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McCoy Pottery

Martha Stewart Living, Volume 14 June/July 1993

The History of McCoy Pottery
Tag-sale and flea-market enthusiasts have long been dedicated collectors of McCoy pottery, in part because much of it is very affordable: Many items -- including pitchers, bowls, and vases -- can be found for as little as $30. Other items, such as cookie jars, are prized collectibles that can cost hundreds of dollars.

The first McCoy factory was founded in 1848, but the J.W. McCoy Pottery Company officially began in 1899; from its inception until 1985 (when it was sold, five years before closing permanently), it was run by three generations of the McCoy family. It produced pottery in many shapes and styles: The more whimsical pieces include cookie jars shaped like pineapples and planters shaped like ducks; bowls and vases tend to take more conventional forms. Many pieces are embossed with Greek and Roman designs, and some vases and bowls bear swirls reminiscent of Ionic columns. Typical McCoy colors include soft yellows and bright greens; less common colors are apple green and apricot.

Collecting McCoy by Line
Some people collect McCoy by color; others build their collections by line. These three lines are among the most popular.

Flower Form Vases: The graceful 14-inch-high fan-shaped vase at left is a relatively modern piece, made in 1954. Smaller versions of these vases were also produced. Some hard-to-find flower-form vases are shaped like hyacinths and double-tulips.

Butterfly: The Butterfly line, produced in the early 1940s, includes 26 shapes -- hanging baskets, vases, and planters -- glazed in matte pastel hues. The array of vases pictured below represents the full color range of the line.

Hobnail: Hobnail ferneries, flower pots, and pitchers, such as the ones pictured here, were produced in the early 1940s.

  

Is It Authentic?
No two pieces of McCoy pottery are exactly alike: As with all machine-made pottery, the patterns on the first pieces out of a particular mold are clear and crisp; those on the last, made hundreds of castings later, are fuzzy and indistinct. Many McCoy pieces are marked on the bottom, making it easy to verify their authenticity. Often, the "M" and the "c" in the first part of the name are intertwined; in the second part, the top of the "C" overlaps the "o." Variations include "USA" or "Made in the USA," with or without the McCoy name.

Pieces without marks are trickier: The best way to be sure these are real is to learn as much as you can about McCoy before you start shopping.

Do You Know?
Andy Warhol collected fanciful McCoy cookie jars. When his set was sold at an estate auction in 1988, it marked the beginning of a revival for this unusual type of pottery.