Copyright 2009 Kimberly Clay
I know it’s trite and you are probably sick to death hearing the joke, but when collecting McCoy Pottery how do you know you are getting the real McCoy? (Urghh!!). I couldn’t resist it. But truthfully, how do you know that these McCoy Pottery marks are real, or even if an item should actually have a mark?
Let’s look at some McCoy Pottery history, which will perhaps give a bit of insight as to why that question was put to you. Keep in mind that it is pieces such as McCoy pottery cookie jars and pitchers that collectors prize, rather than fine tableware or decorative items as such, and this comes from the company’s background and origins. It is very much like the history of many other American potters and ceramic businesses around that time – the turn of the 19th century to just after World War II.
It was a period that covered the horror of WWI, women’s suffrage, the frivolity of the 1920s, new art movements such as the Harlem Renaissance, Art Deco and American Modernism, the Wall Street Crash and then the Great Depression, World War II and the rise of plastics to threaten the ceramics and tableware industries. So many changes in only one generation!
First of all, to which McCoy business are we referring? JW McCoy, Brush-McCoy or Nelson McCoy? J.W. McCoy started his pottery business in Roseville Ohio in 1899. He made utilitarian pottery, such as McCoy pottery planters, pitchers and stoneware flagons. When he put it on, his kiln mark was a ‘C’ inside an ‘M’ in several designs, often with the name of the product or line underneath.
George Brush held the stock majority in November 1911, and the company’s name was changed to Brush-McCoy. Much of the stoneware and pottery produced around this period had no kiln marks whatsoever, even before Brush added his name to the business. However, this quickly changed, and line numbers were adopted rather than the company name. If you have a piece that might be McCoy, and it has only a number such as 747 cut into the piece, it is most likely from this time period. These numbers were the only McCoy pottery marks used at the time.
When JW died in 1914, his son Nelson took over his interest, but sold it four years later. A major reason was that Nelson had started his own pottery business, one which was to become the McCoy Pottery Company. He formed the Nelson McCoy Sanitary Stoneware Company in 1910 in Roseville, Ohio. Part of their business, other than the manufacture of various forms of stoneware, was to mine and sell clay that was used by potteries in the area, such as the Roseville Pottery Company. The type of stoneware they manufactured was more of the foot warmer and storage crock type of item rather than pottery or tableware.
However, in 1925 the company decided to expand and not only extend its firing capability by commissioning a new 100 yard kiln, but also to branch out into the decorative art pottery products that the businesses to which they were supplying clay were involved. They started off by applying decoration to their jardinières, foot warmers and other functional items, and then into the more decorative art products.
As that part of the business expanded, so too did the staff involved, and artists and designers were taken on to ensure that the designs were commensurate with the marketing of these (to them) new types of products. Like most other pottery companies in the area, the original designs were natural motifs, such as berries and flowers, largely because of the fact that green and brown glazes were inexpensive and it would have been difficult to compete using the more expensive brighter colors.
The designs produced throughout the latter part of the 1920s and ’30s were functional as they had always been, but appealed to the public because they were decorative. This new approach certainly helped the company during these financially difficult times. Unlike some ceramic and pottery businesses that failed, a McCoy Pottery cookie jar or pitcher had everyday use, and were items that visitors could see being used and could admire. The fact that they also looked good was an added bonus and good selling point. Today we would call this a winning USP (unique selling point).
However, what has all this McCoy Pottery history to do with knowing you are getting the real item (I refuse to repeat the puerile joke). We are coming to that now. During the Depression, a co-op was formed, called the American Clay Products Company, whereby the products of each pottery that joined were marketed by the same sales team or salesmen in the same sales and marketing campaign. It was difficult for buyers to tell which company was selling which product, since they were all offered in the same portfolio of products.
This eventually gave rise to the development of distinctive kiln marks from those businesses within the association, and on its demise, which was inevitable because each member was vying to sell more than the other, these marks were used more extensively than those from other companies, such as the Roseville Pottery, that was not a member. To cut a long story short, it is not difficult to identify McCoy Pottery marks.
After 1940 they consisted of the name McCoy, often with ‘USA’, Made in the USA’ or some other lettering. Prior to that they were in the form of a clover and shield, and where appropriate also provided the volume of the container in gallons. The earliest McCoy pieces, with the name or ‘MC’ logo with a ‘C’ within the ‘M’, were made by JC, either on his own or as part of the aforementioned Brush-McCoy company.
Those who collect McCoy should find it relatively easy to identify the year of manufacture of the product from the McCoy pottery marks, and that is how it should be.