Hello Helaine and Joe:
I am cleaning out my grandparent’s estate and would appreciate your input and value on this vase. It is 9 1/2 inches long and 3 1/2 inches tall and marked “McCoy USA.”
Love reading your column,
B. F., Austin, Texas
Dear B. F.:
Cleaning out a loved one’s estate can be very traumatic. It is so easy to get bogged down with the memories and the sentiment – and every piece seems to resonate with some sort of family history.
We are not going to get overly embroiled in a long discussion of the history of the various McCoy pottery companies – namely J. W. McCoy, Brush-McCoy and Nelson McCoy. We are just going to jump right in and say this adorable alligator planter was made by the Nelson McCoy Pottery Company of Roseville, Ohio, circa 1950.
The company was founded as the Nelson McCoy Sanitary Stoneware Company in 1910 by Nelson McCoy and his father J. W. McCoy. Initially they manufactured such things as churns, jars, jugs, poultry fountains, foot warmers and combinets (a euphemistic term for a handled covered pail that served the duel purposes of chamber pot and slop jar).
It is said that the company was an immediate success and that McCoy jugs and jars were very popular with the bootleggers of the day. The McCoy family sold its interest in McCoy Sanitary Stoneware Company to Brush McCoy in 1925, and the new owners modernized and expanded operations.
The Great Depression hit the company hard and in 1933, they reorganized as the Nelson McCoy Pottery Company and started producing commercial art wares instead of the crocks and jugs, which were no longer in high demand. The Nelson McCoy Pottery Company reportedly changed hands several times from 1967 to 1990 when it closed.
The collectors who love Nelson McCoy Pottery pieces are intrigued by the number of shapes and styles in which the wares were made. In planters alone it is possible to fine wishing wells, roosters, ducks pulling carts, clowns, monkeys, poodles, pheasant, swans, fish, elephants, turtles, zebras, rodeo scenes, violins, carriages with umbrellas and on and on and on.
Joe can remember his mother planting cacti in a grouping of three McCoy turtles and a duck pulling a cart that sat on a bookcase. These items are now gone because they were fragile and easily broken when used for their intended purpose. When we sell items in estate sales, we often find McCoy items stored in some dark corner along with utilitarian flower pots and the flotsam and jetsam used in both indoor and outdoor gardening.
This McCoy planter seems to be popular with collectors, but valuing it is not an easy task. We have found similar planters priced as low as $25 to $35, but we feel that is too low. In 2017, a McCoy alligator planter sold at a New York state auction for just $30, but a year later at the same auction the piece brought $70. In the current market, we feel the latter figure is a more realistic fair market value.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you’d like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email them at [email protected]. If you’d like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.