Antiques & Collectibles: Open the door to cookie jars

A cookie jar is a must-have this time of the year, for all the baked Christmas cookies, but also one of the fastest-growing collectibles.

Collector Barb Crews, of Oklahoma City, is passionate about collecting cookie jars, and it grew into writing an online newsletter, thecookiejar.net, to share the news about auctions, new releases and more.

“I started my online newsletter in 1996,” Crews said. “This was in the dinosaur days of the internet, where finding information was so much harder than it is today. The tipping point was when I went to a cookie jar show (which are no longer held) and a dealer was selling a jar I loved for $125. I thought long and hard about buying it. I mentioned it to a California friend and she said, ‘I’m pretty sure you can buy that still new from the company.’

“It was an advertising jar, which is my true love, so I decided to wait until I got home and try to find out more information,” Crews said. “I found out I could still order it as a premium for $5.99. At the time I was just dumbfounded that collectors were not sharing information with each other. And I was going to change that to the best of my ability by finding out about stuff and publishing it for everyone to see.

“I probably have around 2,500-3,000 (jars), and no, they are not all on display,” Crews said. “I have 99 in the kitchen above the cabinets, all advertising. Another 25 in the utility room over the cabinets, Santa jars in the hallway year-round, western themed jars in the game room and it goes on and on and the numbers add up.

“Figural jars started being produced in the 1940s, and I have a few from that time period,” she said. “Crock-style jars date back a few decades earlier. My Nestle Toll House bear is my rarest jar. As best as I can figure out, it was produced for a TV commercial, a talking bear commercial. Never sold commercially. I’ve only known of two or three of them, and one of those was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.”

Where to find them

“Living in the southern plains area, I have to look for my jars online,” Crews said. “If collectors are lucky enough to live in the Ohio area and nearby states, I’ve known of collectors to make lots of great finds. Close proximity to where many factories were located helps a lot in finding jars.”

I have found some nice jars at auctions, flea markets, thrift and antique shops, such as with Evelyn Minnaert, dealer at the Old Rooster, Rochester.

“We have several general cookie jars and some Christmas as well, ranging in price from $10 up,” Minnaert said.

Crews also suggests this time of the year to look for some new jars that come out each holiday season. Here are some good picks: Plaid Santa, Christmas Cat and Christmas Dog at Target, and Theodore the Cat and Christmas Llama at Pier 1.

Books to read

“If you are just dipping your toe into collecting, there are two books that are must haves,” Crews said. “‘The Complete Cookie Jar Book,’ by Mike Schneider, with great information not only on jars, but the companies that produced them and information on the identifying marks. Also, ‘The Wonderful World of Cookie Jars,’ by Ellen and Mark Supnick, has loads of pictures for those times you are trying to figure what company might have made a jar.”

Tips to know

“Today’s market is much more buyer-friendly than at any time in my collecting jars since 1990. The problem is prices can be so low that people buy indiscriminately. They see a jar and buy it. Wrong attitude. Since there are so many options, buy quality over quantity. If a jar has a chip or crack, don’t even touch it unless it’s something you really want and can’t find in good condition.

“Well-made American jars that are not cracked or chipped can usually be sold at a later date,” Crews said. “But a Taiwan jar that was purchased for $10 at Wal-Mart, is almost never going to sell for more than that. And if it’s cracked or chipped, that cheap jar most likely will never command more than a few bucks.

“Specialize in certain jars, for example: dogs, advertising or by company, etc. Old companies like Shawnee, Brush, McCoy, American Bisque are all good choices. The newer pop art jars, look for Vandor jars or the even newer company Westland Gifts. Treasure Craft is another company that was American-made jars until shortly before they closed up business in the late 1990s.

“Also, the biggest problem is fake, fraud and reproductions,” Crews said. “McCoy and Shawnee jars seem to be the most widely reproduced. The McCoy Mammy jars are the biggest offenders. There were only two McCoy Mammy molds made. Today there are 69 McCoy Mammy jars on eBay. At a quick glance, maybe 10-12 are the real thing.”

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