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My Story

Dad's Cow My father (born 1908) had one cow (right) when he was a child. I (born 1940) also had one cow "Bessie", (below, left) when I was a child. When I was a good boy and finished my milk it gave me more. My wife and I got one for each of our three boys (born in the ‘60s).  Put 5 cows together, and they start to make a herd.bessie the cow

For a long time, I just occasionally picked one up at a flea market; and my price limit was $10.  Nevertheless, the collection slowly grew till it numbered 50 or so; we had them on shelves around the top of the kitchen, and then when we moved to an older house there were some shelves in the guest bathroom where we put them, and our many guests used to get a great kick out of them.

Everything was fine until we moved to London in 1995. From visits to the Victoria and Albert museum, the Bermondsey Market, antique shows, the Silver Vaults, and Stoke-on-Trent I learned a bit about the history of cow creamers and had a chance to see some superb Staffordshire and silver examples.  At that point I decided that I might as well get serious about my own collection, and quite obviously the price limit disappeared. 

One other thing happened, in spite of my initial reluctance – the collection expanded to include cow shaped vessels designed for pouring but not really intended for cream.  Some of this was by error on my part – what I took to be a cow creamer turned out to be designed for wine, water, or some other liquid; or some cows that are more or less shaped and styled like creamers are simply too large for any civilized cream user, and thus likely intended for milk or water. And, I will confess, as the collection grew I decided to add other vessels that met the basic rule of being cow or cow-head shaped and designed to pour or dispense liquid – thus pitchers, teapots, calligraphy water droppers, a variety of what can be referred to as rhytons (see the history page) or liquor or wine dispensers, some toy milking cows, and even watering cans joined in.  Never (or almost never except by error) plain non-pouring cows or salt and pepper shakers – although inevitably, given tea and coffee drinkers’ other bad habit (I take mine black by the way) sugar bowls, but only when they accompanied a cow creamer.  Thus I’m afraid that this collection is somewhat misnamed, although the core and to me the most important parts are the cow-creamers per se, be they new or old, metal or earthenware or plastic.  These now number well over a thousand, and if one counts the ‘extensions’, the collection probably has a couple thousand items.  And thanks largely but by no means solely to eBay (which has had quite an impact both on availability and price) it continues to grow, weekly if not daily.

The collection now numbers somewhere well over a thousand, and thanks largely to eBay (which has had quite an impact both on availability and price) it continues to grow, weekly if not daily.

So what is a cow creamer, and what extensions are allowed to join the collection?

cow head  creamer

The basic rule that's based on the history of these items (see that section) as well as my first ones, is a whole cow or part of a cow (especially the head) with two holes, one to put the cream in, the other to pour it out.  That's a bit too restrictive for my tastes however, so a bit of explication is required.
two traditional cow creamers
The early silver and Staffordshire ones, and their variants, are almost invariably standing cow-shaped creamers, with or without bases, generally smaller than 6” tall and 8” long.
 Bulls count of course…anatomically complete or not. 
Bessie and her calves
Plain old cow figurines, or vases, or sugar bowls don’t cut it (although I’ve been given a few, and sometimes a cow creamer will have non-creamer calves, like my Bessie & her calves), and  tea pots and creamers often come with accompanying sugar bowls.
various sized creamers
One place where the basic two-hole 'creamer' rule gets a bit shaky is with size at some point, there's a shift between an implement designed for cream, and one intended as a milk or water (or beer or wine) pitcher.   But nonetheless, these have an important place in my collection, as well as their own 'pitcher' section on this web page.
The other main codicil to the 'rule' is that cow-shaped creamers or pitchers with just the one opening and a spout obviously count as well. These are scattered through the collection categories.  Here are my favorites of this type, made and wood fired for me by my dear friend Ingrid Barnes.  They're described in more detail in Modern Variations.
My collection has single-hole pitchers (i.e., larger than makes sense for cream except for gluttons and huge families) as well as single-hole creamers, although for them as well the restriction is that they need to be cow shaped, not just cow colored or with a picture of a cow on them.  Bowls or cups don't count either they need to be designed to pour.
two girl cow pitchers
Here are a couple other examples of single-hole, cow shaped creamers




And here are a couple more cow/cow head shaped large pitchers. The' face jug' here is from the US south, and the black and white cow with the flower garland is from Brazil. So overall, the collection is of cow (or cow head) shaped containersdesigned to hold and pour liquid.
two one hole cow pitchers
a cow teapot
The collection also includes cow-shaped teapots.  These almost invariably have two holes, and a lid.  Teapot makers are pretty imaginative, so some of these are pretty wild.  I now have over 200 different ones (and it's getting hard to find new ones. Perhaps this collection will inspire some fanciful teapot maker!).



A further extension – but still within the basic scope of cow (or ox, bull, water buffalo etc) containers designed to hold and dispense liquid, are water droppers or suiteki, used by oriental calligraphers to ‘drop’ a controlled amount of water onto the stone where they grind their ink stick. Like many other functional oriental objects, and in particular calligraphy sets, beauty was as important as utility; and suiteki come in a wide variety of materials and forms (and prices of course). My small collection is found at the bottom of the Pitchers page.
two cow cruets
Cruets and wine or oil jugs also count.  I even have a few other animal creamers (either as a mistaken identity, or because I can’t resist the delightful Schafer and Vater animal creamers…more on S&V later!), and a few special cow-shaped or cow-like containers (again when I couldn’t resist, e.g. the Beswick humorous ‘fake’ cow creamers, or some special pottery pieces).
There are many cow shaped vessels designed for pouring liquids or libations other than milk or cream, that can be lumped under the general term ‘rhyton’ (see the History page). This one is a Peruvian Torito de Pucara. Hindu Nandis and some versions of liquor dispensers also fall in this general category.  I don’t own any of the ancient (BCE) rhytons, but I do have a few modern reproductions and several intended for non-cow-produced liquids. 

Watering cans generally have a whole bunch of holes, or at least a big one for filling and a smaller one or many for sprinkling.  Some are plastic, others metal, and a few are ceramic.  Some are goofy, others cute or realistic.

plastic milking toys

 The collection also has a few plastic toys designed to take in, then give out milk.

And of course doll-house size creamers, although most of these are so small they don’t really pour. I even have a number of miniature ‘collectible’ tea sets, although again most of those aren’t designed to really work.
dollhouse sized cow creamers





Finally, this Vietnamese cow (water buffalo) definitely has two holes.  It is, however, an opium pipe (my one and only), so it hardly qualifies as a creamer or a rhyton or any such…but I couldn’t resist it.    It has been well used (though not by me I assure you).

For those of you who do eBay…the term ‘cow creamer’ has almost become generic (there are generally over 1500 on auction…), and I’ve seen all kinds of animal creamers/pitchers being sold as cow creamers (I’ve been fooled by some). They are also found on eBay under cow or bull pitcher and jug.  Do I have duplicates? Sure - sometimes deliberate, e.g. to upgrade to a higher quality creamer, sometimes by mistake.  Also, there are a number of versions that are made by several makers, or come in a variety of colors.