Shawnee Pottery began producing fanciful wares in 1937 with A.E. Hull Jr., son of The Hull Pottery Company's owner, managing the business in Zanesville, Ohio. Most Shawnee Pottery items left the factory with only paper labels to denote their origin. However, many Shawnee pieces do have "USA" marks incised in the bottoms even if the paper labels have been removed.
Shawnee's cookie jars are some of the company's most expensive and desirable pieces among kitschy pottery collectors. A rare cottage house cookie jar can sell for $1,000 in the right market, while a more common Puss 'n Boots or Smiley Pig often sell in the $100 to $150 range—unless the decor is unusual, and then the price can double). Reproductions made to imitate some of Shawnee's popular designs can usually be recognized by their scaled-down size and poor quality when compared to the originals.
Shawnee's Corn Lines
Shawnee Pottery designed and marketed many useful dinnerware items whimsically shaped like corn. These popular lines known as Corn King and Corn Queen were originally Proctor & Gamble premium giveaways, according to pottery collector Evelyn McHugh. The first Shawnee corn line was known as White Corn. Although there are some collectors seeking only sets of White Corn, the line's yellow successors seem to be a bit more popular and easy to locate.
The company changed the line from white to yellow in 1946, as noted in Schroeder's Antiques Price Guide (now out of print). The pieces received coloration more akin to the natural plant, and the name was changed to Corn King. The company continued producing Corn King until 1954 when the colors changed again. With lighter yellow kernels and darker green shucks, Corn Queen was born.
According to Schroeder's, Corn Queen items are slightly less valuable, but it's wise to consult a reference guide on the topic or more knowledgeable collectors to make sure you're getting real Shawnee Pottery when you first start out buying or trying to identify pieces you own. The lookalikes remain attractive and can certainly be considered collectible in their own right, but it is better to know what you think is Shawnee is actually the genuine article.
Knowing the difference in colors helps collectors date their pieces to the appropriate decade and line, but there can still be some confusion in identifying genuine Shawnee pieces.
Identifying Genuine Shawnee Items
Most Shawnee pottery items left the factory with paper labels to denote their origin, as mentioned above. Since the corn dinnerware lines got plenty of use on mid-20th-century tables, the labels were either removed by the original owner or wore away over time through washing and wear. Many corn pieces now seem to be unmarked or just have the "USA" mark.
Other companies made corn lines as well, but the molds and colors weren't exactly the same as Shawnee's pieces. When determining whether or not corn items came from the Shawnee factory, take a look at the glaze. "Much of Shawnee is completely glazed inside and out except for a raised rim or 'foot' on the bottom that follows the contour of the entire base," McHugh noted.
Many inexperienced collectibles dealers, unfortunately, tend to label almost any corn item as Corn King these days, making it a somewhat generic term. Genuine Corn King pieces in excellent condition can range in value from about $25 to $200, depending on the rarity of the piece.
Shawnee's Other Wares
While famous for the corn look, Shawnee Pottery also made numerous cookie jars, creamers, and salt and pepper sets with other designs, like the Puss 'n Boots and elephant pieces illustrating this article. Dogs and pigs were other common shapes.
If you're looking for Shawnee's cookie jars, get ready for sticker shock. The most popular jars have seen sharp increases in price as both Shawnee collectors and cookie jar buffs hunt these pieces down. Most jars sell for well over $100, and a number command four or five times that amount, depending on the rarity of the style and decoration. Some of the most expensive Shawnee pieces have unusual decals and gold adornments decorating popular jars, which increase the value dramatically compared to a plain version of the same design.
"For those interested in the designs themselves, it is a lot easier to find salt and pepper sets that match the cookie jars," McHugh added. As the popular cookie jars continue to skyrocket out of the average collector's spending limit, the figural planters and vases once cast aside by dealers and collectors now hold more value.