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Vintage McCoy treasures – The Herald |

Vintage McCoy treasures – The Herald

If you have any old pottery, at least one piece is sure to be made by McCoy. McCoy is the most widely known name in collectible pottery, because of its wide availability, its ready identifiability, its general popularity and the fact that it continued to be produced as late as 1990. The McCoy Pottery Company made and distributed household ceramics far longer (and probably more widely) than any other 20th-century American pottery company. Based in Zanesville, Ohio, and shifting from its utilitarian origins into decorated wares about 1910, for most of 80 years McCoy generated huge numbers of planters, bowls, serving dishes, wall pockets, cookie jars and dozens of other items that were shipped around the country.

By the early 1930s, one of its kilns was producing 5,000 pieces of ceramic in 24 hours, a staggering number for that time period. McCoy dinnerware and supplementary pieces were sold at modest cost in chain department stores and chain groceries. Its wares were generally high quality for the price and came in an imaginative range of styles, sizes and finishes.


One key to McCoy’s success was that the company’s designers specialized in pottery that was cheerful and upbeat in style, crucial elements in appeal during the Depression and just after the Second World War. And McCoy continually came out with new designs. Gently humorous touches plus warm pastels and primary colors, smooth finishes and “happy” styles predominated, and many items targeted children, making McCoy pottery easily recognizable and generally well liked. The company was immensely successful until the market was finally swamped by inexpensive Chinese imports and the rise of mass-market plastic wares.

Collectors today sometimes specialize in one product line of McCoy such as cookie jars, animal planters or a particular pattern or color in dinnerware. Or collectors might focus on one period, such as the early Brush-McCoy of the 1910s before the two companies separated, or prewar McCoy from the period between 1933 and 1942. Another specialty consists of wartime items made between 1940 and 1944, always marked USA for patriotism. Or one might collect only cream pitchers, only banks, only dog dishes or only animal miniatures. The company was so prolific that huge personal collections just within one of these and other categories are possible, even today.

Perhaps the first thing to know is that two different companies used the McCoy name, and one had multiple incarnations. The Brush-McCoy Pottery Company was an early maker of utilitarian stoneware from the mid-19th century that lasted into the 1920s. While stoneware items are generally utilitarian and often made for outside use, and the earliest are not glazed or decorated, after the turn of the century, Brush made art pottery. Its handsome art nouveau, art deco and arts-and-crafts vases are superb collectibles today. Pottery from this company is identified as Brush, usually marked on the bottom, and appeals to collectors of 19th century and very early 20th pottery.

Operating in parallel for a couple of decades, the other McCoy company is generally called Nelson McCoy, and it shifted away from sanitary stoneware pottery about 1929 and began making its own household wares in 1933. While the founding Nelson died shortly after reforming the company, his sons and others continued with the family name for almost 60 years, lasting decades after most other Midwestern pottery companies had shut down. After starting with outdoor flowerpots, Nelson McCoy Pottery shifted rapidly to colorful and cheerfully decorated items for inside use. Today, in antique stores, one finds innumerable serving pieces, bulb bowls, planters and vases in many sizes, wall pockets, ashtrays, cookie jars and holiday and children’s items produced by Nelson McCoy.

Although some variants appeared, especially in the final decade or so, most vintage Nelson McCoy has one of three distinctive marks on the bottom: An overlapping N on M (for the original owner’s names) or the stylized McCoy name in a particular script inside a circle sometimes, plus USA if produced just before, during or just after WWII. The bulk of McCoy output occurred in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Like other major pottery makers, McCoy collectors hold annual meetings, publish a quarterly journal and maintain a website. Antique malls offer at least some Brush and McCoy items, and eBay does a steady online business in the wares. Unlike other brands of American pottery, at least 21 different published books about the hundreds and hundreds of Brush and Nelson McCoy designs are available. Getting McCoy pottery origins and dates all straight can be a bit overwhelming.

Susan Eastman was rather surprised to see that several of her wall pockets and miniature vases were McCoys. You might have more McCoy than you think, too. Look in the H-T Online for more pictures of vintage McCoy treasures.

Category: Dinnerware  Tags: ,  Comments off
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