Which is it? What is it? Majolica? Maiolica? Victorian Majolica?
“These two words have been used interchangeably and still are.”
Online Search Engines
Present day dictionary compilers and online search engines’ primary definitions treat ‘maiolica’ and ‘majolica’ as interchangeable. Fans of tin glazed maiolica (with an ‘i’) and fans of lead glazed majolica (with a ‘j’) both feel this is overdue for correction. We can see they are different. We know they are different. Do they not deserve one clear sense each?Read More
+ Tin-glaze is applied, dipped or painted, to the biscuit and allowed to dry. Then decorated with painted brush work and fired. The result is a distinctive opaque white layer with painted decoration.
+ Tin-glazed earthenware has always been known in Italy as ‘maiolica‘, in England as ‘majolica’. In England in 1849 Minton/Arnoux produced a product in imitation of the old Italian maiolica but using Engish clays. Minton named this product ‘majolica’ after the Italian ‘maiolica’
+ Tin glaze is normal clear lead glaze with a little tin oxide added to ‘the mix’ – sand + potash + lead oxide + tin oxide. Tin is the smallest proportion in the mix but produces the wonderful opaque white colour glaze that ‘takes’ brush painted enamel decoration so beautifully.
Now it is time to try to nail some things down. One essential fact is key to understanding. Then we’ll go to the evidence. Ready for this?
An essential fact
Unpublished until Paul Atterbury co-authored ‘Dictionary of Minton’ an essential truth is that between 1849 and 1851 Leon Arnoux invented for Minton not one, but two new products both soon to be known as ‘majolica’: ‘majolica’ and ‘Palissy ware’. Both received their first public airing at the Great Exhibition of 1851.
The first they called ‘majolica’
The word ‘majolica’, an anglicisation of the Italian word ‘maiolica’, was already in general use in England to describe tin-glaze maiolica in the Italian style.
‘Maiolica’ is the Italian word for tin-glazed earthenware characterised by its opaque white enamel (glaze) and hand painted in-glaze decoration.
Minton’s tin-glazed imitation ‘maiolica’ that he called ‘majolica’ was gorgeous pottery, but sadly a commercial flop.
Almost no other makers copied it. Today any item of Minton’s tin-glaze imitation Italian maiolica that they called ‘majolica’ is a rare find.
The second they called ‘Palissy ware’
The public however came to call this ‘majolica’ also. Now (1855) we have two distinct products being called by the same name. Minton’s ‘Palissy ware’ is today known as ‘Victorian majolica pottery’. Lead-glazed molded earthenware objects for the growing merchant classes, both useful and decorative, in styles both classical and later more naturalistic. Made between 1851 and 1900. Characterised by rich vibrant colors, elegant, richly sculpted sometimes whimsical even humorous designs from conservatory tables to flower holders.
By 1875 coloured glazes Victorian majolica pottery had become a commercial sensation. Makers in Europe and US re-invented Arnoux’s glazes and kilns manufacturing a profusion of forms in slightly different palettes. Today the magic of majolica enraptures decorators and collectors alike.
And now for the evidence
The first they called ‘majolica’
Q. What “sixteenth century” pottery is this author referring to?
A. “…the ancient majolica”. In England the word ‘maiolica’ was usually anglicised to ‘majolica’.
Q. What do we understand by ‘majolica’?
A. A glaze of “Sand, lead, and tin.” The addition of tin turns a plumbeous or lead glaze into a stanniferous or tin glaze.
Clearly the author is talking about tin-glazed pottery. Who is the author? None other than Leon Arnoux, inventor of Minton’s ‘majolica’ tin-glaze pottery in imitation of Italian maiolica using English clays.
Another Italian maiolica expert of the era was C. Fortnum Drury, big time collector, author of ‘MAIOLICA’ published by South Kensington Museum in 1875. He explains the process by which tin-glazed wares are made.
