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

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Etruscan Shell Ice Cream Bowl

In the current issue of Majolica Matters, the newsletter of the Majolica International Society, Wanda Matthes writes about her visit to a majolica collector's home. Part of the article mentions viewing the collector's large Shell collection. As part of that collection Wanda makes a reference to our book, Etruscan Majolica, Volume 2.
The reference concerns the Etruscan M-6 Shell bowl.

Known informally as the Etruscan Shell Ice Cream bowl, the M-6 bowl is one of the most scarce pieces in the entire Shell catalog. An unconventional treatment of the Shell motif, very little is known about the history of the piece. It received the nickname of the ice cream bowl from the late collector Anna Stern who always referred to it in that way. It's entirely possible that she got that name from the former decorators of the Etruscan Works, many who she knew personally, but there is nothing in the surviving literature that backs that up. It is actually rather deep for a Victorian ice cream server. In the 1884 Catalogue of Majolica it is simply referred to as an 8" Shell bowl.

Its presence in the catalog gives us some information as to when it was created but having never seen the bowl in Ivory Ware or Venicine, tends to indicate that it is neither an early design nor a late one. Why it is so scarce is also a mystery. Most information points to the design being one that was discontinued soon after the publication of the catalog. The page on which it is shown was one of those removed from the Catalogue when it was redistributed after the 1884 Fair. Perhaps this is a reason why.

The bowl is generally found in one of two glaze combinations, the traditional one shown above and the green-lined example shown below, which also featured mottled shells.

Because of its scarcity there is no real established price point for the bowl as there is the other Shell bowls. I have seen examples priced as high as $700 and as low as $80. In any event it is a bowl that you as a savvy collector should not pass on should you come across one. You may never see another one again.


  1. I have one. We found it at a Salvation Army for 49 cents. The marking is on the bottom of the bowl. It is safe in my china cabinet.

    1. Congratulations! What a lucky find!