By Allister Townson-Muse 

“If You Give a Mouse a Cookie!”

Anyone, who has ever read the story of the mouse who wanted a cookie, knows that the mouse continued to ask for more and more things to go with his cookie.  There are no mice at the museum! But there will be cookies! There will be cookies jars! Lots and lots of cookie jars! The White Pine Public Museum will be having the first ever “COOKIE JAR CONTEST” on display the month of May. This is just one of the many events the Museum is sponsoring this year. It is a unique opportunity for local residents to share a bit of their own history with others in our community. Registration for the contest runs April 23th to April 30th.

Surprisingly, cookie jars do have a history. They can be traced back over 250 years to England. The English called them “biscuit jars or barrels” and were originally designed to hold small tea cakes or scones. The early “biscuit jars” traveled across the pond with America’s founding fathers and eventually transformed into the highly collectable “cookie jars” of today.

Red Wing Stoneware Co. is considered to be the oldest pottery company in America, starting business in the mid-1860s. By the turn of the century, they were the largest pottery company in the United States. At least a dozen well-known companies were in production by the beginning of WWI and the two most famous of this group were McCoy Pottery Company and American Bisque. Most of these companies were producing water crocks and jugs, tiles, dinner-ware, spit-toons and bedpans.

With the advent of the Great Depression, mothers who could no longer afford to purchase baked items from the bakery were now making homemade goods which required a more suitable container.  Pottery companies, scrambling to stay in business, began producing the “Cookie Jar.”  What originally started out as a plain, un-decorated cylindrical container, soon morphed into an eye-catching addition to home design. Marketing departments quickly realized that sales sky-rocketed when home-owners had bright, quirky designs to choose from.  Pottery companies had thousands of workers meticulously painting jars by hand, a technique called “cold painting”.  Since this method was applied after kiln firing, the paint would eventually chip off, effecting the appearance and value of the collectable cookie jar.  Thinking ahead, several companies limited castings to one or two runs. Once these runs were complete, the molds were destroyed in order to create a controlled supply, thus creating a demand for rare jars.

For the collector, there are many issues that can influence the value of a cookie jar. Some of those issues are chips, cracks, missing paint and factory flaws. Large chips can reduce the cost as much as 50% and factory flaws can cause a 70% reduction depending on its nature and how noticeable it is. But a defect in a very rare jar has little effect in its price. Typically, the collector will overlook a flaw if the opportunity arises to obtain a rare jar.

In 1944, the McCoy Pottery Company, created one of the most sought-after jars ever. The character of “Mammy with Cauliflower” is valued near $1700. The Olive Oyl jar, made by American Bisque is said to be valued between $2000 and $3000 and the Abingdon Company created the “Witch” with cat lid, that’s valued at $2400. The cookie jar manufacturers created hundreds if not thousands of different characters and designs. They range from moons to trains, cartoons, nursery rhymes, stagecoaches and even Elvis. Anything and everything was turned into a cookie jar.

Collectors should be aware that the rarer the jar, the more apt it is to be imitated. One thing to be mindful of, is the size of the jar itself, the original jar is usually larger than the fake.  Color variations, additional designs and a heavier jar can also indicate a phony.

Come and join us at the White Pine Public Museum the month of May for this unique event. Bring your family and spend some quality time together. The museum is open daily from 10:00am to 4:00pm. Admission is $3 per person and children under 5 and mice are free.