“We shall be occupied with the glazed and enamelled wares: the first of which may be again divided into siliceous or glass glazed, and plumbeous or lead glazed. In these subdivisions the foundation is in all cases the same. The mixed clay or ‘paste’ or ‘body’ varied in composition according to the nature of the glaze to be superimposed is formed by the hand, or on the wheel, or impressed into moulds ; then slowly dried and baked in a furnace or stove, after which, on cooling, it is in a state to receive the glaze. This is prepared by fusing sand or other siliceous material with potash or soda to form a translucent glass, the composition, in the main, of the glaze upon siliceous wares. The addition of a varying but considerable quantity of the oxide of lead, by which it is rendered more easily fusible but still translucent, constitutes the glaze of plumbeous wares : and the further addition of the oxide of tin produces an enamel of an opaque white of great purity, which is the characteristic glazing of stanniferous or tin-glazed wares.
The second they called ‘Palissy ware’
References to Minton’s lead-glaze Palissy ware are few and far between. The public were calling it ‘majolica’ within a few years of its introduction. There was confusion as to the difference between the two types of pottery that were called by the same name. Many 19th century authors and compilers did not even mention colored lead glazes ‘Palissy ware’.
Evidence of two types of pottery, Minton’s ‘majolica’ and ‘Palissy’
Let us look at two extracts from the inventor himself. Here is a link to a free ebook “British Manufacturing Industries” published 1877. Leon Arnoux authors the section on POTTERY. In it he refers to ‘majolica’ and ‘Palissy’. These are the names Minton and Arnoux gave to their two new products. ‘Majolica’ because the product imitated Italian maiolica. ‘Palissy ware’ because this product imitated the coloured lead glazes of Bernard Palissy in Renaissance France. He leaves no doubt as to what he is talking about when he connects the names Wedgwood and George Jones with ‘Palissy ware’. Highlighting and comments in brackets are mine.
“Some of these makers do not devote all their attention to earthenware, but produce other classes of pottery. Amongst the sorts which are most connected with earthenware are majolica[tin-glazed imitation maiolica], Palissy[Minton’s coloured glazes ‘Palissy ware’ first shown in 1851, later also called ‘majolica’], Persian ware, and flooring and wall tiles.
Minton’s tin-glazed majolica in imitation of Italian maiolica, a beautiful product in Italian Renaissance styles was, sadly, a commercial flop.
Minton’s Palissy ware = coloured lead glazes majolica, imitated by 30 or more manufacturers including Wedgwood and George Jones, a huge commercial success. Ninety nine percent of Victorian majolica is of the coloured lead glazes type, with just a very few items made by the tin-glaze process in imitation of Italian Renaissance maiolica.
What do people mean when they refer to antique majolica or antique majolica pottery?
The rule is that anything over 100 years old is antique.
Not only the art and antiques trade but also Customs & Excise departments the world over use this definition.
When people use the term ‘vintage’, they are likely to be talking about an object less than 100 years old, possibly fewer than fifty.
Majolica. Coloured lead glazes.
When we say ‘majolica’ we mean the whimsical, richly colored, intelligent pottery that makes you smile.
Known today as Victorian majolica it was launched in 1851 by Mintons as ‘Palissy ware’.
New lead glazes and a special kiln were invented by Leon Arnoux working for Minton.
Victorian refers to the years of production from 1851 to 1900.
Queen Victoria reigned until her death in January 1901.
Her consort Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg was not so lucky having died of typhoid four decades earlier, in 1861.
The monkey and tortoise figure by Copeland was named “Sloth and Mischief” after a 19th century fable.
Maiolica. Tin glaze.
Tin glaze earthenware pottery has been manufactured from before 1500 to the present day.
Maiolica (Italian), delft ware (Dutch) and faience (French) are all types of tin-glaze earthenware pottery entirely distinct from lead-glaze earthenware.
Confusingly ‘majolica’ and ‘maiolica’ have over centuries been used interchangeably.
We will return to the causes of confusion in another blog.
As long ago as 1875 the South Kensington Museum made a first attempt at persuading the public to use ‘maiolica’ only for tin-glaze and ‘majolica’ only for lead glaze. They published two booklets entitled Maiolica (tin glaze) and Majolica (coloured lead glazes) to make clear the distinction. Further enquiry reveals that only ‘MAIOLICA’ was published. The ‘MAJOLICA’ publication was a spelling error which the V&A museum (formerly the South Kensington Museum) will correct in due time. Only when we asked to read it did they realise the error.
Magical Home Décor
Perfect for interior and exterior décor, majolica
was suitable for everything from floor tiles to the finest figurines.
It worked as well for a delicate dressing table set as it did for a monumental water fountain.
Its amazing versatility in home decoration, then as now, is due to its durability, color, creativity and range.
Flora and fauna
The very English passion for nature and for the English garden translated wonderfully into objects for the home. Lush colors to brighten hallways. Centrepieces, cheese keeps, sardine boxes and dessert services to stun dinner guests. Bedroom table sets adorned with butterflies. Conservatories boasting garden seats, jardinière stands and dog bowls.
Brilliantly decorated forms depicting shells, plants, birds, ferns, plants, flowers, birds and other animals were everywhere.
Lions, monkeys, and dogs are as popular now as they were in their day.
Cats however were not as popular in Victorian times.
Today, because so few were made, they are very rare.
Trade and Exploration
Back in 1860 the British Empire was at its greatest and proudest.
Interest in the world at large continued also to broaden. Booming trade with the East brought everything ‘oriental’ suddenly back into fashion. A further flush of national pride following Petrie’s excavations in Egypt also found expression in majolica.
Underlying the design of every interior is a sense of taste and discernment. Also a subtle appreciation for the connection between our interior décor with history and art.
This is personal but I love Rene Lalique. He was a genius. His private life was crazy. His output was phenomenal. There was a rumour that he had a twin brother otherwise how else could he have produced that number of designs?
A sense of his intensity radiates from this photograph.
No surprise therefore to learn that he once burned down his Paris apartment when molding his first ever perfume bottle at the kitchen stove.
He made sure to rescue the bottle but lost much of the apartment.
Of all his achievements the greatest must surely be the switch from one-off masterpieces in jewellery for wealthy individuals, to mass produced designs in glass for all manner of everyday and decorative use.
At age 48 in 1908 he rented his first factory at Combs-la-Ville. After the war he built a factory at Wingen-sur-Moder, Alsace. Formerly in German territory, Alsace became French after 1918.
Compared with son Marc and Marc’s daughter Marie-Claude, Rene’s new designs each year far outnumbered their combined total. Rene died in 1945, Marc in 1973 and Marie-Claude 2003.
The war to end all wars cost not only the lives of sixteen million souls but catapulted working people into a world of opportunity, responsibility and ownership formerly out of range. Production switched to ‘war and medical’ materials until it was resumed in 1919.
Today Lalique is owned by a Swiss company. They have opened a museum dedicated to Lalique. The museum is located where he built his greatest factory, Wingen-sur-Moder.
Irrepressible longing for creation
Rene Lalique’s contribution to the world of glass is quite outstanding. Unmatched, in our opinion, by any maker before or since. Our great fortune is that born in 1860 he would still be in his prime during the first three decades of the 20th century.
This era of freedoms started with secessionist movements in the art world.
The most obvious of Rene lalique influences can be seen in the styles adopted by his son Marc and later his grand-daughter Marie-Claude.
Less obvious but perhaps more important were his influences on contemporary glass makers’ manufacturing technology. The technical advances in the industry led to a boom in pressed glass objects now available at low cost for the mass market.
Henri Clouzet, French film director of the 1950’s has been quoted as saying “Rene Lalique had the gift of sharing a frisson of new beauty with the world.”
Nicholas Dawes author of “Lalique Glass”, probably the best book on the subject in the English language, quotes William Morris, a renowned British designer as describing “the irrepressible longing for creation” of Rene Lalique.
Rene Lalique Art Nouveau
A sensuous style popular before and after the first war.
Objects produced using the cire perdu (lost wax) technique were stunning in appearance but expensive to make.
This fabulous example in the Art Nouveau style was made in 1922. The Felix Marcilhac tome identifies it as Deux Figures Femmes Aillées. It is the only known example.
The manufacturing technique was to carve a master in wax. The master was encased in soft clay. The clay mold hardens around the wax master. The mold is heated. The wax runs out. Glass is blown into the mold. The whole cools. The mold clay is painstakingly picked away from the glass. Each mold could be used only once.
These objects were made for exhibitions and special commissions only. Inevitably they have become the Holy Grail for collectors.
