Majolica cat jug by Minton, circa 1875.

Majolica Pottery – Introduction UPDATED

Majolica Definitions…

This is the first of a series of Majolica blogs. In this blog we remind ourselves of a few definitions and the enormous scope for decorators, collectors and antique enthusiasts.

Majolica seated boys comport made by Joseph Holdcroft, circa 1880
Majolica comport by Joseph Holdcroft, circa 1880

In subsequent blogs we will explain the appeal, the many types, the makers, the countries, more on the history and some insights on value, care, collecting and conservation.

Our Madelena online store has in excess of 400 pieces of Antique Victorian English and European Majolica for sale.

Our Majolica for sale can be viewed here.

Antique. Antique means over 100 years old.

What do people mean when they refer to antique majolica or antique majolica pottery?

Majolica teapot by Joseph Holdcroft, circa 1880
Majolica teapot by Joseph Holdcroft, circa 1880

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.

Majolica monkey and tortoise figural by Copeland, circa 1877.
Majolica monkey and tortoise figural by Copeland, circa 1877.

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 charger, Italian, circa 1525
Maiolica charger, Italian, circa 1525

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

Majolica sardine box with diver finial, by George Jones, circa 1874.
Majolica sardine box with diver finial, by George Jones, circa 1874.

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.

Majolica cat jug by Minton, circa 1875.
Miniature Majolica cat jug by Minton, circa 1875.

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.

Majolica teapot/kettle by Minton, circa 1877
Majolica teapot/kettle by Minton, circa 1877. The bamboo theme is an example of Chinese and Japanese influence on fashionable home décor.

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.


Further reading on majolica pottery can be found on this link: Discover Majolica

Majolica International Society  provides an online forum for majolica lovers. Conventions, symposiums, fellowship and fun are all part of the service.

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6 responses to “Majolica Pottery – Introduction UPDATED”

  1. LOVE the Blog.
    Have already started learning.
    Never really understood the difference
    between the “i” and the “j” type pottery.
    Do now, and thanks!

    1. Hi PW,
      Thanks for the kind words.
      Next step for me is to visit British Library Reading Room to view for myself the two 1875 South Kensington Museum publications, especially Fortnum, C. Drury E. Majolica. [London]: Published for the Committee of Council on Education by Chapman and Hall, [1875?]). NAL pressmark: 96.M.81.

  2. Love new blog!!!!

  3. Richard E Schugar Avatar
    Richard E Schugar

    I love you guys. I think I have purchased items from you for nearly 15 years.

    1. We love you too Rich. Your first purchase was the fish swallowing fish majolica teapot and it’s been fish and molluscs ever since apart from that sole pig! We greatly appreciate the business over so many years.

  4. […] – Quiz Questions, Answers, Evidence, January 2016 Majolica Definition – More, April 2015 Introducing Majolica, October […]

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