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

Friday, April 15, 2011

Majolica Spotlight: The Copeland Lotus Pitcher

In my previous post I wrote about the profound influence that I felt the Marianne Katz-Marks majolica books had on the early development of the contemporary majolica market. As an example I cited the GJ fence and daisy cheese stand. However, the piece I feel gained the most from Ms. Marks' books was the Copeland Lotus Pitcher.

Here is Ms. Marks' florid description of the Copeland pitcher from her first book, The Collector's Encyclopedia of Majolica:

"Clearly a masterpiece of design and workmanship, these pitchers rank among the highest achievements for English potters of the period."

If I had to choose a single piece of Victorian majolica that symbolized the early years of contemporary majolica collecting, it would have to be this pitcher. For about 15 years it reigned as the supreme example of the majolica manufacturers' art to contemporary majolica collectors, thanks to Ms. Marks telling us so. Every collector, from beginner to advanced wanted one of these in their collection. As a result, this modest little pitcher came to symbolize the bloated majolica market of the 1990's-2000's. It was virtually impossible to purchase one for under $1000 at auction with examples selling upwards of $2000-$3000 retail.

Certainly the design is lovely, an interesting meld of Egyptian Revivalism and the Aesthetic movement but there is nothing about this particular piece that demands attention beyond what one would expect from an equally well crafted pitcher by another manufacturer. It has a certain degree of name recognition in the Copeland name, but Copeland majolica has never been in particular demand by collectors, certainly not like Minton or George Jones.

The pitcher was made in a number of sizes from 2 Gill to 6 Gill and it is marked on the underside with the measurement unit. A gill is an old unit of measurement that represented four ounces of liquid, hence 2 Gill is equal to one cup. In addition to the different sizes the pitcher was also made as a syrup or tankard.

One of the most interesting aspects of this particular syrup is that it is not simply a regular pitcher fitted with a pewter lid. It has a totally different top molded into the body which makes for a beautiful fit for the metal lid. Compare the two examples below which are missing their pewter lids with the regular pitcher posted below it.

Like many other valuable pieces, this pitcher has been copied though the copies are not particularly good. Some enterprising manufacturer even made mugs to match!

With the diminished importance of the Marks books over the past few years, the prices of the Lotus pitcher have dropped dramatically. A 6 Gill example with a hairline sold for $350+ commission in the most recent Strawser auction. Fifteen years ago I sold a similar sized example with the entire top broken off and rebuilt for $1000.

What a difference 15 years makes!

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