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

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Book Review: "The Collector's Encyclopedia of Majolica" by Mariann Katz-Marks

If there was any reference that was responsible for assisting in the popularization of majolica in the US it would have to be the original Mariann Katz-Marks books Majolica Pottery: An Identification and Value Guide/1st Series & 2nd Series. These two paperback books were the first real collector's guides to the majolica market. Released in 1983 and 1985 respectively, they were the right thing at the right time.
Preceded about five years earlier by the Charles Rebert book, American Majolica: 1850-1900, they were the first user friendly reference to majolica with pricing, something the Rebert book decidedly was not. They also listed both American and English majolica, something else that was new to the majolica reference market.

Written by a dealer who appeared to have a modest understanding of majolica, these two references were for many years the only references available. As such they had an enormous impact on shaping the early majolica market. I've written about the influence of the Marks books before here and here and here.

In time other majolica books became available including the Karmeson-Stack definitive reference, Majolica: A Complete History and Illustrated Survey and the Marks books lost their monopoly of the market and with it their influence. In 1992, the two books were combined, reformatted and expanded into the hardcover The Collector's Encyclopedia of Majolica. It is this reference that I am reviewing today.

The content in this format has remained a useful reference, particularly for the beginning collector. Created in the usual unattractive, haphazard Schroeder publications style, the photographs are large and clear if unattractively taken against a yellow or grey ground. Light on information and heavy on images, it is exactly the kind of reference the casual collector loves, providing a good overview to the forms in which majolica is available. The photo captions are short and punchy, often betraying the author's clear bias towards American majolica. There is a very short and superficial history of the pottery and a section in the back of poorly photographed maker's marks. If the book has an obvious flaw aside from its hideous design it is in the lack of representations of Continental majolica. 

Like its paperback precedents the price guide is its weakest component, underestimating the prices of the English pieces and overestimating the value of the American ones. It is also more difficult to use than its paperback counterpart since it is now all located at the back of the book. This was certainly done to allow for easy updating.

Today, 29 years after the first Marks book was released, the book remains a good general reference for the beginning collector. The more sophisticated collector however, will come away wanting more substance.

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