THE SMART COLLECTOR

Cookie jar prices not as sweet as they used to be

Posted May 27, 2011, at 12:01 p.m.
This recreation of the 1963 Harley Davidson "Captain America"? motorcycle sold for $52,650 recently at Bonhams and Butterfields in California.
Photo courtesy of www.bonhams.com
This recreation of the 1963 Harley Davidson "Captain America"? motorcycle sold for $52,650 recently at Bonhams and Butterfields in California.

Q: I found a Howard Johnson cookie jar in my mother-in-law’s house. It’s still in the box. A cookie jar guide says it’s worth $1,500-plus. How can I sell it?

A: This reader’s query contains a valuable lesson for smart collectors.

The moral is: Don’t believe prices you see in price guides. They’re only a benchmark. In other words, don’t book an expensive cruise based on quoted values. Do some digging before you dream.

Use this cookie jar as an example. Most cookie jar price guides were written in the late 1980s-early ’90s. Back then, jars were hot, hot, hot. Call it the Andy Warhol effect. After his death in 1987, it was discovered that the artist collected all sorts of objects, including cookie jars.

When his collections sold, auction prices were stupendous. Of course, those jars sold high because of the celebrity effect. But there was a trickle-down from subsequent publicity that benefited the entire cookie jar market. And all that boosted prices quoted in guides, including the one the reader saw.

Useful guides from that era include Fred and Joyce Roerig’s three volumes of “Collector’s Encyclopedia of Cookie Jars” and “The Complete Cookie Jar Book” by Mike Schneider (Schiffer, $29.95). The 5th edition of Schneider’s book was printed in 2005.

To research current prices, eBay and auction databases are the key. Google search of an item often brings results, as well.

The reader does not name the jar’s maker. It matters, because both Twin Winton and Wolfe Designs made licensed HoJo cookie jars. Each version has a devoted collecting public.

In the cookie jar world, differing jars on the same subject often have vastly differing values. Red Riding Hood jars, for example, from different makers, can carry very different prices.

Casting online nets, I found that a Howard Johnson jar marked “Twin Winton USA” sold for $250 at auction in May 2010. Only 100 of the jars were made, and surviving examples have remained valuable. But $250 is a far piece from $1,500-plus.

It’s important to note that the price was achieved in a dedicated auction, where only cookie jars sold. Collectors knew to shop that sale.

Cookie jar expert and Chicago shop owner Mercedes Di Renzo Bolduc, cookejarlayde@aol.com, told us that Twin Winton jars from the 1950s, including the Howard Johnson jar, are “very rare.” Licensed jars are always rare, which makes them desirable to collectors.

The malaise that affects the current cookie jar market is all about repros and new versions of old jars.

“Repros are sold on eBay as originals, and some forgers are very good,” she adds. The drop has affected prices of even the best old jars.

Still, depending on maker and condition, the reader’s jar remains very desirable for a serious collector.

Options are to sell it in an online auction such as eBay, or in a land auction. I suggest the first. You’ll reach a large pool of motivated collectors because they hunt online.

Be sure to photograph the jar and box well from all angles. Start at a price you can live with, place a reserve if you wish, and let the market do its thing.

Q: What is this? It’s forged iron, and very heavy (also lethal!). My guess is that it’s Celtic (?) and very early.

A: Thanks for the excellent photos. The primitive hand tool is definitely hand forged. From the nail-like teeth protruding on both sides from a center shaft, I suspect it’s an early American farm implement, perhaps for carding wool or other weaving material.

If your local archaeological society has open meetings, I’d take it there for an opinion. Try a local museum, as well.

Upcoming: Two upcoming auctions promise exciting results. On June 4, Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills will sell property of actor Larry Hagman from the Ojai, Calif., ranch he recently sold. The treasure trove includes furniture and art, J.R. Ewing’s cowboy boots from the “Dallas” TV series and other memorabilia. There will also be items Hagman collected from his actress mother Mary Martin’s career.

On June 12, Heritage Auctions in Dallas will sell four dino skeletons, including an Allosaurus and Stegosaurus found together in 2007. They will be sold as a pair.

Auction Action: A replica of the “Captain America” Harley chopper ridden by Peter Fonda in the 1969 film “Easy Rider” was built for media executive Otis Chandler in 1993. The original was stolen, disassembled and sold for parts. The replica, sold to benefit the Guggenheim Foundation, brought $52,650 in a recent sale of exceptional motorcycles at Bonhams and Butterfields in Carmel, Calif.

Collector Quiz

Q: What do these names have in common: Ford, DeLaval, John Deere, Fordson?

A: All were makers of farm items, in this case, wrenches.

Danielle Arnet will answer questions of general interest in her column. Send emails to smartcollector@comcast.net or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.

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