Majolica Article

  • Contents
  • In a nutshell
  • Why is it appealing?
  • Types
  • Manufacture
  • Real, repro or fake
  • Restoration
  • Forms & Functions
 

Majolica that we are interested in, is a group of earthenware pottery, covered in lead glazes, produced in the Victorian period. Antique majolica ware was produced mostly between c.1850 to c.1900. These days, Majolica pottery is much revered by antique collectors, decorators, museum curators and dealers.

To navigate our article on majolica, use the tabs above. Some of the majolica illustrated is available for sale from our website.  Other pictures are taken from Madelena's research archive.

We hope you find our article of interest. Corrections, comments, etc. are most welcome. Please email davidtulk@madelena.com.

In a nutshell

Literally, what is it?

 

Why is it so appealing?

Read why majolica continues to raise pulses.

 

Types

Find out about English and Continental majolica, Palissy and Green.

 

Manufacture

How was it made?

 

Real, repro or fake?

Get some tips on how to tell the difference.

 

Restoration

What effect does restoration have?

 

Forms

See the incredible diversity of majolica forms and functions.

 

The word majolica has a confusing history. The English had called tin-glaze maiolica ‘majolica’ for centuries. In 1849 Minton used the same word ‘majolica’ for his version of tin-glaze maiolica Italian style ware. The public found the tin-glaze product uninspiring but adored another new product from Mintons, a richly colored lead-glaze pottery in styles classical, naturalistic and whimsical which Minton in 1851 called ‘Palissy ware’. Soon however, the public were calling it ‘majolica’. Today we call it ‘Victorian majolica’. Victorian majolica is earthenware molded in relief, coated with richly colored, durable glazes applied direct to the biscuit which fired simultaneously.

Developed in England 1849-50 and launched at the 1851 Great Exhibition

by 1860 other European countries had acquired the technology, and by the 1880's the US was producing.

It was made in a multitude of forms and styles - some copied

 

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some breathtakingly original

often whimsical

sometimes humorous

frequently naturalistic

 

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Majolica in an ultra-naturalistic style , was produced by some makers, notably in France

and Portugal

Majolica with additional decoration in the form of painted enamel scenes is not unknown

Some continental makers also used gilt decoration

 

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It makes stunning decor! Its strong, bright colors never fade. It is non-repetitive. A seemingly infinite variety of quirky, whimsical, naturalistic styles, and a multitude of forms and sizes set the imagination on fire. Just when you think you've seen it all, a previously unknown piece surfaces and delights. Its enduring popularity now seems guaranteed.

It continues to excite decorators and designers, young and old, featuring regularly in home and designer magazines . Within the genre are colors, styles and forms to enhance almost any scheme: a single piece to highlight a corner

a hutch of turquoise


or cobalt blue

 

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or pink

a wall of themed pieces

or an entire room.

Fish, seaweeds, shells and crabs for beach themes

trees and bears for Black Forest or mountain themes

farm animals for rural and country themes.

 

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All manner of fish

bird

mammal

and other animal pieces are available.

Plainly decorated pieces may fit with the clean, more minimalist look.

Majolica in a 21st century home demonstrates an appreciation of art and history, expressing in brilliant style the continuity between past and present.

 

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There are features that distinguish one type of majolica from another to a great or lesser degree which we mention as we go along.

The main types are English majolica, which we will cover in more detail including sections on English Style, Makers and Marks; Continental majolica; Palissy majolica; American majolica; and Green.

GREEN MAJOLICA



These decorative and inexpensive dessert/salad services should, strictly speaking, be known as 'green glazed leaf molded earthenware'. Green glazes had been around for many years before Minton’s Arnoux used his own glaze formulations to great effect in the new majolica wares.

Green glazed leaf plates rely on the 'intaglio' effect where glaze accumulates in the depressions of the mold as a stronger color.


ENGLISH MAJOLICA

Minton's new English majolica glazes were tough, hard-wearing, could be utilised in varied applications, and the color range was excitingly new thereby increasing decorative potential. The new majolica was simultaneously boldly decorative and useful. It became hugely popular with the rapidly emerging merchant classes of Victorian England. Some established households also approved, including Royalty.

Within a few years many pottery firms had moved into majolica. New contenders strove to establish their own businesses, George Jones being one of the latecomers, to some collectors the finest of them all. Majolica enjoyed a heyday. But by the 1880's in England the passion was fading. By 1900 majolica manufacture in England was almost dead, many artisans emigrating to the US where interest in majolica was alive and well.


