Collecting: Cookies and Milk

This Little Red Riding Hood cookie jar by Metlox sold for almost $800 in 2016.

They are supposed to be a favorite of Santa Claus and young kids everywhere, but are cookies and milk also a favorite of collectors, too? 

Well, you can’t exactly collect old cookies (at least I hope not), but you can collect the things cookies are stored in, made from, advertised with and taught how to bake – all of which are collectible.

But first, cookies. Where did they come from? Why from Persia, of course, by way of the conquest of Spain in 7th century AD, according to the History of Cookies on the What’s Cooking America website. About 510 BC, a sweetness was discovered from “reeds which produce honey without bees” or as we know it, sugarcane. In the era of Alexander the Great in 327 BC, sugarcane was being baked into a hard wafer that found its way as part of the soldier’s kit during the Persian conquests of Europe. By the 14th century this sweet wafer became prevalent throughout Europe available to King and commoner alike. It was the emigrating Dutch that brought the “koekje” with them when settling in New Amsterdam (New York) in the 1620s. By 18th century America, it would become the “cookie” as we understand it today.

Until the 1930s, though, cookies were kept in biscuit tins, barrels or jars  (if you are in the UK), or generally in glass jars elsewhere. By 1930 lidded stoneware jars were being manufactured as all-purpose canisters with round lids in muted colors decorated with simple hand painted flowers or leaves that were used to store cookies.

The Brush Pottery Company in Zanesville, Ohio, is credited with the first ceramic canister manufactured specifically for cookies by the late 1930s. It was green with the word “cookies” on the front. From there, imagination took over and more figural-type cookie jars became the norm, from a 1940s “Watermelon Mammy” (a popular theme of the period) that sold for $2,500, to “Red Riding Hood” that sold for almost $800, to houses, animals, and so on. Even Elvis was a cookie jar that would sell for nearly $300.

So many other cookie jars are easily available in every form and fashion from $20 to $100, though. Reminisce about homemade cookies in Harry Rinker’s article on Red Wing cookie jars or chat on either the American Cookie Jar Association forum or the Cookie Jar Collectors on Facebook to learn so much more about cookie jars, especially how to spot the reproductions that are so prevalent.

A Cookie King Cookie Press sold for $35 in 2013.

Another way to enjoy vintage cookies is through the Cookie King Cookie Press shown above that sold for $35. Attach a metal plate with a cut out design onto a cylinder, press the dough through it and voila, instant cookie, ready to bake. You can also use individual cookie cutters, too. They’ve been around since the 15th century as “imprint cutters,” and vintage tin ones are highly collectible, such as this set of tin animal 19th century cookie cutters that sold for nearly $2,600 with generic metal ones easily found from $5 to $30. There is a Cookie Cutter Collectors Club to find out more. Even recipe books specifically for cookies do well such as The Cookie Book, a 1939 first edition that sold for $150.

And what goes with cookies? Sure, milk.

If you’ve ever seen “Fiddler on the Roof,” the 1971 musical set in Tsarist Russia of 1905, Tevye, the main character, is a neighborhood milkman delivering milk from his cows in a horse drawn cart, refilling jugs and jars from house to house usually singing or dreaming along the way. A more hygienic glass bottle was patented by the 1880s and became more common in  the UK and the United States. Milkmen still delivered milk to homes, but in round and square glass bottles through the 1960s, until the square plastic containers replaced them at the store.

A rounded top embossed clear glass milk bottle manufactured about 1917 by W. E. Haverstick of York, PA, recently sold for nearly $4,950.

And that’s what makes collecting milk bottles interesting, the different eras. Late 19th century or early 20th century glass milk bottles are collectible, especially those from New York or New Jersey area where the first glass milk bottles originated. Lewis P. Whiteman is credited with the first commercial milk bottle patent with the bottles being manufactured by the Warren Glass Works of Cumberland, MD in 1884 but sold to the New York area. Their metal clips or glass lids set them apart from the later, cardboard or paper seal. One early glass bottle sold without a metal clip for nearly $160 in 2011, but a rounded top embossed clear glass milk bottle manufactured about 1917 by W. E. Haverstick of York, PA, recently sold for nearly $4,950. The more local, the better. Have the National Association of Milk Bottle Collectors (NAMBC) deliver more information direct to your door.

A c.1930s “Polk’s Milk” quite colorful ceramic advertising sign sold in 2012 for nearly $3,300.

While advertising for dairies is a big distinguishing factor on milk bottles, beginning about 1920, especially for collectors, distinctive signage for the dairy farms themselves are also highly sought after. A c.1930s “Polk’s Milk” quite colorful ceramic advertising sign sold in 2012 for nearly $3,300, as an example, but others are easily available from $20 to $100 to brighten up a breakfast nook.

To seal the early milk bottles, round cardboard discs were used. These were perfect for advertising the dairy itself, but these milk caps eventually evolved into a competitive child’s game known as pogs or slammers. You collected the milk caps and stacked them with your friend’s milk caps. A heavier cardboard disc was “slammed” into the pile sending them all over. Those that landed face up you kept; the others were stacked again for the next player to “slam.” Started in Hawaii in the 1920s or so, vintage “pogs” became collectible in their own right, such as these 1940s Hawaiian dairy pogs that sold for almost $30 for a lot of 12. The game was revived in the 1990s with plastic, multi-colored pogs that were no longer connected to milk bottles.

So what is the most popular brand of cookies? Seems to be the Oreo. Created by the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) in 1912, it has become the number one selling cookie by far around the world. The chocolate chip cookie may be the most popular to bake at home. Just one question: to dunk or not to dunk in milk.

Tom Carrier is a General Worthologist with a specialty in Americana, political memorabilia and he has been the resident WorthPoint vexillologist (flags, seals and heraldry) since 2007. Tom is also a frequent contributor of articles to WorthPoint.

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