Today we take a look at how to recognise Scottish Samplers. This is the first in a series of antique needlework sampler blogs where you will discover, if you don’t already know, why people get excited…
The general rule is never to attribute anything on the basis of one indicator alone. Unless there is a place name which is definitely Scottish, serious attributions can only be made on the basis of two or more features. A sampler stitched in Scotland could have an inscription or a verse stitched in the French language. There is a historical association with France through Mary Queen of Scots (8th December 1542 – 8 February 1587). Daughter of James V of Scotland who died six days after she was born she was sent to France at age six to be raised and educated. Aged 18 she returned to reign as Queen of Scotland. It did not work out. She was forced to abdicate. Escaping to England in 1568, her cousin the reigning Queen Elizabeth I placed Mary under house arrest expecting her to press a claim to English throne, which she did. After nineteen uneasy years Elizabeth reluctantly ordered Mary’s death by execution (axe) in 1587 . You think we’re inventing this stuff? More on Mary Queen of the Scots Back to Scottish Samplers, what should we be looking at? Colours, alphabets, place names, family initials, surnames, peacocks, urns, and houses. What should we be looking for? Read on…
On the left is a portion of a plain, pre-Victorian band sampler with no name, just a set of three family initials, SM, IM, BM, indicating this could be one of those Scottish samplers. Thread in red and green only confirms the attribution. Alphabet and numbers samplers in this style are commonly found in Victorian needlework and earlier. It had been decided that schoolgirls should learn words and numbers. World’s largest online gallery of antique SAMPLERS
Occasionally a clue to a sampler’s origin may lie in a verse. However we have chosen the following verse for different reasons… Moral guidance needed to be drummed into young minds. Average life expectancy in 1840 was a mere 34 years. Education included preparing children for what might be around the corner. More demographics, Victorian Scotland. So we give you a verse from one of our Scottish samplers. Victorian style motivation for children. Scottish? House sampler with verse, for sale “Keep death and Judgment always in your eye / None’s fit to live but who is fit to die / Make use of present time because you must / Take up your lodging shortly in the dust / Tis dreadful to behold the setting sun / And night approaching e’er your work is done.”
Alphabet bands with curlicues are a very strong indicator of Scottish samplers. Curlicues are those wonderfully intricate curly
Holbein stitches used to decorate letters in the alphabet and elsewhere.
The name of a Scottish town or school is obviously a very strong indicator of a Scottish Sampler. Amongst the samplers illustrated in this blog we have seen ‘Perth’ and ‘Kelso’.
1825 Scottish sampler by Euphemia Gibson A strong indicator of Scottish origin is the use of family initials. Interestingly this tradition is also found in Flanders. The two cultures have been well integrated for centuries. Some have called this the North Sea Culture. Back then it was the German Ocean. They appear either in bands as in this sampler, or scattered around. In this case, there is the added indicator of a Scottish town name ‘Kelso’. In other instances there is no added indicator so a ‘Scottish’ attribution is not possible. On this link is an example of a sampler with family initials only.
A Scottish name like McTavish or MacIntosh might be construed as a clue, but caution is advisable. There were very significant population movements out of and into Scotland so surnames are spread all over the world. There has been an exchange of populations for centuries with the coastal region known as Flanders now North Belgium (Dutch speaking). John Irvine and Alex Fleming of the Abertay Historical Society are researching the Flemish in Scotland. They are asking for Scottish families with the following surnames to contact them: Fleming (Flemyng, Flemeng and Flandrensis), Baird, Balliol, Beaton, Brodie, Bruce, Cameron, Campbell, Comyn, Crawford, Douglas, Erskine, Graham, Hamilton, Hay, Innes, Lindsay, Murray, Oliphant and Seton.
The peacock with fanned tail feathers is a strong indicator.
The handled urns with five flowers are another indicator. Not always five flowers.
This clip is of a page from the Marcus Huish book ‘Samplers and Tapestry Embroideries’ published in 1913. The sampler is a long sampler by May Barland aged 11 Perth (a town in Scotland) September 1779. It shows two typical fan-tailed peacocks and two handled-urns with five flowers each. Thistles may be a clue but not a useful one as they appear in proven English samplers.
Elizabeth Feller in her excellent book ‘Micheál & Elizabeth Feller The Needlework Collection: 2’ notes the frequency with which grand houses appear in Scottish samplers.
