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

Monday, November 19, 2012

Wedgwood's Top Five Majolica Patterns

As some of you may know, Wedgwood named their majolica patterns. We know this from the entries in the Wedgwood pattern books. A study of these entries, one would assume, is a good indication of the popularity of individual patterns. Patterns with many entries are likely to be more popular than patterns with less entries. Some of these different pattern numbers may only be different colorways so we aren't necessarily talking about different designs. Still, for a collector this information can be instructional.

Maureen Batkin did a study of these patterns in her book Majolica: British, Continental and American Wares 1851-1915 and found that the patterns with the most entries were as follows:
  1. Fan (90 entries)
  2. St. Louis (79 entries)
  3. Grosvenor (79 entries)
  4. Italian (72 entries)
  5. Luther (70 entries)
There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to these names, with the exception of Fan and maybe Italian which are self explanatory. All but Italian are Argenta patterns and all but Italian, are heavily influenced by Japanese design. Of the five patterns mentioned, Italian is the oldest design, having been introduced in the early 1870's. Fan was introduced in the late 1870's and St. Louis, Grosvenor and Luther were all introduced in the early 1880's. We've written about a couple of these patterns before--Fan and St. Louis--so we won't repeat ourselves here, but we've never discussed the other three.

In auctions and shops, Grosvenor, St. Louis and Luther are generally identified as just being generic aesthetic patterns. Grosvenor and Luther are very similar to the casual eye and could be easily confused  but there are differences and I thought we could look at those here.

First, let's look at Grosvenor.

Grosvenor is distinguished by three distinctive decorative elements that are repeated on all Grosvonor pieces. The first is a thick border decorated with diagonal lines. Within this border is a second thick border made of rectangles within other rectangles. Inside this is a fish scale motif which fills the separate panels that make up the design.
It was the only Wedgwood pattern designed for dinner use, a break from the specialized use of the other Wedgwood tablewares. Considering this to be the case, we have never seen a complete set of dinnerware in this pattern. Still, it is an easy pattern to find and like the other Wedgwood aesthetic patterns does not command high prices.

The second pattern is Luther.

The most distinctive feature of Luther is the lattice design that fills the large spaces in between the narrow ribbed borders that divide the design. Instead of pots full of fruit bearing pomegranates there are flowering tree blossoms. Alternating panels have a thick frame that surrounds the lattice design. Like Grosvenor, Luther is also rather easy to find and generally inexpensive.

Both Luther and Grosvenor are commonly found in the U.S.
Italian however is not.

As you would expect from a pattern named Italian, this design uses classical motifs to populate the design. Like the other designs, Italian is divided into sections but in this case, the panels are utilized in an entirely classic manner. There is no severe abstraction as in Grosvenor and Luther, just an elegant, somewhat over-the-top collection of classical urns, garlands and acanthus leaves. Pomegranates also appear on this design as do flowering branches of different types.

Italian as a pattern seems to have been largely relegated to big pieces like jardinieres and pedestals and not tableware like the other four patterns in the top five. Perhaps this accounts for its scarcity today. When they appear at auction these pieces tend not to bring very high prices. The above example brought $600, not very much for such a large set but I have also seen the pedestal alone sell for $1200, so I guess it depends on the audience.

I want to add here that although these five patterns may have been popular enough at the time for Wedgwood to create numerous versions of them, they are not at all those most popular among today's collector. In fact the truth is quite the opposite. With the possible exception of Fan, aesthetic inspired Wedgwood designs are probably the least popular designs among modern collectors. More traditional Wedgwood patterns like Ocean are much more popular. Where other aesthetic patterns such as Chrysanthemum and Stanley have strong Japanese influence they are generally not considered Aesthetic Movement patterns by the layman and are highly coveted by collectors.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Minton Majolica Teapots: The Vulture and Snake Teapot

Honestly, is there anything more exquisite than a Minton majolica teapot? If you collect majolica, the answer is absolutely not! As anyone who collect majolica can tell you Minton, the creator of the form is still the master. The level of wit, craftsmanship and beauty Minton achieved has never been surpassed in the majolica body.

