Vintage Cookie Jar Finishes

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Cookie Jars can be found in several different materials such as metal, glass, wood and plastic, but it is the ceramic cookie jar that excites the interest of most collectors. The largest majority of ceramic jars are the white clay earthenware variety, however there are a few examples of other type ceramics such as redware, yellow ware, stoneware, and porcelain.

More important to the typing of cookie jars is the finish material applied to it. There are three main finishing techniques used in cookie jar production - glaze - cold paint - and transfer. Very common is combinations of these processes, such as glazing then applying paint or a transfer.

The easiest way to define glaze is that it is minute glass particles suspended in a liquid carrier. After firing the glaze becomes a thin glass coating on the surface of the fired object. Glazes can be glossy or matte, and they come in every color imaginable. The glaze is applied by dipping, hand brushing, or air brushing the liquid glaze on to the clay body. It is then fired in a kiln, which fuses it to the jar.

A problem common to glazed cookie jars is crazing, or tiny cracks in the glaze that form a mosaic pattern. This is caused by the glaze contracting more than the jar during the cooling process. It may take years or even decades for crazing to appear but the course of this action was set when the jar was made. Newer production methods generally reduce, if not completely eliminate crazing. For most collectors minor crazing will have little effect on the prices realized by desirable cookie jars.

Cold Paint
Common to ceramic pottery production in the 1920s was the technique of hand applying finishing decorations directly to the bisque or glaze with paint. This was called 'cold painting', since it didn't involve a firing in a kiln. It is only natural that as the cookie jar market emerged in the 1930's and 40's that this process should carry over. However, since cold paint wasn't 'fused' to the clay body or into the glaze it would, with time wear off, highly effecting the appearance and desirability of the jar.By the 1950's cold paint finishes had virtually disappeared.

Little can be done to prevent cold paint loss. Like the exterior of a house moisture, humidity, temperature extremes, sunlight and contact with other objects combine to cause the paint to deteriorate and flake off. Since they date back over sixty years, cold paint jars, with or without paint, are very collectible.

A cold painted jar that still retains most of the original paint greatly increases in value, and great care should be taken preserve what paint is left. Never immerse a cold painted jar in water. If cleaning is absolutely necessary a damp soft cloth and very light strokes is best. Care should be taken or else the paint will disappear right before your eyes.


As the popularity of cookie jars increased so to did the need for manufacturers to come up with a method to give jars detailed decorations without the costly expense of hand painting. Thus the use of transfer decals became common to the industry. After the jar was glazed a decal was applied over the glaze and it was sent back to the kiln for another firing. This process mass produced many highly ornate and decorative designed jars.

Transfers hold up much better than cold paint, but not as well as hard fired glazes. They are subject to wear and scratching from other objects, and should be cleaned with a mild detergent and a soft cloth. Immersing in warm water is okay, but never use an abrasive while cleaning them, as the loss of the transfer details will greatly reduce a jars desirability.

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