A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Majolica Spotlight: Wedgwood Argenta

Until about 20 years ago very few people had ever heard of the name "Argenta."

It was in Maureen Batkin's book on Wedgwood, Wedgwood Ceramics 1846-1959, published in England in 1982 that the term first appeared. It described a particular kind of majolica color palette that became popular with the factory in the 1870's. In fact it was a trade name used by the company to distinguish majolica with this color palette from all the others.
Pieces in Argenta had ivory grounds with details in various pastel tones of taupe, yellow, rose and lilac. Some majolica patterns were specifically created with the color palette in mind so finding examples in other colors are nearly impossible to find. It was the company's response to changing tastes in Victorian England where the deeper colors of earlier majolica were starting to fall out of favor. 

It must have been a great success because soon most patterns in the company's catalog were being glazed in this manner. Other companies soon started to copy Wedgwood's success and this majolica with ivory grounds and pastel decoration started to appear on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Ironically, this majolica that was so popular in the 1870's and 1880's is looked down upon by most serious majolica collectors today. The reason is simple: most people buy majolica for the bright colors and Argenta is the least colorful of them all.
It seems to me that this is rather unfair because the Argenta color palette is quite beautiful on its own. As an occasional piece in a more colorful collection it stands out for it's sophisticated beauty. In a group with other pieces of Argenta it has a clean, modern look that the more colorful majolica pieces lack.

Below I've borrowed photos of some pieces from our friends at Trilogy Antiques to show the differences between Argenta and conventionally glazed pieces. By the way, all of these pieces are for sale online at www.emajolica.com.

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