lanier Meaders grape decorated cookie jar sold for $5,000 at a Slotin Folk Art auction in May 2007. Cookie jars from famous collectible pottery manufacturers such as Moorcroft and Royal Doulton will always achieve high prices, collected for the workmanship and the association with the great name as much as for being a cookie jar.
Likewise antique British and Victorian examples will be more expensive, as they were handmade and not mass manufactured in the way that most 20th century examples were.
However, many collectors can pick up some fantastic examples fairly cheaply at flea markets and second hand sales, on eBay, or passed down from their parents. Another bonus of collecting cookies jars is that there are so many in circulation. Collectors can focus on one manufacturer or design, or just collect anything they like.
One event that is believed to have partly caused the revival of the popularity of cookie jar collecting was the auction of the ceramic cookie jar collection of Andy Warhol. These jars, which numbered 125, came in various shapes and sizes. As is the practice of many collectors, Andy Warhol bought most of the jars in his collection from flea markets. At an auction in 1987, the cookie receptacles that formed part of Andy Warhol’s cookie jar collection were sold for a staggering $250,000. This encouraged more people to start collecting cookie jars, and they became a respectable item to collect.