Whenever we see the words ‘Antique cross stitch sampler for sale’ we get excited. Buying antique needlework samplers and pictures is our passion and a significant part of our business. The best find of all is the unfaded sampler that has been rolled up in tissue paper in a drawer for 250 years with colors as bright as day. For practical reasons many were folded leaving creases and wear. Others were displayed for generations and became faded, some colors more than others. Some are burned out by exposure to sunlight. Some have suffered attempts at washing resulting in running colours. In later blogs we will talk about how samplers developed in step with the role of women in the home; materials and stitches; the many different types of samplers; countries of origin; conservation; and value.
I have added a reminder of another excellent book on Scottish Samplers below.
Another gorgeous glass fair is taking place this Sunday 23rd November. It is the National Glass Fair which sets up by the National Motorcycle Museum near Birmingham.
The National Glass Collectors Fair
Britain’s leading antique and collectable glass fair – with a vast choice of glassware, from 18th century drinking glasses through to modern Studio glass.
SatNav: Use the postcode B92 0ED
Address: National Motorcycle Museum, Coventry Road, Bickenhill, Solihull, West Midlands.
Everything under the sun is at this fair for your pleasure if you love glass, including refreshments. There are Collectors Clubs and live demonstrations. There is merchandise from every era to suit every pocket. If this is your first visit you will be blown away by the spectacle. The fair opens at 10.30am and closes at 4pm, perfect for a Sunday morning or afternoon visit.
Madelena will be exhibiting sixty René Lalique works of art glassware in the Art Nouveau and Deco style including a fabulous opalescent ‘Georgette’ box.Read More
Many of the large Staffordshire animal figures so popular with collectors today were made in the Bo’ness (Borrowstounness) pottery in Scotland on the river Forth upstream from Edinburgh, birthplace of Robbie Burns, Scotland’s most celebrated poet.
Pugs originated in China. They were imported into Holland. A pug accompanied non-English speaking King William III on his journey to claim the throne of England. More recently Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife Josephine owned a Pug named Fortune, used to deliver messages to Napoleon while in prison in 1794.
Photographs sent to us recently of a private collection show pugs in pride of place.
Lo and behold, here in another extensive and wonderful collection they have again been positioned in the top spot, either side of the big screen in the master bedroom.
Antique samplers – a selection of interesting verse samplers
Before we get started here’s a question. May one overlook fading when evaluating antique samplers?
If a sampler is appealing enough in other respects we think you may, but as always it is a matter for individual taste.
1787 Antique sampler – Some men get riches…
Here is an example of an antique sampler with a fairly early date, a great verse, a strong strawberry border and a circa 1860 Hogarth frame that makes it a darling despite the fading.
By the hand of providence the heavy stitching or stronger color in the thread allows the verse to stand out. Take a look at the sampler to see what I mean: 1787 verse sampler
“Some men get riches, yet are always poor, some get no riches yet have all things store.”
“How very true” we murmur. A verse like this means something to everyone. The words will be as true two centuries from now as they were 228 years ago when the sampler was stitched by Mary Ann Shepherd.
Biblical antique sampler – inscription from Proverbs
“My son hear the instruction of thy Father, and forsake not the law of thy Mother”
Quotations from the Book of Proverbs are as popular today as ever they were in the past. This pithy epithet is typical. While families remain the bedrock of society it will never lose it’s power.
Might the governess of this seven year old girl have had the imagination to write something original? And if she did would such behaviour from an employee have been acceptable?
Or would she ask her employer, the girl’s mother, to choose a text? Could it have come from the bible, a treatise, a play, a sermon, a magazine, a newspaper?
I could not help but google a phrase trying to find the source. And here it is. Probably an ‘approved’ publication widely read by ladies of the day.
My guess is that seven year old Ann was curious about insects, flies in particular. Mom chose this poem for her sampler in the hopes that it might hold her daughter’s interest long enough for her to absorb the subject matter of the verse.
It is fun trying to guess what was in the minds of families living generations ago. Isn’t this part of the attraction of antique samplers?
They add color to our understanding of society in a particular era, which is in this example is late Georgian. In the US, while this sampler was being stitched during the year of 1820, James Monroe was elected president effectively unopposed.
World’s lovliest verse sampler at the V & A
The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has the finest antique sampler collection on the planet. The samplers are to die for. No article on verse samplers can fail to mention the world’s foremost (in our opinion). The verse begins
“As I cannot write I put this down simply and freely as I might speak to a person to whose intimacy and tenderness I can fully entrust myself and who I know will bear with all my weaknesses.”