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Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Identifying Victorian Era Majolica

Those of you that are collectors of antiques know that you get a sixth sense about whether an item is real or fake.  Having parents that ran an antique store, attending auctions for forty years and living with antiques in my home are a big help in developing that eye for authenticity in me.  I can still be fooled by a good reproduction piece of furniture or a line of pottery that I've never dealt with.  It's a big field and we can't know it all!  We each get our areas of speciality.  Majolica was mine.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Victorian majolica brings a consistently good return on resale and it's worth keeping an eye out for it when you are thrifting and at yard sales.  It's also really fun pottery to collect!

Could you find a prettier pottery basket for roses? 


You need a little understanding of how majolica was made.  Light coloured clay was pressed into a plaster mould.  The mould drew the moisture out of the clay and the soft "greenware" piece was removed from the mould.  Pressing the clay into the mould made for heavier pieces than we see today done with a slip process. So, you want the piece you are looking at to be fairly heavy. Majolica was then fired in a kiln to harden it and dipped or painted with a clear lead or tin glaze, that was left to dry.  This glaze gives it a depth and shine that is not found on most reproduction pieces.  When the glaze dried, workers hand painted the vibrant colours on the pieces and it was fired in the kiln again. Although majolica was mass produced in factories and the decorators were following a pattern, each one is unique in the slight differences from painter to painter.

The first thing I look for is crazing that is not uniform.  Some reproductions have tried to copy the crazing that comes from age and exposure to temperature changes.  The repro crazing always looks too uniform and repetitive to me.

The crazing on this pitcher is random, indicating the piece is genuine. ~


I check out the usual indicators of a pottery piece that is antique.  The base will show wear and, if unglazed, will have darkened with age.  Repairs done with staples are another good sign.  That type of repair hasn't been done in over 90 yrs.  The colours that were in vogue during the Victorian Era are a good sign as well.  Although some pieces were in dark browns and greens, most sported jewel tones, aquas, pinks, yellow and robins egg blue.

This bowl bears all the desired trademarks. ~


A sure sign of vintage majolica is applied handles.  They were solid clay and attached after the piece came out of the mould.  Reproduction and newer pieces, made in the style of majolica, will have hollow handles. You can see they are hollow by looking inside the piece for the opening or searching for a small vent hole in the handle itself.

You also should not be able to feel or see the pattern on the inside of the piece.  Pressing the clay into the mould gave it a smooth surface inside.

Of course the easiest way to identify a manufacturer and year it was made, is a backstamp.  ~


The premier English potteries marked their pieces, as well as the larger American potteries but a great many smaller potteries did not.  There is a great difference in quality in the pieces as well.  A George Jones elaborate centrepiece from Britain will be finely executed and worth thousands of dollars.  A humble jug from a lesser known pottery may be worth $30 to $40 dollars.  Many of the pieces you come across will show the wear and tear of years of use.  The odd nick or chip doesn't mean it doesn't have value.  A hairline crack is okay as long as you can't feel movement when you press on it.  If it moves, it's cracked right through.

Remember the basketweave and ribbon handle bowl my dad gave to me?  He paid less than $10 for it and it lists for $325 to $350 dollars. ~


Not a bad return on investment and worth keeping an eye open for don't you think!