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

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Majolica Showcase: Minton Majolica Tiles

A number of companies made majolica tiles in the last part of the Nineteenth Century and the first part of the Twentieth Century but without question, tiles from the Minton factory were the finest.

Minton produced tiles under a number of different names including: Minton & Co.(floor tiles until 1868 then wall tiles), Minton, Hollins & Co. (wall tiles), Mintons Ltd. The tile factory was separately housed from the pottery factory run by two of Minton's nephews, Michael Daintry Hollins and Colin Minton Campbell.

The history of the tile works is a complex one with acrimony arising between the two cousins after 1868 when the tile business split from the pottery entirely with one cousin maintaining ownership of the tiles works and one the pottery. Ownership of the Minton name was battled over for years until Campbell's death in 1887. At this point a third relative entered the fray, Robert Minton Taylor who maintained production of tile works under several names, including his own until 1963.

Still, it is the majolica tiles manufactured before Campbell's death that are those most sought by collectors. They can basically be divided into three types: traditional three-dimensional majolica, tube-lined majolica and pictorial majolica. A fourth type of majolica tile--those monochromatic tiles with transfer or hand painted decoration--aren't included here because they lack high relief, the three-dimensional quality that makes victorian majolica as popular as it is.
For the same reason that majolica was never used for dinnerware, decorative majolica tiles were deemed to be too soft to hold up to the rigors of daily use as floor tiles. Most majolica tiles were instead used on walls and decorated surfaces while encaustic or dust pressed tiles were used for the elaborate floor decorations Victorians favored.

All of these tiles were almost always marked on the reverse with the Minton mark.

Traditional Victorian Majolica:
Made in a number of different styles these tiles approximate the type of majolica processes that were then being used in Minton majolica pottery. These tiles have a deep three-dimensional field and are in quite a bit of demand by collectors. Some, like the corn tile, bring many hundreds of dollars in the marketplace.

Tube-Lined Majolica:
The most commonly found majolica tiles are the tube lined tiles. Tube Lined has a raised clay outline applied with the areas in between filled with majolica glazes, much like cloisonnÄ— or like a coloring book. These are the most reasonably priced tiles available with huge quantities having been produced in the art nouveau style.

Pictorial Majolica:
These tiles are sculptural in character with many of them representing historical events or mythological figures. These are generally monochromatic in color with high relief allowing the transparent quality of majolica glaze to accentuate detail through the pooling of glaze in the crevices of the design. Those with intricate modeling and desirable subjects usually bring high prices at auction though not generally as high as the traditional majolica tiles. The simpler ones were often used to break up large expanses of field tile by adding a simple decorative element without the addition of a second color. These are usually the least desirable of all Minton majolica tiles and sell quite inexpensively.

The Minton tile works sold many tiles through catalogs. Fortunately some of these have survived to give us a good idea of how they were used.

Buying Minton Tiles

Tile can be broken down into two basic types: decorative tile and field tile. Those that I've featured here are all decorative tile. Field tiles are those plain color tiles that make up the bulk of tiled surfaces.
As mentioned earlier, the majolica tiles that have 3-dimensional fields and a great deal of color are those most in demand and those that command the highest prices, some commanding many hundreds of dollars. The tube lined tiles are the most common and as such can be found quite reasonably. 

When buying tiles check the corners most of all. Many tiles are reclaimed; those salvaged from old buildings. These are most likely to have damage and should be carefully examined before buying. Some collectors do not mind buying tiles that have damage as long as it is in an area not visible from the front. Many tiles are also sold in frames. These too should be carefully examined in  the back to check for repair before buying.  Like any other type of majolica, tiles with repair will bring lower prices than those without.