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

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Celebrity Majolica: Madoff's Majolica

In the middle of watching a program on the November 2010 auction of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff's estate, what should flash before my eyes but a handful of majolica pieces among the loot! I had never heard that Madoff collected majolica so my curiosity was peaked. What did Madoff collect?

It didn't take long before I discovered the complete listing online of Madoff's majolica collection. The listing claimed a collection of 21 pieces. Here is the listing as it appeared online:

21 piece majolica pottery collection. [5] pineapple pitchers of various sizes, [1] corn motif syrup pitcher, [2] wedgwood pierced edge plates, [1] floral border plate, [5] assorted small cabbage motif plates, [1] davenport grape plate, [2] leaf form plates, [4] modern large cabbage plates.

It's not a very impressive collection for someone who swindled people out of 65 billion dollars over a period of 30+ years but an interesting collection nonetheless. The lot brought $375 at the auction.

The Madoff's bought what they liked and they apparently liked earth tones. I found it ironic that among the pieces was a collection of pineapple pitchers. The pineapple is a traditional symbol of hospitality. Who knows how many of Madoff's guests who gazed on these pieces ultimately became the victims of his hospitality?

I guess we'll never know.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Another Etruscan Majolica Fake

I was cruising online the other day and came upon this pitcher for sale by a legitimate antiques dealer.

The pitcher is a fake. Not only is it a bad reproduction but to add insult to injury it bears a fake Etruscan mark on the reverse. This is not an Etruscan design.

I'm sure the dealer selling it has no idea it is fake either. No legitimate dealer would risk their reputation by selling an obvious forgery. The pitcher it is copying is show below, an unmarked American majolica pitcher by the Arsenal Pottery.

This pitcher above is being sold on Ebay as unmarked Etruscan, no doubt because of the presence of this copy. This form of disinformation only confuses legitimate buyers and sellers.

The reproduction has been available for several years now. Goodness knows how many honest dealers and collectors it has taken in. 
The mark is easy to detect as counterfeit. Like the fake mark on the base of the so called "Devil" mug the mark is reversed. (See our post on the Devil mug here.)
Unfortunately, the presence of fakes like this on the market do no good for anyone except the original seller. They demean the market and fool honest people.

There is another reproduction of the same pitcher also available. This one is not marked and is clearly sold as a reproduction by a company that retails reproductions. These unfortunately show up on the secondary market and are sold as antique by ignorant dealers. They are very successful at fooling people.

I would encourage anyone who sees these reproductions to say something to the dealer to get these things off the market or at least have them marked as reproductions. There will always be reproductions so long as there is a dishonest dollar to be made but that doesn't mean we should stand by and allow the market to accept them as old.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The National Archive of Great Britain

I recently came across a growing Web site that I thought may be of interest to majolica collectors. Since 2008, Great Britain has been digitizing, and making available online, the complete archive of government records open to the public. This includes birth and death records, service records and immigration records, but what should be of interest to majolica collectors is the digitizing of the British design registers of registered designs in Victorian Great Britain. While this is by no means complete, I believe it's about 5% of the entire archive, the records show a fascinating window into many of the majolica designs we know today.

Who, for example, knew that one of the most commonly available corn pitcher designs found in the majolica market today, was an 1869 registered design of James Ellis and Son?

Or who knew that the famous Samuel Lear Lily of the Valley pitcher of the 1880's was actually stolen from an 1866 registered design of James Edwards and Son?

Of course all the major British potters are represented with Minton and Co. showing the largest number of registered designs.

George Jones is represented on the archive as well.

Of course, Wedgwood is as well.

If you're interested in checking out the Web site go to: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/default.htm