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

Monday, January 17, 2011

Majolica Spotlight: Wardle Bamboo and Fern

One of the many majolica patterns that came out of the Aesthetic Movement, James Wardle and Company's Bamboo and Fern is also one of the simplest in design--a simple ground of bamboo with two bamboo ferns laying across it. When I first started collecting majolica it was one of the first English designs that caught my eye for its simplicity and boldness. A picker I knew had a huge set of it in his home. What an imposing display it made! The umbrella stand alone is just stunning!

Designed around 1880 at the height of the influence of Japanese art and design on Western decorative arts, it was available in four background colors: brown, dark gray-green, yellow and very rarely turquoise.

It's quite an extensively realized pattern with pieces in all sizes and shapes. Like most Wardle patterns, the pieces are rarely marked but many of them do exhibit an English registry mark on the base.

Of the three available color grounds, the yellow is generally the most popular with collectors bringing prices about 50% higher than those of the brown or gray pieces.

The only available reproductions that I have seen are of the brown teapot directly below. While they may fool from a distance, on closer look they are crudely glazed with unglazed interiors. I would find it difficult to believe that they could fool any knowledgeable dealer or collector.

Wardle majolica was made to last, the pieces are heavy cast but the quality of the glazing is variable. There's nothing delicate about this stuff! Condition and craftsmanship are everything in deciding price with rarer pieces like the jardinières and umbrella stand bringing the highest prices.

Still, it is a nice pattern with roots dating back to an important period in the development of Western decorative arts. At a price point that everyone can afford, and enough availability and variety for any collector they make a good choice for the buyer looking for a pattern they can build on as the years pass.

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