ENGLISH STYLE

Style reflects the interests and fashion of the day, all the while stimulated, if not always led, by innovative design.

In the early years of majolica, Minton produced a few ‘informal’ designs inspired by the works of Bernard Palissy

but predominantly their designs were 'formal', in the style of Italian maiolica,

in Renaissance style, often featuring putti,

and someGothic designs.

By the 1870's, with majolica production at its peak, 'informal' naturalistic design reigned supreme.

The very English passion for nature and for the English garden was reflected in majolica décor brilliant with color, depicting shells,


plants

flowers

birds

and other animals

Monkey designs reflected ongoing interest in the ‘evolution debate’.

Charles Darwin

enjoyed considerable notoriety .

With the British Empire at its greatest and proudest, its peoples’ 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


ENGLISH MAKERS
The ‘big three’ English makers: Minton, George Jones and Wedgwood, are for some the most highly sought after. The best of their output was of wonderful quality combining innovative contemporary design with technical perfection - sharp, crisp, bright colors, and excellent color control.

The MINTON factory is where majolica glazes were invented and developed. Minton was also at the forefront in design. In addition to talented in-house designers, they commissioned famous names for special pieces.

Paul Comolera (peacock, stork, heron)

Hugues Protat (heron, putti)

Henk (stork, cockerel & hen)

WEDGWOOD eventually acquired the desire and the technology for producing quality majolica, curiously with help from Minton. Their designs came from their own artists and from freelance modellers. Their white ground pieces were marketed as 'Argenta ware'

A series of table services are among our personal favorites.

GEORGE JONES, a favourite with some collectors, started from nothing. Apprenticed to Minton, employed for a short while by Wedgwood, his opportunity to move up from merchant to manufacturer came in 1862. Concentrating on naturalistic designs he and his sons produced a series of stunning patterns, which by various means were got to market both in England and the USA.

OTHER ENGLISH MAKERS

Producing distinctive high quality merchandise, but in less quantity, and fewer patterns other English makers were:

Royal Worcester


Joseph Holdcroft

Copeland

Samuel Lear

 

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T. Forester & Sons

S. Fielding & Co.

T. C. Brown Westhead Moore & Co.

John Adams & Co.

Adams & Bromley

Wm. Brownfield & Sons


Victoria Pottery Company

Samuel Alcock & Co.


Banks & Thorley

Burmantofts

Shorter & Son

Wardle & Co.

and Belfield & Co. (Scotland)

UNIDENTIFIED ENGLISH MAKERS
The combined output of small enterprises that never identified their wares was enormous. Frequently delightfully rustic

their wares, still relatively inexpensive today, form the backbone of many collections.

Though sometimes of lesser technical quality than the top makers in terms of sharpness,

color control


and color brightness


they produced quantities of original designs

a number of 'look alikes', and some copies - sometimes made with 'borrowed' molds discarded by the bigger factories.


ENGLISH MARKS

Marks that are occasionally found on English majolica:
Impressed or printed 'ENGLAND': When present, tells the piece was made after 1891 . However, as marking was haphazard and inconsistent, the absence of an ‘ENGLAND’ mark does not necessarily mean ‘pre-1891’.


The protectionist 1890 USA McKinley Tariff Act taxed imports at 48.4%, helping American potteries get established, but hurting farmers who voted out the Republicans at the next election. The Act required imported goods to be marked with country of origin.


British Pattern Registration mark

When present, tells the date the pattern was registered . The diamond shape mark molded into the item testify the registration of the pattern. Letters and numbers in the four corners specify the exact date of registration. The system was sufficiently successful that its use continued throughout the majolica period and beyond.
Note: The year of pattern registration is not necessarily the year of manufacture but does indicate a ‘circa’ date.

Impressed maker's manufacture date code

When found, most often on Wedgwood and Minton wares, tells the year the piece was made if you have the charts to look them up.

Impressed or applied makers monograms/names: ‘GJ’, ‘JH’, 'MINTON', 'WEDGWOOD', etc

Please Note: All the marks mentioned above appear inconsistently, even those of the top makers. Tableware services were frequently unmarked except for the main pieces.

CONTINENTAL MAJOLICA
Continental (European) factories produced majolica initially for their own home markets and for export to the UK, later to the USA, most of them continuing after the English market waned in the 1880's. Asparagus/artichoke ware was a speciality of some French makers

Majolica is known in France as 'barbotine'. High quality majolica was produced throughout Europe. Colors varied from one maker to another. Less familiar to collectors of English majolica was the use of deep red

teal, blue, and pink.