Of these the most ingenious Minton majolica teapot is also the rarest: the Minton vulture and snake teapot. Among the most valuable pieces of majolica in the world this design is remarkable in its design. The snake that's being attacked by the bird is both the teapot spout, handle and lid handle while the body of the bird makes up the container for the tea.

The teapot was designed by Colonel Henry Hope Crealock, a rather remarkable artist and military man. 
He gained his fame through his paintings and sketches of military life during the late Victorian period. They offered to the British public an intimate look of life in the British army during its great colonial campaigns in India, Africa, China and Russia. How he was engaged by Minton I don't know, but his choice of this classic theme of the triumph of good over evil seems a natural subject for him given his background.

Created in the early 1870's, this must have been a very fragile design because few have survived intact. The first time I saw one of these for sale was in an antiques co-op in the late 1980's. It had been broken into a dozen pieces and re-glued. Still it sold for $1,500 which seemed to me a remarkable price at the time for a piece that had essentially been completely destroyed. 

Today the price this teapot brings is outrageous. The example above which dates from 1873, sold at Christies in London for £22,100 ($43,139) in 2008. I think the record for this design must be the one that sold from the Karmason collection in 2005 by Majolica Auctions. It brought $71,875 (hammer price of $62,500 plus commission).  The most recent auction sales are down somewhat from that price. An example sold in November 2011 for $37,500

For those who can't afford such an extravagance, there are two limited edition reproductions available from the Minton Archive Collection from 1998-2001, a full color edition and an edition identified as Flambe

Made in an edition of 1000, these originally sold for $300 when new. They are now bringing about twice that at auction.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Majolica Pottery Marks: George Jones

George Jones majolica is one of the most coveted names in majolica. It's very easy to see why this is the case. Majolica made at the George Jones factory is some of the most elegantly designed, whimsical and beautifully crafted majolica ever created. The great demand for Jones majolica, and the great prices that the demand brings, have elevated the Jones name to the pantheon of fame and collectibility usually reserved only for great eighteenth century pottery names like Meissen or Josiah Wedgwood. And just like Meissen and Wedgwood, the Jones name is one of the most abused names in pottery. Some of this abuse is intentional, created by people hoping to make a dishonest buck but some of this abuse is simply ignorance based in the irregular manner in which Jones marked its majolica. Of the top three potteries in majolica--Minton, Jones and Wedgwood--Jones was the least consistent in the marking of their wares. The confusion this causes is hard for general pottery dealers and beginner collectors to understand, but it is this confusion we will try to clarify in this post.

George Jones was born in 1823. He began as a potter's apprentice in the Minton factory in the 1830's. From 1844 to 1862 he worked as an independent pottery wholesaler establishing relationships with many of the businesses in the Stoke-on-Trent area. In 1862, Jones opened his first pottery, one which produced utilitarian cream ware and toilet items. After a fire in early 1866 devastated his pottery Jones rebuilt and created a much larger facility now called the Trent pottery. It was then that Jones set up his own majolica works. Beginning in 1866 Jones began potting majolica in direct competition with the Minton and Wedgwood factories. By 1870 Jones' majolica developed a reputation for its quality and soon became a large portion of the company's business.

George Jones' Trent Pottery at Stoke-On-Trent c. 1865
Jones seemed to know that the key to great majolica was in the basic design of the ware. For this he depended on his designer John Bourne, and on his son, Frank Jones who was trained in pottery design in France. Perhaps this French connection explains the strong Art Nouveau influence on many GJ designs.
The great beauty of their work has rarely found an equal in nineteenth century English pottery being surpassed perhaps only by Minton. Add to that an appreciation for the impeccable craftsmanship that distinguished Minton and Jones majolica and you get a pottery that is spectacular in its beauty and glorious in its execution.

GJ Hawthorn Platter

Jones marked his majolica wares in a number of several variations of the impressed monogram "GJ". From 1866-1877 he used the simple monogram letters GJ either plain or enclosed in a circle .

A second mark used during this early period is an applied pad in a double gourde shape that is attached to the underside of the greenware before firing. This pad has the "GJ' monogram but also the words "Stoke on Trent" in a semicircle underneath it. Written above this GJ is the piece's shape number code from the company pattern books. This mark was in use until 1878.

