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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

A sad reproduction

I've been writing a lot about reproductions lately. Unfortunately they have begun to permeate the majolica scene more than ever before. My last post was about an exceptionally good reproduction that is currently flooding the marketplace. This last post of the year is about the opposite--an exceptionally bad reproduction.

I have to admit I get a little giddy when I see something like this offered on line with a straight face. It's bad on such a cosmic level that it's hard to believe anyone would take it seriously but I need to remind myself that not everyone is familiar with every specialty. I know that I could very easily be fooled by a bad Chinese porcelain reproduction because I know very little about Chinese porcelain. Still, this is an awful piece by any measure.

The above plate is being offered on line as an authentic George Jones piece of majolica in the Palissy style. The price is $700+. The reverse has a GJ "applied pad" signature.

Now, there are several things wrong here.
To the best of my knowledge George Jones never made majolica in the Palissy style. The closest I can think of would be their plates done for the Biarritz resorts and even that doesn't look anything like true Palissy.

The conceit that the reproduction platter is GJ Palissy is absurd.  Of course one look at the reverse should hammer that home for anyone with even the most basic knowledge of majolica.
Compare the mark on the reproduction (top) with the genuine article (bottom).

Not even the glaze is correct, with the repro glaze not being shiny like the real thing.

I would hope that no one who reads this blog would be fooled by anything like this.
I would hope!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Majolica in the Movies: Meet Me in St Louis

Christmas is the time of year that all the old movie chestnuts with even the slightest connection to the season show up on our TV screens. At the top of my list of Christmas themed movies has to be the wonderful 1944 film, Meet Me in St. Louis.

I've probably seen this movie a hundred times. In fact, I even have a photo of me taken in college watching Judy Garland singing "Have yourself a merry little Christmas", a song from the film on the TV in my bedroom. That was a long time before many reading this blog were born. I watch the movie every year when it finds it's way onto TV. I mention all this to illustrate how one can know a film as intimately as I know this one and still find surprises in it.

The movie takes place in St. Louis as it follows the Smith family just before the opening of the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. The story is a musical trifle, just an excuse for the wonderful songs, period settings and talents of its stars.

Last night as I was paying my annual homage to the Smith family, I noticed majolica among the Victorian settings of the Smith home. In this case there was in the bedroom of the grandfather a lovely Jugendstil majolica sanitary set on a dresser. The film's director, Vincente Minnelli, was a Broadway set designer before he went west to Hollywood to become a director. He had a remarkable eye for set detail as can be seen in any of his period films like Gigi and Lust for Life

What a lovely surprise to find my favorite pottery in my favorite  holiday movie!
See if you too can catch it the next time the movie comes around to your TV set.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Majolica in the Movies: The Hours

The Hours is a lovely movie starring Ed Harris and Meryl Streep. It's a movie I've seen probably a dozen times since its release in 2002. It's most famously known for being the movie that Nicole Kidman won an Academy Award for, but it has other fabulous performances as well from Julianne Moore, Ms. Streep, John C. Reilly and a scene stealing cameo by Toni Collette.  It was clearly an A-List project from the start with an all-star cast and a phenomenal score by the reclusive Phillip Glass, who does not usually lend his talents to film work. It is clear from the period details in the film that no expense was spared in bringing this story to the screen. That is true in the dressing of the sets as well.

I've always loved observing movie set design. The right designer can make a huge difference to the overall effect of a film. Sometimes the design can even overshadow the rest of the movie. Who can think of Barry Lyndon, The Great Gatsby or My Fair Lady without being enthralled by the beauty of the sets? The Hours isn't overwhelmed by the set design, but it clearly had a large budget. If it weren't such a moving story it could have easily been overshadowed by the gorgeous period sets. Ironically, it isn't the set pieces that brings us to this blog, but the contemporary story involving Ed Harris and Meryl Streep.

