Dear Helaine and Joe: What can you tell me about this pitcher. I bought it from a yard sale for $10. It is marked on the bottom "DeForest of California USA 1965." On the side, "Cookies" is written in long hand.
Thank you. J.J., Chicago
Dear J.J.: First of all, and perhaps most importantly, this is not a pitcher and never was intended to be a pitcher. True, it is shaped like a pitcher . . . and it even has a little pitcher as the finial on the lid. But it is a cookie jar.
In 1988, when 136 cookie jars belonging to deceased artist Andy Warhol brought $198,605 at a Sotheby's auction, a national craze for collecting these kitchen containers began in earnest. For a long time it was impossible to go to a flea market or estate sale without seeing buyers snatching them up as if they were uncut diamonds.
It was crazy to say the very least. Prices on cookie jars soared to unprecedented heights, but the market was an artificial one and prices were not destined to retain those lofty levels. Eventually, values fell dramatically. But now they are showing signs of recovery.
When all the smoke had cleared, the serious cookie jar collectors were still there looking for rare examples or for pieces that interested them because they were cute, nostalgic or were in the shape of some character that appealed to them. In other words, the insane pricing went away, but the interest did not.
The cookie jar belonging to J.J. was made by DeForest of California, which was founded in 1950 by Margaret DeForest. Like so many other California potteries of the day, this firm made gift and novelty kitchen wares that many people found (and find) appealing.
A check of the market will show DeForest condiment jars in comic anthropomorphic shapes labeled "onions," "garlic," "mustard," "relish" and "jam," being offered for about $55 each. DeForest also made a lot of items with pig themes, including a dip set with pig heads and a caption, "Go ahead, make a pig of yourself!" that occasionally can be found for around $150.
Before it went out of business in 1970, DeForest made a fairly wide selection of cookie jars some of which can be very valuable. Among the most valuable of these are the "Cookie King," worth more than $2,000 if you are lucky enough to find one, and "Pony Tail" girl , which is worth around half that much.
Other desirable DeForest cookie jars with values in the $250 to $500 plus range include "Snappy Gingerbread Boy," "Halo Boy/Holy Devil," "Parrot" (with a colorful paint job; more drab examples go for less) and "Nun." Most DeForest cookie jars, however, sell for less than $250 and some for less than $100.
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The pitcher, which for some reason is often referred to as a "coffee pot" (it may have appeared under that name in the DeForest catalog), is one of the most commonly seen of the DeForest cookie jars, and is one of the least valuable. Still, it was not a bad yard sale buy for $10, and on the current market, the insurance replacement value of this piece is $80 to $100.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of the "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Questions can by mailed to them at P.O. Box 12208, Knoxville, TN 37912-0208.