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

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Story of a Collection

Sometimes the story behind a collection is as interesting as the collection itself.
One of my oldest and dearest friends, Jeff, has always referred to majolica as "that stuff that has snakes and worms on it." He didn't really care too much for my collection but was always very nice about trying to share my enthusiasm when I got a new piece. A number of years ago after taking a trip to visit an elderly maiden aunt in Ohio, he reported on his return that she had a cabinet full of "that stuff." He couldn't give me much more detail then that except to say that it looked a lot like the things I sold. 

Not that long afterwards Jeff's aunt died, leaving her estate to be broken up among her relatives. Jeff helped in the dissolution of the estate and took the majolica collection home along with some flow blue and a few other sentimental things to remember her by. 

When I finally got a chance to see the collection in person I was impressed by it. It was not a large collection nor a particularly rare collection but the whole group was Etruscan Majolica, all perfectly matched in color and all in mint condition. The core of the collection was an almost complete tea service for six in Cauliflower that had clearly been together since the day it was made. It was without question the most beautifully cohesive Cauliflower set I have ever seen.  In addition to this were two Lily plates, a leaf plate and a begonia plate, again all matching. The only piece that didn't seem to belong was the Cauliflower creamer, which was totally mismatched and clearly a replacement purchased at a later time.

The story of how his aunt had received this collection was fascinating. It had been left to her by a neighbor who had inherited the collection from her parents who were from Pennsylvania. They had gotten it new as a wedding gift. Here was a collection that had been together since the day it was potted in the 1880's. That is such a rare and wonderful thing to find nowadays, and it's especially nice from a sentimental point of view.

When I first started buying majolica in the 1980's it was fairly common to find complete matching sets of majolica that had always been together. These were almost always broken up by dealers for maximum profit. Today, you don't see sets very much anymore. Most sets you see have been assembled over time by collectors from disparate sources. 
To see a collection like this that has always been together gives a real sense of how stunning sets of majolica must have been when they were new and sitting on store shelves.

Jeff has now changed his opinion of majolica. He has purchased a few additional pieces of his own to compliment the collection and displays them proudly in his home. For at least one more generation, this majolica will remain together as it has from the start.

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