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

Monday, May 30, 2011

Military Majolica

On this Memorial Day I thought I would highlight majolica with a military theme.
There is no majolica with any American military personnel that I am aware of, but there are quite a few French and Austrian pieces with military themes.

The first one that I became aware of is probably one of the strangest majolica pitchers I've ever seen. It was potted by the Orchies company to commemorate the Russian encroachment on the Far East. The pitcher is of a large Russian polar bear grabbing control of a Korean soldier. This invasion of Korea in 1898 ultimately led to the Boxer Rebellion and the Russo-Japanese War.

The majority of military themed items are less specific in nature and in smoke-related items. Some of these may have been famous figures that would have been familiar to the general population but I really don't know for sure.

There were also pitchers made of military figures.

Here is a Schiller vase with military figures that relate to Napoleon.

Here is a Sarreguemines pitcher of Napoleon and another unmarked of same.

Finally there is the wonderful Renaissance helmet pitcher made by Wedgwood.

With Memorial Day we come to the end of the Spring antiques season. Some of you will be traveling to Great Britain and Europe to advance your majolica collections while others will be heading for the beach. Whatever you do, be safe and have a wonderful summer!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy Birthday to Majolica

It would be inauspicious for me to ignore the anniversary of the debut of Victorian majolica which occurred in Great Britain one-hundred-sixty years ago this month.

Happy birthday majolica!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Spotlight: Wedgwood's Lincoln Pattern

Wedgwood's Lincoln pattern is certainly the least appreciated and most misunderstood of all of Wedgwood's majolica dessert patterns. In the 1870-80's while Minton and George Jones were finding inspiration in Classicism and the Art Nouveaux treatment of the natural world, Wedgwood embraced the radical new styles of Japanism that developed after the 1861 and 1878 International Exhibitions.

This Anglo-Japanese style was something that industrial designer Christopher Dresser championed during the development of the Aesthetic Movement and helped the style become one of the major influences on ceramic design in the last quarter of the 19th century. Where many smaller potteries utilized the style, Wedgwood was the only one of the three major British majolica manufacturers to develop majolica designs specifically featuring it. Its influence can be seen in Wedgwood's Fan, Palm, St. Louis, Grosvenor and Chicago patterns, but it developed full flower in the Lincoln pattern. The Lincoln name, in fact, became the umbrella under which several similar Aesthetic Movement patterns were marketed. These became extremely popular for the company, with over 56 different wares marketed under the Lincoln name.

There are three similar dessert designs marketed under the Lincoln name that I am aware of. All have similar decorative components and were designed to compliment the other Wedgwood Anglo-Japanese patterns. They mix very well.

They were developed as Argenta patterns but were also glazed in other color motifs as well.

(An interesting aside to this is that the Lincoln cheese bell is often found with the Fan base as in the example immediately below. Perhaps this mixing and matching of bases and lids was common, we don't know. The correct Lincoln underplate, shown three photos down, looks very different with a flat profile and chrysanthemum feet). 

The main components one finds across all of these patterns are abstracted blossoming Prunus branches against a simple, non patterned ground. 

One of the three designs has the same greek key border seen in the Palm wares. Two feature the stylized chrysanthemums from the St. Louis pattern. Another one has a wicker ground covering a third of the design with insects resting on top of it; the same wicker also seen in the St. Louis pattern (shown in the oyster plate below).

This bold use of asymmetry was typical of the Aesthetic style.

Today these styles strike most of us as odd in their abstraction. It's actually hard to believe they were created over 130 years ago. Where the concept of "more is better" is the common credo behind most Victorian design, these are very modern looking but cool in their austerity and in the simplicity of their geometric lines-- the exact opposite of what most collectors look for in majolica. Perhaps this is why Lincoln pattern wares are not very popular among general majolica collectors. They have never brought high prices. If you put them in context of their times though, they were an extraordinary adventurous step towards the development of modern ceramic design, something for which we should all be aware.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Happy Anniversary to ME!

Today is the one year anniversary of this blog.

In the past year we have made 135 entries on everything from mocha majolica (above) to packing for a move. We've posted 1600+ photos and enjoyed every minute of it.

