Whimsical, fearlessly inspired by nature, and glistening in bold jewel-like colors, antique majolica excites collectors and designers alike.
My latest article for Romantic Homes Magazine is out. It’s always such an honor and a true joy to write about what I love, antiques!
With a seemingly unending variation of colors, styles, and shapes, these functional pieces of the past make stunning décor today.
Easily combined with both traditional as well as modern environments, majolica enhances any interior displayed as decorative art.
HISTORY OF MAJOLICA
Herbert Minton, the English ceramist, is credited with initiating the majolica craze in 1851 by exhibiting his brilliantly glazed majolica pieces at The Great Exhibition in London. Minton’s collection of ceramics resembled the tin-glazed 16th-century Spanish and Italian earthenware called majolica. The factory’s sculpted work, featuring naturalistic shapes, colorful glazes and a humorous theme quickly became known as majolica.
A soft paste earthenware, fired to biscuit stage, majolica was coated with opaque lead or tin glaze which was allowed to dry. The piece was then hand painted with colorful metal oxide glazes, and fired again, creating the glossy lustrous glazed finish for which majolica is most admired.
Majolica was mass produced for the middle class in countries like England, France, Sweden, the United States and Germany. Large urns, covered serving dishes, plates, platters, even garden seats were much in favor. During the industrial revolution, majolica, with its figural designs and charming rural themes of flowers, fruits and animals, brought the countryside back to people living in the polluted cities.
Many of these colorful antiques were designed for the Victorian dining table, each piece beautifully illustrating what it was used for.
Much of the majolica serving pieces were so realistic they rivaled nature, making it a challenge for cooks to make the food as beautiful as the serving piece.
If you love antique majolica, here are my best tips on buying and collecting true antique pieces.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
1. DISTINCTIVE: The most desirable majolica is that produced in the last half of the nineteenth century. Many countries made this colorful, fanciful and imaginative earthenware. Most, but not all, are marked on the bottom with the factory’s backstamp.
English Majolica: The most valuable and collectable pieces were made by Minton, George Jones, and Wedgwood. Other British manufacturers of majolica include: Joseph Holdcroft, S. Fielding & Co., Brownhill’s Pottery Co., W.T. Copeland & Sons, and John Adams & Co.
American Majolica: The best know American manufacturer is Griffen, Smith, and Hill, their Etruscan majolica designs depict plant and marine life. Their most beloved pattern is called Shell & Seaweed. George Morley & Co. produced gurgling fish and owl pitchers, usually unmarked.
French Majolica: Sarreguemines, Luneville, and St. Clement all produced delicate, well made majolica wares or barbotine, as it is called in French.
German Majolica: Villeroy & Boch produced vividly colored majolica tablewares which are avidly collected today for both their shape and colors.
2. SHINY: True antique majolica should have a glossy, almost “wet” look to the glaze. The final beautiful translucent glaze, a metal oxide glaze in the second firing that enhances the clear jewel-like colors of the pottery, is what collectors seek out.
3. WHIMSICAL: Antique majolica is imaginative, humorous and whimsical. Majolica aficionados cherish its artistic molding, and robust, bright colors. Majolica wares were created with a sense of humor, they were meant to bring texture and fun to the table during the serious Victorian era.
4. PRICE: Signed, 19th century majolica can be expensive, expect to pay $200. to over $3000.00 for the most rare pieces. If your budget is substantial, you can focus your collection on desirable, signed pieces; if it’s small, seek out an unmarked piece you like with a small amount of damage, and build from there.
Magical, decorative and imaginative, majolica is once again attracting enthusiastic collectors. Collecting antique majolica is a fascinating and rewarding hobby, it’s beauty and history will compel you to seek out unusual additions for your collection.
Since these pieces are tin or lead glazed, it is not advisable to use them for actual food service, but the decorative options for displaying your collection are endless.
Plates can be wall mounted with plate hangers, or displayed on stands made especially for that purpose. A single piece can highlight a shelf, a large collection will be spectacular in a cabinet or hutch.
No matter how you display it, majolica, with its breathtaking designs and colors, is aesthetically pleasing.
Every collection has its own personality. Acquiring majolica that expresses your own style is a beautiful way to share your own personal style at home. See what I have in our Majolica collection right now HERE.
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