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

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Wedgwood Pink Shell Pearlware

In 1986 I decided to drive to New Orleans on a whim. While there I did an antique shop hop through the French Quarter in search of majolica. I wandered into a crowded shop that specialized in culinary antiques because I thought I might find some majolica there. Well, they did have some majolica there, some Palissy, but it wasn't the majolica that caught my eye.

In the main room of the shop a large dining table had been set with a huge service of Victorian Wedgwood pink shell pearlware. I had never seen this before and was stunned by its beauty–shells in every shape and size delicately decorated in creamy white, pale yellow, lavender and deep majolica pink. The price of the entire service was many thousands of dollars, far too much for a wandering artist/fledgling antique dealer, but it left an impression that has lasted 24 years.

I mention this here because this lovely ware is often confused for majolica. It's easy to see the confusion. It was made during the same Victorian period as majolica. It is marked like Wedgwood majolica from this period with an impressed WEDGWOOD and a date code on an opaque white reverse. Of course it is rich with the pinks and lavenders one sees in majolica. It also finds its way into majolica auctions and majolica collections.

But it is not majolica

It is a particular type of creamware made by Wedgwood during the late eighteenth and nineteenth century called pearlware. It has an opaque white glaze that is decorated after firing with enamels. The shell molds have been in almost continuous use at Wedgwood from the time of Josiah Wedgwood. Majolica has been made extensively in these shapes as have a number of other wares including bone china.

But it is the pink pearlware that captures the heart. Its popularity usually brings majolica-type prices. It also displays beautifully with majolica, particularly turquoise and green majolica.

Perhaps you can understand how a full service made such a strong impression on me all those years ago.

So the next time you see some Wedgwood pink pearlware feel free and add some to your majolica collection. I think you'll be glad you did.

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