Meryl Streep plays one of those hip New Yorkers who lives in a fabulous old New York apartment with her partner Allison Janney, her daughter Claire Danes and no apparent means of support. She spends her day buying huge containers of flowers and arranging a fabulous party in her home for her dying friend, poet Ed Harris. The apartment is decorated in typical hip New York fashion with lots of books and clutter and loads of little antique knick-knacks. Among this splurge of decor I noticed a piece of majolica, a large Haynes pottery pitcher filled with flowers! What a lovely discovery!

I'm always looking for majolica in movie sets but I don't find it very often. I've written about my previous discoveries on these pages but they've been few and far between. I would encourage readers to drop me a line when they find a piece of majolica in a movie set. It's just such a wonderful little treat for us collectors!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Guilty Pleasures Part 2

Last time, I described some of my guilty pleasures in majolica.
Here are a few more.

I have always loved the design of this platter. If you separate the beautiful design from the terribly garish glaze treatment the plate usually gets, you can appreciate the gorgeous Art Nouveau lines of it with the elegant dragonfly in the center. I always thought it was designed by someone who understood art and great design but glazed by someone who didn't have a clue.

Another guilty pleasure is the large group of mottled wares made by many of the major potteries, particularly Wedgwood and George Jones. The mottling was supposed to imitate tortoise shell or snake skin.
Why I'm not supposed to like these I think has something to do with its retail popularity, which is minimal. I think it's quite gorgeous, but then I'm an artist, I like the way colors flow together when they're allowed to but most people don't seem to like it so it's not fashionable.

The last group of wares I've always liked that I'm not supposed to is the Wedgwood Argenta wares. Dealers who specialize in majolica hate Argenta. It's a very slow seller in the majolica world. Most people buy majolica for the bright colors so it seems natural that those wares with the most restrained color palettes would be the least popular.  I've always loved the restricted colors of Argenta. The combination of colored glazes used are very sophisticated. Maybe they're too sophisticated for most casual observers. Of all the majolica wares I find these to be the most timeless in their appeal. They have a contemporary quality lacking in the more boldly painted wares. They would fit in beautifully among the most austere furnishings.
But don't tell that to a majolica dealer. They're likely to roll on the floor laughing at the idea.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Guilty Pleasures

Wikipedia defines a guilty pleasure as something one enjoys and considers pleasurable despite feeling guilt for enjoying it. The "guilt" involved is sometimes simply fear of others discovering one's lowbrow or otherwise embarrassing tastes.
When people speak of guilty pleasures they're usually talking about movies or books or sometimes foods. I must admit that I have guilty pleasures where majolica is concerned as well.

My guilty pleasures actually go back to my earliest attempts at finding majolica. At that time only the most pedestrian majolica was easily found with none of the biggest names really available outside of specialty dealers. There were certain patterns I saw again and again in my tour of antique shops and shows and learned to love them for their simple rustic beauty. It wasn't until I really got to know the breadth of the majolica palette that I learned that I wasn't supposed to like them.

I can distinctly remember my first run in with this type of majolica snobbery. I saw a majolica dealer at a show who specialized in fine English pieces. At the time one of my early loves was the Etruscan Cauliflower pattern so I asked the dealer if they had any. I will never forget the disdain with which they told me that they didn't carry "American crap." It was a rude awakening to the snobbery that exists very much to this day in certain circles of the majolica community where American and unmarked majolica is concerned. Thanks to this run in I carry a certain amount of shame of my love for the Etruscan Cauliflower pattern. I don't admit it openly to new majolica enthusiasts when I first meet them. Not until I "feel them out" and feel comfortable around them do I admit that it is still my favorite majolica pattern.

I have other guilty pleasures as well. The very first piece of majolica hollowware I bought was in Texas-- a bowl in a commonly found overlapping begonia leaf pattern. It's a simple, rustic pattern that to me defines the essence of the beauty of majolica.
I eventually gave the bowl to my Mother as a Mother's Day gift after she told me she admired it. She used it to serve salads in. Today that bowl is in my sister's possession, having inherited it after my Mother's passing. Every time I see it I am reminded how much I love this common majolica pattern.