Makers, some producing exceptional quality majolica and superb designs include:

Sarreguemines, France

Choisy-le-Roi, France

Longchamp, France

Luneville, France


Rubelles, France

Keller & Guerin St Clement, France


Clairefontaine, France

Onnaing, France

Perr-et-Gentil, Menton, France

Massier, France

'JRL', 'JR'

Boch Frères, France

 

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Nimy-lez-Mons, Belgium

Wasmuel, Belgium


Julius Dressler, Austria

Hugo Lonitz, Germany

Villeroy & Boch, Germany

Schramberg, Germany

Bernard Bloch, Germany

Reichard M Krause, Germany

Gustafsberg, Sweden

Rorstrand, Sweden

Eichwald, Czechoslovakia

Wilhelm Schiller, Czechoslovakia


PALISSY MAJOLICA
Palissy is an ultra-naturalistic type of majolica, characterized by three-dimensional modelled snakes

fish

lizards

frogs

snails, etc

arranged on grassy or aquatic backgrounds, reborn circa 1843 in France, with main centers in Paris and Tours; and circa 1880 in Portugal, centered on the town of Caldas da Rainha.

Bernard Palissy (1510-1590)

a gifted, obsessive naturalist, author, and potter, first produced the style circa 1548. For the first time in history molds were taken from actual specimens. Colored lead glazes were formulated to fuse onto an earthenware body


The story according to W.P.Jervis, a historian, penned a couple of centuries later, goes like this:

Bernard Palissy’s friends and neighbours looked upon him as a madman. In vain his wife pleaded. The kiln swallowed up everything and direst poverty stared them in the face. For sixteen years he struggled on, enduring the reproaches of his wife, the death of his children, the pathetic look of hunger in the faces of those spared to him, and the reviling of his neighbours. Undaunted by failure he sacrificed his furniture for fuel, his wife and remaining children, hungry and ragged, in vain imploring him to desist

If this failed it was of necessity his last experiment. The very last stick of furniture had been thrust in the kiln, and the house stripped of every vestige of woodwork, and who shall attempt to portray with what emotions Palissy awaited the result... With trembling hands he drew the few pieces from the kiln - for a moment he dared not trust his senses - he looked again - THE GLAZE HAD FUSED. This changed everything and he lived happily ever after.

Palissy majolica was made mostly in France and Portugal, each in their own distinctive style.
The wares of the Portuguese makers were usually marked

French makers were less helpful, marking few pieces, and many makers producing pieces of similar style and glazes, making attributions difficult.

Makers include:

Joseph Landais, France

Maurice, France

Barbizet, France

Thomas Sergent, France

Geoffery Luff, France – MODERN


José Francisco de Sousa (fl.1860-1893), Portugal

Jose A. Cunha, Portugal


Mafra, Portugal


Herculano Elias, Portugal


Cezar, Portugal


Augusto Baptista de Carvalho, Portugal


AMERICAN MAJOLICA


From 1870 to 1920 majolica production in the US boomed.

We see very little US majolica in the UK so this topic may be left to those better qualified than Madelena. Perhaps the most famed maker is Griffin Hill Smith & Co (Etruscan)

always with a distinctive impressed mark

 

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By 1850 Léon Arnoux , a Frenchman working for English ceramics magnate Herbert Minton

had succeeded in developing revolutionary new glazes in various colors: brown

puce

ochre

pale blue

 

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turquoise

cobalt blue

white

gray

and pink


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Green was already available

These glazes were not only bright and colorful, but when fired they fused into tough hard-wearing glass. Additionally, because many colors could be applied simultaneously to the biscuit then fired just one more time, the ware was inexpensive to manufacture.

Furthermore, in combination with the Arnoux down draught oven , with its more precise temperature control, great color control could be achieved.

However, even with the Arnoux kiln, output varied in quality , even from top makers

Compare poor quality Minton above to good quality Minton below

The frequently running glazes

of 'lesser' or 'unmarked' manufacturers indicate these makers did not use or could not afford the new kiln technology.

 

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REAL:

Old. Majolica made between 1850 and 1930 .
Majolica continued to be produced well into the 20thC in the USA. In Europe several makers continued production including Sarreguemines.

In England Wedgwood produced re-runs of popular table wares

using non-lead based glazes. Burmantofts Pottery and Shorter Bros

also continued with some of their lines.

MODERN:

Majolica made since around 1950 in the style of real majolica, or reproduced , clearly marked with a present day manufacturer's mark

Modern majolica is made with no intention to deceive, and does not pretend to be old.

