In 1979 Michael Zanfagna and Jenny McClain were teaching at Mission High School in San Francisco, when they decided to build a business of affordable art. The company became known for their cookie jars, salt and pepper shakers and masks, but their first product was not a jar, but a ceramic hand painted cherub’s bottom fanny hook. Too bad that wasn’t a cookie jar, it would have been an interesting one.
In a telephone interview (1998) with Michael Zanfagna, he talked about the products they were working on – including adding licensed items to go with their decorative pieces.
From their first cookie jar in 1989, Catfish (cat holding a fish) to the licensed pieces of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, Clay Art jars were wonderfully whimsical. Their prices were in the low – medium range, but the quality was always excellent. The company also produced a large inventory of salt and peppers, many of them coordinated with cookie jars but that wasn’t always the case. The salt and peppers were also whimsical, fun and very collectible.
The company was one of the first companies to do affordable, but well-done black cookie jars. Starting in 1996 the first jars were the Jazz Player and Baking Time. It would be hard to pick a favorite, but Jazz Singer and Sunday Best are my two picks in the black category.
Other black jars include:
- Amazing Grace
Baking Time Lady
Jazz Player #8823
Mardi Gras Records
Ragtime (Player at Piano)
Soul Tones(four singers)
One of their most anticipated and popular jars was the Babe Ruth cookie jar from the late 1990s.
- Alfred Mad Magazine
Betty Boop Biker
Felix the Cat on Chair
Felix Millennium Gumby and Pokey
Mardi Gras Records
Marilyn Monroe Millennium
Marilyn Monroe on Heart Box
Mr. Potato Head
Wizard of Oz
In working on this list, I was surprised I was surprised to see just how many cookie jars were produced. Again, they were all well-done with great designs and very affordable.
Cat Cookie Jars:
- Baby Cat (real pacifier in mouth)
Catfish #7601 (black and white cat/first jar 1989)
Catfish #7621 (White Cat)
Cat in the Primroses #8101
Cows and Pigs:
- Biker Hogs
Cow in the Corn #8601
Cow Racer #8809
Holy Cow Diner
- Ay Chihuahua
- Stacked Animals
Fat Chance #8806 (Hippo on scales)
Kabish (Monkey on Elephant) Reindeer (Christmas)
Pet Shop (animal stack)
- Baking Time Radio
Earth on Chair
Humpty Dumpty #8802
Morning Coffee (lady in curlers)
Midnight Snack (fat couple embracing)
Toaster #8811 (cute faced toaster)
Woody (station wagon)
Shortly after the millennium jars were introduced, in early 2000s, there appeared to be fewer and fewer jars shown in their catalogs, most of the items were tabletop decoratives or serving pieces.