Dear Helaine and Joe: This little collection was given to me in pieces by two separate people, probably 20 years apart. I received the bean pot first; the six other pieces came later. All the pieces are marked "McCoy." All the pieces are flawless.

Thank you. — M.G., Hanson, Mass.

Dear M.G.: The story of McCoy pottery is a rather convoluted one, and we will just present a bare outline. In fact, we will skip over the first McCoy pottery, which was founded in Putnam, Ohio (now part of Zanesville, Ohio), in 1848.

In 1899, another McCoy pottery company was opened in Roseville, Ohio, and was called the "J.W. McCoy Pottery Co." This firm made all sorts of household products and a line of fine art wares that is highly desired by collectors. In 1909, George Brush became the general manager of the J.W. Pottery Co., and in 1911, McCoy and Brush founded the "Brush-McCoy Pottery Co." which had factories in both Roseville and Zanesville, Ohio.

This company was actually a merger between the J.W. McCoy Pottery Co. in Roseville and the Brush Pottery Co. in Zanesville. J.W. McCoy died in 1914 and his son, Nelson McCoy, took over his father's position with the company. In 1925, the McCoys sold out their interest in Brush-McCoy and concentrated their attention on the Nelson McCoy Sanitary Stoneware Co. that had been founded in Roseville in 1910.

Previously, this company had specialized in making utilitarian wares such as churns, poultry fountains and foot warmers, but after 1925 they began making a line of decorative wares such as umbrella stands and jardinieres with pedestals. In 1933, this company was reorganized as "The Nelson McCoy Pottery Co.," which, in the 1940s, began making cookie jars and a line of commercial (molded) art wares for florists and homeowners.

This is the company that made the pieces owned by M.G., and most of their wares are easily identified by the "McCoy" signature. The statement in the letter about receiving these pieces in two groups "20 years apart" might lead to the idea that these items have significant age — but they do not.

These pieces are part of McCoy's line to honor the U.S. Bicentennial Celebration in 1976, and they are called "Spirit of '76." In other words, these pieces have been around for a mere 29 years or so at the most, and when they were new, they were made in fairly large quantities.

The bean pot is the 0342-73, which is the middle size of three, the pitcher is a creamer (0359-73), the two mugs are 0348-73 and the other three pieces are part of the four-piece canister set. This grouping would be somewhat more valuable if M.G. had the complete canister set, and if she had the sugar bowl to match the creamer.

If she wants to complete her set, these "Spirit of '76" items are available, and M.G. might also endeavor to find the bowl-and-pitcher set, the demijohn jug (available in two sizes), the salt-and-pepper shakers, and the bell. McCoy went out of business in the late 1980s and the pieces in today's question should be valued for insurance purposes in the $150 to $200 range.

Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Questions can by mailed to them at P.O. Box 12208, Knoxville, TN 37912-0208.