 

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REPRO:

As above, majolica that has been reproduced, but is being re-sold with the intention to deceive, purporting to be real.

FAKE:

Repro majolica being re-sold with fake marks


with the intention to deceive, purporting to be real.

The inexperienced buyer should always pause to ask themselves

“Is it real?

Could it be modern, repro or fake?”

Start by asking the seller: 'When was it made?',

'Who made it and where?',

'How do you know?'

Vague answers mean the seller does not know or will not tell.

 

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To detect real from repro for yourself, first look for maker's marks and characteristics.
Unhelpfully, very many majolica makers left their wares unmarked

Even top makers often omitted to mark their wares

So here are some tips, pointers, warning signs to look out for, for when there are no marks or characteristics to guide you, or when you are not 100% confident in the seller.

These are only pointers. Exceptions abound. Never judge a piece by one indicator alone.

  • Fake or suspicious marks
  • High value selling cheap
  • No wear and tear
  • Unglazed interiors
  • Thin or less bright glazes
  • 'Fuzzy' modelling; lack of fineness in detail
  • Running glazes
  • 'Wrong' colors
  • Unglazed foot rims

Compare real with repro side by side whenever possible, handle every piece you can , and you will quickly learn to distinguish one from the other. Collectors and specialist dealers with long experience are seldom fooled.

 

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Wear and damage is to be expected.

Pristine unrestored pieces are extremely rare.

Many sellers do not draw attention to repairs and restoration in as much detail as we do.

When buying don't forget to ask “Is there any damage or restoration?”

 

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Depending on how well the work is done, and the rarity of the item, any damage, and the extent and quality of any restoration will affect value.

For example, plainly visible badly matched color will knock the value

while unseen well matched color will add to the value.

 

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Spotting damage and restoration:

If your eyesight is not great, use a lens and bright light.

Damage: Look at the most vulnerable areas first.

Restoration: Look for slight changes in color.

Look for a disappearance of normal crazing.

Feel for a change in texture. Feel for a change in hardness - teeth will do, but are no longer recommended; tapping lightly with a sharp steel implement works well - the softer acrylic of the repair can be distinguished by feel from unrestored glaze which is as hard as glass.

 

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Forms or 'shapes' related to the function of an item. Forms can be grouped into two main categories, 'useful', and 'decorative'.

Both useful and decorative wares could be found in abundance in the households of the emerging middle-classes.

In the entrance hall:
Posy Holders

Card Trays

Stick and Umbrella Stands

In the bedroom:
Dressing table sets that might include: brush tray, trinket or ‘patch’ boxes, candlestick holders, vases, ring holders)

Toilet sets: Bowls, ewers.

Hidden within the bedside 'pot cupboard': Chamber pot, Spittoon

Writing desk paraphernalia might include:
Inkwells and Penholders

Match holders and strikers

Money Boxes

Living rooms and parlours would be adorned with:
Decorative Figurals, ranging in size from modest

to monumental

Posy Baskets

Flower Baskets

Flower Pots

Vases

Hanging Baskets

Wall brackets and corner wall brackets

Wall plates

Wall platters

Candlestick holders

 

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Tea sets including Milk Jugs , Sugar Bowls, Cups & Saucers, Tea Pots, and Tea Kettles

In everyday use one would find:
Bowls

Pots, lidded and otherwise

Butter Dishes

Mugs

Jugs for water, milk, cream and syrup.

On special occasions dining tables would be 'dressed' with:
Salts and spoon warmers

Candlesticks and candelabra

Centrepieces, from the modest

to the monumental

Ice Stand for the occasional carved ice centerpiece

Purpose designed serving pieces would be presented to table the finials and decoration often announcing the type of food contained therein:
Egg cup holders (Egg Baskets)

Game pie dishes

Fish Servers

Crab servers

Sardine Boxes

Cheese Keeps (Cheese Bells)

Escargot servers

Bread platters

Nut dishes

and Chestnut Servers

Strawberry Servers

 

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Specialised services would be used for particular types of food, especially dessert:

Fish plates and platters

Strawberry plates and dishes

Oyster plates

Asparagus or artichoke plates

drainers

and tureens

Dessert services consisted of small plates

low compotes

high compotes

serving dishes oval

or rectangular

and sometimes covered pots.

Services of every pattern and color were used including begonia services

and green majolica.

In the conservatory and elsewhere would be found:

Jardinières

and Jardinière Stands

Planters

Dog Bowls

Garden Seats

Tiles useful - affixed to wall surfaces, and decorative

and lights

Cache pots

and Urns

 

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