- In a nutshell
- Why is it appealing?
- Real, repro or fake
- 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.
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In a nutshell
Why is it so appealing?
Real, repro or fake?
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
Majolica in an ultra-naturalistic style , was produced by some makers, notably in France
Majolica with additional decoration in the form of painted enamel scenes is not unknown
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
or an entire room.
and other animal pieces are available.
Majolica in a 21st century home demonstrates an appreciation of art and history, expressing in brilliant style the continuity between past and present.
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.
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.
Style reflects the interests and fashion of the day, all the while stimulated, if not always led, by innovative design.
but predominantly their designs were 'formal', in the style of Italian maiolica,
and someGothic designs.
and other animals
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
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)
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'
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:
their wares, still relatively inexpensive today, form the backbone of many collections.
a number of 'look alikes', and some copies - sometimes made with 'borrowed' molds discarded by the bigger factories.
Marks that are occasionally found on English majolica:
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.
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.
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.
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
Makers, some producing exceptional quality majolica and superb designs include:
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.
French makers were less helpful, marking few pieces, and many makers producing pieces of similar style and glazes, making attributions difficult.
By 1850 Léon Arnoux , a Frenchman working for English ceramics magnate Herbert Minton
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.
However, even with the Arnoux kiln, output varied in quality , even from top makers
of 'lesser' or 'unmarked' manufacturers indicate these makers did not use or could not afford the new kiln technology.
Old. Majolica made between 1850 and 1930 .
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.
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.
As above, majolica that has been reproduced, but is being re-sold with the intention to deceive, purporting to be real.
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.
To detect real from repro for yourself, first look for maker's marks and characteristics.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
Spotting damage and restoration:
If your eyesight is not great, use a lens and bright light.
Damage: Look at the most vulnerable areas first.
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.
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.
Toilet sets: Bowls, ewers.
Hidden within the bedside 'pot cupboard': Chamber pot, Spittoon
Tea sets including Milk Jugs , Sugar Bowls, Cups & Saucers, Tea Pots, and Tea Kettles
Specialised services would be used for particular types of food, especially dessert:
In the conservatory and elsewhere would be found: