On Saturday I spotted this retro cookie jar at a yard sale — actually, the sign alerting passersby to the sale read, “Oh, No, A Fire… Yard Sale!” which certainly was alarming enough to garner our attention. The hipsters running the sale seemed to find the whole concept of a yard sale too ironic to bothered pricing anything, which distracted me from asking about the fire. But anyway, this cookie jar with its goofy kitschy smile plastered across a way-too-happy sunshine yellow glaze shining in the sun was instantly recognizable as something from the 1970s.
And something I must have.
But not enough to pay the $5 he first quoted me.
We negotiated and settled on $3.
I call it the “smiley face cookie jar,” but its official name is the Happy Face cookie jar. And while I say it looks like a game piece off the Sorry! game board (another reason for this board game junkie to love it), the cookie jar shape is properly called a round or ball-shaped cookie jar on a pedestal. But its shape is rather a problem.
I know that cookie jar lids are easily broken, making vintage cookie jars complete with lids rare and pricey in general, but on this specific design, it seems nothing short of a miracle if the lids do survive. The lids nest imperfectly, requiring some adjustment to get it to sit “just so” — something people with hands full of cookies (especially sneaky kids) likely aren’t thinking about. Plus, that finial ball top design is just begging for a sleeve or something to knock it out of that “just so” place — and onto a hard floor. Thankfully, this cookie jar lid has defied the odds to survive.
There are several glaze color variations for this vintage McCoy cookie jar: yellow, with black, as mine is; solid yellow (which makes the features and writing rather hard to read); white with black, and white with red. It measures just under 11 inches tall.
The Happy Face cookie jar was first made by McCoy in 1971, when the pottery company was part of The Mount Clemens Pottery Company and the design lasted at least a few more years, including after McCoy was sold again, this time to The Lancaster Colony Corporation in 1974. Earliest versions of this vintage pottery cookie jar will have the classic McCoy name in a stylized or decorated circle, with U.S.A. beneath it, embossed on the bottom. Later pieces will have a plainer version of the McCoy name along with the Lancaster Colony’s “LLC” mark embossed on the bottom. Based on the makers marks, you can see that my cookie jar find is an earlier production piece:
The markings are important to note, for even though this Happy Face McCoy cookie jar doesn’t seem to have been copied and faked, many McCoy pottery cookie jars have been. Faked, that is. (Use of the word “reproduction” would be incorrect; McCoy ceased production in 1990 and use of the designs and McCoy name are misleading at best.) One way to tell that your McCoy pottery piece is authentic is to find a the correct embossed maker’s mark from the correct time period — and a crisp mark at that. Since copies or “reproductions” are not made from the original molds, but rather from clay pressed and molded around the original piece, the maker’s marks are less clear.
This method of making molds to copy pieces also results in smaller pieces because the clay molded around the original vintage pieces shrinks in size — and then the piece made in that smaller mold shrinks again when the piece is fired in the kiln. So copies will be smaller. Knowing what size the cookie jar or other potter piece is supposed to be will save you from buying knock-offs at authentic vintage prices.