Jan/Feb 2021 edition
Issue #14, AutoMobilia Resource Magazine
Appleman CerAmic Cookie Jars:
Worth a Lot of Dough...
In Automobilia #13, we learned about Glenn Appleman’s whimsical and now very valuable collectable cookie jars. For this second installment, Glenn tells us how the cookie jars were made, and tells some funny stories about the famous people who were his customers — and he hints about a cookie jar to come…! “They were $70-75 apiece when we started, then they went up in price,” he said. “We moved out to New Jersey and we started paying some real expenses, so prices inevitably went up. That was one of the things that eventually made us go out of business. Expenses were spiraling. We got a letter saying that my workman’s comp insurance had to be for a hazardous business, and they tripled the premium.”
The process was time-consuming and labor-intensive. “We used the slip cast method,” Glenn explains. “You make an original out of a solid block of clay, then you fire it, so you have a heavy solid piece – you do the same for the lid. Next you make a mold for the different pieces, like the teeth in the grille, etc. Most car molds were six pieces, bottom, top, sides, front. Each mold weighed about 80 pounds. Then you make a mold of the mold, called a block and case. Finally, you make copies of that so you can mass produce them.”
“Slip is clay, like Turkish taffy – you fill up the mold, with a couple of gallons. The plaster is a desiccant – it takes the water away and dries out the casting. The clay sits in the mold for a half-hour, then you dump the excess out. Inside the mold, there’s a coating. You pop open the molds and lift the piece out. Then they’d trim it and remove the casting flash line. There’s a bisque firing, then it’s on to the glaze kiln for color, and the decals, and finally, we added the chrome luster glaze, made of platinum and gold. Then I signed it, put felts under the four wheels and shipped it. A car was about a week in the pipeline. It took 14 people, many of them were part time.”
Above and Below: The Jaguar XK140 Cookie Jar was especially made for Stephen Ring, a Long Island-based Jaguar enthusiast. Ring ordered five of these. Glenn says he did “about 10 or 15 more,” (a few in white) but they were never widely sold, making them one of the rarest Appleman cookie jars. Note the signed underside. Glenn planned to tool up for these but then decided against it. If you can find one today, you’ve hit the Appleman jackpot!
“But the rent and electricity and the price of labor were all going up. It was hard to find people who would work for what we could afford to pay them. It was a perfect storm kind of thing. It was definitely time to take a rest. So, we stopped producing. We’d had a factory, a loft in Union City, N.J. with lots of molds and kilns. Most of it was trashed at that point. I’d worked it so hard that there wasn’t much to save. Some molds I put in my basement and they’re still in my basement.”
There are a few especially rare examples.
Jaguar roadster: “Stephen Ring is a Jaguar enthusiast on Long Island. He ordered five Jaguar’s, and we did a cross between an XK-120 and an XK-140. I might have made 15 Jaguars in total.”
Truman and Dewey: “I created a special piece with President Truman holding that famous ‘Dewey Beats Truman’ newspaper. It was done for a PBS Channel 13 auction. People made donations to win one. It was a big kick. Hey, I’m on TV! Maybe six to ten of those were made.”
Now it can be told:
The Appleman promotional flyer highlighted famous people who owned Appleman cookie jars. “We never met any of the celebrities,” Appleman confesses. “A friend of mine saw Reggie Jackson being interviewed on 20/20 [TV News Magazine show], and in the background, there was an Appleman taxicab. My partner Harry wrote the catalog, saying that Reggie was an owner. His lawyer called and threatened to sue us. I said, ‘what if we send Reggie a bunch of cars, so we could use his name?’ – We sent the cars and one arrived broken. I received an angry letter, signed by Reggie. He chastised us, but he owns several of my cars. And I have a Reggie Jackson collectable letter!”
“We believe Sophia Loren bought a car, but we never met her.” And then there was Liberace. “Sam Levine, Liberace’s manager, contacted us because his Rolls-Royce was broken, so I said, ‘I will make Liberace a new Rolls-Royce.’ We didn’t know how to spell Liberace – there was no internet then to look it up. But we found out how to spell it, and we put Liberace’s name on the license plate.
“It’s been over 30 years since I went out of business,” Glenn says. “A lot has happened. I took computer programming at NYU, and I went to work as a computer programmer for the American Management Association. And now, 32 years later, I am about to retire.”
“My girlfriend and I talked about my making another car. I don’t draw very well. We decided I would start sculpting the car next summer.”
You heard it here first, cookie jar collectors! Glenn doesn’t want to speculate on the price, it’s too early for that, but he sounds serious. I’d start saving up.
To read more great columns like this one
Most of the Appleman cookie jars that I’ve ever seen, including four of the five examples I own, are signed and dated in Sharpie-type ink with the signature, “Appleman,” on the unpainted bottom. Examples of these artsy jars were owned by notables like Andy Warhol, Sofia Loren, Sylvester Stallone, Dustin Hoffman, Reggie Jackson, Dolly Parton and Bill Cosby. They were spotted in photographs when celebrity photographers performed shoots of their famous subjects’ homes for magazines.
Sid’s Taxi was officially known as the “Humperbump,” These cabs were done with several different taxi decals, with blackwalls or whitewalls, and in white, with no lettering. An enduring, whimsical design, the tiny taxi is emblematic of the enduring appeal of Glenn Appleman’s collectable cookie jars.
“And when cookie jars became very collectable, my things became very collectable cookie jars. The cookie jar collectable market today remains fairly strong,” says Glenn, “and I am the hottest cookie jar in the cookie jar market.”
We asked how it all began...
“I did a very nice car and trailer about 1970 – it was a solid piece. The first time I made a [hollow] jar was in 1977. It started with the body type that came to be known as Sid’s Taxi. It was initially just a car, and someone suggested that I make it a taxicab, so I slapped a decal on the side, and the next thing I knew, there was a TV show named after my car.” [Editor: The show “Taxi” was an outstanding comedy series.]
“That first car, the Sid’s Taxi, was known and marketed as the “Humperbump.” The next car out was the Packard, in 1979. Then I thought it would be cool if I made a convertible out of it. So, the Packard had two different lids and it also became a police car. In 1980, I made the first Buick – a 1952 model with a big grille that looked like a Viking battering ram. In 1981, things were slow. I didn’t have enough money to make a new car, so I came out with a Buick convertible by designing a different top. And I offered them in different colors.”
“I was fortunate enough to pick up the beginning of the wave of the crafts movement in America. There were craft galleries and books. Art collectors were starting to acknowledge American crafters as artists. And there were many craft shows. The Rhinebeck show was the most famous, and there was one in Baltimore. The American Craft Council (ACC) still exists. They managed the shows. Dealers would order, and you went home and made stuff. We had a few department store orders, from I. Magnin & Company, and Marshall Field.”
The business initially seemed successful, so I asked Glenn if there were other reasons that contributed to its demise.
We’ll learn about Glenn’s famous clientele and preview a future Appleman design next issue, in AutoMobilia Resource #14.