A third mark found on Jones majolica is a simple oval shaped mark that kept the "Stoke on Trent" but also added "Stone China" to the impression. This too was used until 1877.

Although he had brought his sons into the pottery business as early as 1866 it was not until 1878 that he also added them to the company name. From this point on the words "and Sons" appeared on the majolica usually enclosed in a crescent moon shape. This quickly resulted in the nickname "crescent" pottery for the George Jones company, a name the company eventually adopted.

By the early 1880's a recession hit the industry hard and majolica sales declined. Most majolica manufacture at the GJ pottery ceased by 1886,  twenty years after the first introduction of majolica at the plant. The majolica molds were then used to create wares in other bodies.

George Jones died in 1893 at the age of 70. The pottery continued operation under different owners until it closed in 1951.

If these GJ marks were universally impressed into Jones majolica the way Minton's marks were universally applied to their pottery, it would be easy for just about anyone to identify Jones majolica. Unfortunately, Jones was not terribly interested in taking credit for all their products so these marks are usually missing from the underside of the pottery. In fact, it's probably safe to say that less than a half of the company's majolica output is actually marked.
This is where the confusion begins in identifying Jones majolica. This is why we need to rely on other characteristics and marks to identify Jones' wares.

One thing that remained consistent about the company was the application of their pattern numbers on the underside of their majolica shapes. As mentioned earlier, these numbers were taken from the company pattern books and were applied by hand on an unglazed area, or "thumbprint" as some call it, on the base of the piece.

The presence of such a mark is often the only way one can identify these wares as virtually all Jones pieces bear such a mark. If one looks up the above number in the surviving pattern books (available in the index of Victoria Bergesen's book Majolica: British, Continental and American wares 1851-1915), 3450 is the number for the Monkey handled tea ware.

Sure enough this number is on the underside of the matching tea tray.

Another mark seen in the above image is the English Registration mark. If we read the mark it tells us that this design was registered by Jones on June 26, 1875. That's not the date the piece was made, only the day it was registered. English Registration marks are common on Jones majolica but since they were also used by other potteries in Great Britain, its presence alone is not enough to identify a piece as having been manufactured at the Jones plant. Jones began registering patterns specifically intended for majolica in 1869. The last design for majolica was registered in 1882.
Below are a few pages from the registration books with Jones designs.

Other marks one may find on the underside are both capital letters and numbers which were part of Jones' pottery dating system, which was in place from 1862 to 1914. In this system the month was represented by numbers 1-12. The letter system is rather complicated involving large letters and small letters. It was compiled by Robert Cluett in his wonderful book George Jones Ceramics 1862-1951.

Another defining characteristic of Jones majolica is the distinctive mottled glaze on the underside. Very different from the tortoiseshell mottling used on the underside of Wedgwood or speckled mottling on the base of Holdcroft majolica, the Jones mottling was meant to represent a faux snakeskin. An example of it can be seen in the tea tray above. This mottling isn't always present--some hollowware pieces are glazed on the underside in ivory, pink, turquoise or the color of the obverse--but it is present most of the time and always present on flat ware like plates and platters.

Even though Jones didn't mark much of its majolica, identifying those pieces that don't bear the JG monogram isn't so difficult if you know what else to look for. With a little practice, anyone can learn to recognize them at first sight.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Wedgwood's Leafage

If you've collected majolica for any period of time you're very familiar with Wedgwood's green majolica ware. Many companies made green majolica but Wedgwood's are probably the most commonly found in the U.S.

These green plates have been in production at Wedgwood since 1757. They have simple designs that incorporate leaves and baskets. After Wedgwood began producing majolica in 1861 these green Wedgwood pieces were sold under the majolica banner. They are ubiquitous and a standard for decorators and other fans of country interiors.
Most of these designs belong to a grouping of foliate themed majolica Wedgwood called Leafage. But since the invention of majolica Wedgwood also began to produce full color versions of these same Wedgwood patterns.

They are significantly less common than the solid green plates and less collected too, but they are beautiful patterns that deserve their day in the sun.

All of these plates are commonly found only in monochromatic green majolica. The full color versions are actually rather rare but as you can see they can be stunning in their beauty and well worth looking for.