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

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Antique Majolica Pattern Copies

Have you ever noticed that diamond shaped registration mark on the base of some English pitchers?


That's an English registration mark. It was an attempt by the English pottery system to date pottery designs and prevent companies from copying the patterns of one another. Unfortunately it didn't prove terribly successful because copies of well known patterns litter the pottery landscape. From the beginning, one pottery stealing the design of another has been an integral part of the pottery business. Majolica designs are no exception.

Take a look at some of these original majolica designs followed by their contemporary's copies.












In the United States the copying of English majolica patterns was particularly rampant. No company was more guilty of this than the Etruscan Works. A large percentage of their earliest designs were direct copies of English patterns. In my book on the company, The Majolica of Griffen, Smith & Company, I theorized that the original modeler of the majolica of the Phoenix Pottery was most likely one of the sons of an earthenware modeler for Wedgwood, Hamlet Bourne. This certainly would explain the large number of Wedgwood copies the company made in its earliest years. Hamlet's children would have been familiar with these designs, having grown up with them. Of course, there's no way of knowing for certain because all the company's original records were lost, but it does make some sense especially since both Bourne brothers were known to be working in potteries on the US east coast. Very few of these Etruscan copies of English pieces were actually marked. The reason for this is well known. The Etruscan Works didn't mark their English copies because they were trying to fool consumers into thinking that their pottery was fine imported ware.





As the company grew more assured they branched out into their own original designs and relied less on their copies of English patterns.

It's certainly possible that economics is the reason other small potteries both English and American, copied the work of large English potteries. My own thoughts are that they weren't so much trying to pass their work for that of the large potteries as they were simply copying proven popular designs. If you've compared the early copies to the original, there is no confusing the two.



So, how do these antique majolica pattern copies stack up price wise?
As is generally the case in most arts, the original is usually worth more than the copy. Of course, this isn't always the case. The Etruscan Works copied the oyster plate of the Union Porcelain Works, making only slight changes to the plate border. Now, the Union Porcelain oyster plates are quite sought after by collectors and they can bring hundreds of dollars for exceptional examples, but the Etruscan copies bring several thousand dollars at auction.



In some cases both the copy and the original will bring a similar price. This is particularly true when you have copies of pieces by lesser known potteries.  What matters more than lineage in these cases is color, craftsmanship and glazing.

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