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

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tenuous Majolica

For many years Tenuous Majolica was a great mystery. There wasn't anything known about it so there were all sorts of theories floating around about it, the most interesting being that is was a pottery formed by William Hill after he left the Etruscan Works (which is of course untrue). Then about 18 years ago, Joan Stacke and Marilyn Karmason discovered it was actually a product of the Peekskill Pottery, a New York pottery owned by a Richard Harrison.

According to information supplied to us by one of our readers, Harrison was in the business of making stove liners for local stove manufacturers. Majolica was an offshoot of this business. It was produced for about five years at Peekskill from 1882 to 1887. Harrison was an Englishman like William Hill and David Smith, who had migrated to the US to make his fortune in pottery. It is his initial "H" that appears in the center of the Tenuous Majolica circular mark.
The pottery finally closed in 1896.

There is no definitive catalog of the work produced by Harrison as there is of Etruscan Majolica but it is known he made platters and pitchers in several sizes in shell, corn and calla lily patterns. He is also said to have produced a child's tea set in a cabbage motif.

I have seen a couple of large collections of Tenuous majolica and was very impressed by the variety of work produced. From the smallest butter chips to large tea trays and pitchers, the work is well made. Tenuous Majolica has very distinctive speckled glazes unlike any other pottery that become immediately recognizable with familiarity, which is a good thing since only a small percentage of Tenuous pieces are marked. The modeling is quite primitive and the colors soft, but beautiful in its own right, especially among country collectibles and other pieces of Tenuous.

Tenuous is quite hard to find. I can only recall seeing about a dozen marked examples for sale in the past few years, but if you familiarize yourself with the patterns and the look of the glazes you may be able to land yourself an unmarked find in an auction or flea market at a very good price. 
I know I have!

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