For those who have followed the blog in the past year I want to extend my thanks and to those who have written, I appreciate your correspondence. I've learned a lot this past year and I hope that you have found something here to enhance your appreciation of the pottery we all love, MAJOLICA!

Friday, May 13, 2011

China Display

Recently I came across an interesting blog by interior designer Joseph Davis called Master Class: JPD School of Design Palm Beach, Florida
It's an useful guide by a professional on decorating and all thing related. In it he discusses his philosophy on such things as decorating for children's rooms, cleaning silk flowers and cleaning up pet urine, among other things. It's a light-hearted blog full of useful information all illustrated with beautiful photos taken from his portfolio and from the Internet.

The entry that caught my attention was his thoughts on displaying china in the home for maximum impact, Let's Dish It Up! His entry on majolica was a bit elemental but his advise on display was excellent.

Here is his list of do's and don'ts on china display:
  • NEVER display crystal or glassware in a cabinet. It doesnt have the color or interest and looks pretentious; clear items should be kept behind a closed door.
  • NEVER wallpaper the insde of a cupboard which will have finely detailed china in it, the patterned paper overwhelms it.
  • NEVER pack a wall-rack or hutch-top with so much china it heaves; it should have a "user friendly" look, not a "dont freekin' touch me or everything will crash to the floor" look...
  • NEVER display miniatures with standard sized items, it'll look like "Alice in Wonderland".....stupid.
  • NEVER put lots of different patterns of china in the same display vignette unless you have a good eye and design sense( too Sanford and Sons)
  • NEVER, ever, let some one tell you your taste isnt good, or it's wrong.  Your taste makes you unique. Certainly the world is full enough of mindless followers...be urself, buy what you like. However, let someone offer to help you display, or offer advice on procurement or collecting...you dont have to do it, but they just may have an idea you hadn't considered...
Check out his blog! I think you'll like it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

French Animal Pitchers

One of the most popular--and competitive--areas of majolica collecting is in French figural animal pitchers.

Every imaginable type of animal is represented on these pitchers from cats and bunnies to rats and lobsters. They were largely the work of the Sarreguemines and St. Clement factories but were also created by Frie-Onnaing, Fives Lille and other smaller potteries on the continent. They've proven so popular, in fact, that they are still being made today. (More on that later on in this blog.)

The pitchers bring very good prices at auction with the more unusual pitchers often bringing in excess of $500. The Sarreguemines animal head pitchers are probably the most sought after of them all, routinely bringing $800-$1200 at auction.

Some of the animal pitchers, with small alterations, can also be found as bottles.

Often sold as Absinthe bottles, there's no proof that I know of that connects the highly addictive liqueur with the bottles though it is true that they were sold as containers for some kind of liqueur. 
The bottles usually bring about the same prices as the pitchers with some of them having their own decorative cork stopper.

About Reproductions
As I mentioned earlier, many of these pitchers are still in production by the St. Clement pottery. To add to the confusion, St. Clement purchased the molds to many of the Sarreguemines pitchers and is reproducing them as well. They are being sold as reproductions by the factory, but unscrupulous dealers will often try to pass them off as antiques. There are ways, however, to tell the new pitchers from the old.

There's a very good article on this on the Shantique Gallery Web site. Here are some highlights from that article showing the things to look for:
  • Very glassy, glossy, glaze.

A very acid lime-green [glaze] used on the piece.
  • The wrong model numbers:  Most old St. Clement animal pitchers will have a 3 digit model number or a 3 digit with a slash and another number (222/4).  Please note, I said "most", not all.  There are a few rare examples of 4 digit animal pitchers.  The new animal pitchers usually have a 4 digit number.  For instance, the new cat pitchers carry the number 7486 on the base, while the old one has the number 525. The new monkey pitchers bear the number 7490 while the old ones have 435.

  • A Sarreguemines mold marked St. Clement: The two Sarreguemines molds used by St. Clement that I see most often in on-line auctions are the "Boar" (or Sanglier) with the number 5285 and the "Pink Pig" (or Cochon Rose) with the number 3318.  These are both Sarreguemines model numbers, but the pitchers are marked with St. Clement marks.