The holiday season is upon us, and from ovens far and wide, millions of cookies are emerging. Few will ever make it to the temporary safety of a cookie jar, as hungry predators - I mean, revelers - devour the majority. But who would keep gooey, crumbly, sticky cookies in a collectible anyway?
Descended from the British biscuit jars of the 1800's, cookie jars have morphed into one of the most varied and popular collectibles on the market. Actor Billy Dee Williams collects them (http://www.go-star.com/antiquing/bdwilliams.htm). Pop artist Andy Warhol collected them. (136 jars from Warhol's collection, mostly gleaned from flea markets and junk shops, fetched $198,605 at a Sotheby's auction in 1988 http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/20020301warhol1.asp.) And I'll wager that just about everyone reading this has at least one cookie jar in his or her kitchen, probably serving more as a decorative item than a functional one.
The variety of colors, shapes, materials, and makers rivals that of salt-and-pepper shakers. There are plastic, glass, and ceramic jars. There are advertising jars like Coke, John Deere, and Nabisco. There are cartoon, nursery rhyme, and holiday jars. There are cultural icon jars. Are you a Beatles fan? There's a Yellow Submarine jar. Are you devoted to TV-Land reruns? There's an Andy and Barney Squad Car jar. Love winter? There are dozens and dozens of different Snowmen.
Unlike salt-and-peppers, however, size is a drawback when collecting cookie jars. Many collectors are hard-pressed to find display or storage space for more than a few dozen jars, and condition thus becomes an important factor. After all, why fill limited space with badly damaged specimens? So, unless a jar is relatively rare, its paint should be intact and it should have no major chips, cracks, or scratches. Cookie jars are particularly vulnerable to damage where the top touches the bottom, so it is important to inspect all edges for chips. Rubbing a finger over a rim will often reveal a shallow chip that has escaped a visual inspection. Though undesirable, a small chip on an interior edge, unseen while the jar is closed, often has a much lesser effect on value than it would were it on an always-visible outside edge.
A broken or missing lid can render a jar worthless. In such a case, the jar might make an interesting planter. Of course, if the jar is a favorite or is relatively rare, it might be worth searching for another top to complete the piece. eBay, for example, has a "spare tops, bottom" category (http://listings.ebay.com/aw/plistings/list/category4048/index.html?from=R10).
As with any collectible, the more knowledge acquired, the less likely you will pay too much for a piece, or be fooled by one of the many fakes or reproductions on the market. The following Web sites and books are recommended for both the novice and experienced collector:
The American Cookie Jar Association
The Cookie Jar Spot
Check out their Gallery/Index
and Descriptions of fakes and reproductions
The Cookie Jar.Net
Encyclopedia Smithsonian. List of selected sources of information.
McCoy Pottery Web site
Illustrated list of McCoy cookie jars from 1930's to present
Comprehensive list of McCoy pottery marks
McCoy Cookie Jars
Auctionbytes-Update, Number 15 - June 04, 2000
By Chiquita Prestwood
Collector's Encyclopedia of Cookie Jars, Book III
by Fred Roerig, Herndon Roerig, Joyce Herndon Roerig
The Complete Cookie Jar Book, by Mike Schneider
The Wonderful World of Cookie Jars: A Pictorial Reference and Price Guide by Mark Supnick, Ellen Supnick
An Illustrated Value Guide to Cookie Jars by Ermagene Westfall