Another pattern that I loved early on is the simple pond lily plate. I actually had a rather large set of it at one point with plates in several sizes and a lovely dessert stand supported by standing herons. I was forced to sell it all to put a deposit on a car many years ago. It made me sad but I still dream of reassembling it some day.

It's a pity that majolica snobbery cast a dark shadow on my love of these wonderful pieces but I have since learned that snobbery exists in every collecting field. As you get older you realize that you really need to keep true to yourself and the things you love, in spite of whether others approve or not.
Only that way can you be really happy.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Latest Majolica Reproductions

For any collector or dealer it's important to keep up to date on the latest majolica reproductions.
Some are better than others. Most are not marked and intend to deceive. 

Here are a few I've seen online recently.

As I have said many times in the past, there's nothing wrong with buying a reproduction so long as you know that is what you are buying. My problem is always with those who choose to misrepresent the article as an antique, like the "marked Etruscan" asparagus mug. 
If you know what is available in the marketplace you're in a better place to make an informed purchase.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Celebrity Majolica: Whoopie Goldberg's Majolica

On September 27, the Dallas Heritage Auction Gallery will offer for sale a large group of decorative arts belonging to actress Whoopie Goldberg.

Among other things, the auction will include Limoges and Fiesta dinnerware, silver and McCoy as well as four pieces of majolica.

For more information on the auction go to the Heritage Web site or for a complete listing go to the Live Auctioneers online listing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rare or Desirable?

Recently a dealer contacted me about a piece of majolica I had described in this blog as "very rare." He wanted to know if this "rarity" translated to a very high monetary value for said piece. I had to admit to him that I didn't think it did.

"How can that be", he asked.

I told him that rarity does not always translate to desirability. The distinction needs to be made when one appraises the value of a piece.

It is desirability that establishes the price of a piece, not the rarity. Where the rarity of a piece of majolica may influence the demand for it, there are many pieces that are in great supply that still command high prices. In a situation like that. you're talking about relative rarity in relation to demand, not true rarity.

Take, for example, the classic George Jones strawberry server.

As far as a piece of majolica goes this server is pretty common. It's not at all unusual to see several offered for sale at a large antiques fair. Still, the piece demands a price of about $1,000 because many people desire it as part of their collections.

Now compare that to this extremely rare piece of Etruscan Majolica.

There are only a few of these known to exist, probably less than six, yet at a recent auction this piece brought only $600. That's because fewer people collect Etruscan Majolica so the demand is simply not there.

Doesn't seem fair does it, but there's nothing fair about the marketplace.
It is simply supply and demand.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Majolica Classics: Minton Majolica Oyster Plates

Imitated by many yet matched by none, the Minton six well oyster plate is the standard against which all others are compared.

Made in a variety of different colors, the turquoise plate is the most commonly found of the colors and usually the least expensive for the collector.

 The most sought after plates in the series, however, are in other colors. The most expensive color is also the rarest, yellow.

Other colors in great demand are the cobalt, pink, lavender and malachite.

The malachite plates are made from two colors of slip covered with a tranparent green glaze. This gives the plates the appearance of being made of carved malachite. 

Beginners sometimes confuse the malachite plates with the mottled plates. The latter are not made from different colors of slip but instead two different colors of glaze applied to a regular earthenware base.

On very rare occasions Minton added hand painting, monograms or other custom adornments to their plates. These are quite beautiful and extremely difficult to find.

The reverse of all the Minton plates is usually turquoise or green and all are marked on the reverse with the usual Minton marks. With a variety of copies made by smaller potteries around the same time, these marks are a guaranteed way of identifying the Minton examples.The plate below bears the cypher for 1873.

Minton made other oyster servers as well.
The rarest is certainly their Pallisy style oyster plate which is almost never seen.

Other oyster plates had fish shaped wells, wicker grounds and wells in a variety of different shapes, colors and combinations. 

The company also made revolving tiered oyster servers in two sizes.
With the prices of most majolica having dipped significantly in the past few years, Minton's oyster plates have remained in demand among collectors. They remain a good value for the investor and a beautiful addition to any collection.