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

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Majolica Garden Seats

It was a matter of chance that the British abolition of the glass tax in 1847 and window tax in 1851 happened around the same time as the invention of Victorian majolica. The vast English upper and middle classes had entered an era of ostentatious wealth where conspicuous consumption was the fashion of the day and nothing said wealth to the Victorians like the luxury of the home conservatory. New exotic species of plants, flowers and fruits were appearing from the far corners of the vast British empire and the only way to enjoy these things were in a greenhouse.

The history of greenhouses goes back to Roman times but the reemergence of the greenhouse in the last half of the 19th Century was the perfect opportunity for majolica manufacturers to use the environment to expand their list of products. Home conservatories became the center of entertainment in these newly wealthy households and majolica was great for grabbing attention.
Fountains and garden seats, formerly the domain of the iron trade emerged in the colorful majolica shown by Minton at the London Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851. Where the majority of the majolica fountains created during this period have since deteriorated the garden seats have remained for the modern collector to enjoy.

All of the major English potters made garden seats. Minton, Holdcroft, Copeland, Brown, Westhead & Moore, and Wedgwood produced these in prodigious quantities, usually with the same conceits that influenced their other wares. All of the major design styles popular during the time influenced their look: neo-gothic, Egyption revival,  naturalism, Eastlake,  Japonisme and  Orientalism all appeared.

If you have your heart set on a garden seat, you better have a healthy bank account. Garden seats do not come cheaply. While you can pick up some unmarked examples in the $500-$600 range, expect to pay 2-5 times that for a marked example from a major potter with many designs going for several times those prices.

Still, it is a lovely addition to a collection and one that says boldly, "I love majolica!"

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