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

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.

25 comments:

  1. Thanks for this posting! My husband and I were left with a George Jones game pie bowl but until my husband ran across your blog we have no idea about it.
    We are still a bit lost on what some of the identifying marks mean however. Here's an overview picture of the bowl we have: http://www.fenchurch.org/priv_cgi-bin/ids/index.cgi?mode=image&album=/Nikon_D7000/2013/House_Items&image=DSC_0982.JPG

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    1. Very nice piece.
      In the GJ pattern book it's a late entry and is called the Boar's Head Game Pie Dish. It came in several different color grounds but yours has the most desirable color, cobalt. These game dishes originally came with a buff earthenware liner for oven use.
      Your dish was most likely made sometime in the early 1880's.

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  2. Thank you for the very informative article! According to this, I might have just stumbled upon a large George Jones majolica jardiniere in superb condition from the 1860's !?!
    Can you please confirm it from the following pictures? Thank you warmly!
    https://www.dropbox.com/sh/2mnc10w03yhsquu/AABdGjVPQzbdbrEoMdAdJgQpa

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    1. Yes indeed, you appear to have a GJ jardiniere.

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  3. Hi,
    I have an monkey vase, identical with George Jones pieces, but isn`t signed!
    Would you be so kind to have a look on my website - http://aradproart.blogspot.ro/ and tell me your opinion about it!
    Thank you, Alex M

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    1. Hi Alex. Your vase is not GJ. Actually I don't know its age or if it's even majolica. It certainly looks nothing like any Victorian piece I've seen before. If I were to venture a guess on what it is I would say it looks like a late Twentieth Century piece created for the decorative market. Best of luck with it!

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  4. Thank you for your response!
    Best Regards,Alex

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  5. I think I have a George jones heron but the marks arnt very clear could you help

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    1. I assume you're referring to one of the large majolica heron vases. To the best of my knowledge George Jones did not make one of these. Minton, Holdcroft and Massier however did make them. Minton pieces are almost always marked on the underside. They would have the name Minton, a date cypher and possibly marks relating to the English registration. Holdcroft pieces are sometimes marked and sometimes not marked with an JH in a circular mark or the word Holdcroft in a line. Massier pieces usually have a written mark in black on the underside.

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    2. It was about 12 inches tall with a pattern number and another Mark which is hard to make out
      Thanks for your reply

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    3. It sounds like one of the continental heron vases. They are about that size and usually only marked with a pattern number. Of course there is no way to say for sure without seeing it.

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  6. This thing is baffling me. It seems abnormal for a George Jones as most his stuff is nature themed. Can you tell me anything about ithttp://imgur.com/a/392Sq

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    1. The company that made George Jones majolica was a large one that operated for almost 90 years. Although majolica was the pottery that initially put them on the map, it was not the only type of pottery the company manufactured. It made a full line of art pottery, fine china and sanitary wares. The transfer ware in your photograph was, as it was for most manufacturers of pottery, the bread and butter of their operation. It was cheap and easy to produce and made up the majority of their production. It had no relationship to the majolica of their earliest years. In fact the company continued pottery production for 65 years after it ceased making majolica.

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    2. Thanks for the response! Do you know if "mistakes" lower the value? I actually think the painting mistakes are neat. Adds character I guess. This one has a smudge at the top of the pitcher and the painting didn't quite get done within the lines.http://imgur.com/eFCNPoH

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    3. Not really. It's understood that these were all hand decorated and there are bound to be variations from piece to piece. Most transfer work was done by young women and girls who were expected to decorate a certain number of pieces each hour. Quality was secondary to volume.

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  7. I have seen firing holes in feet of jardiniere and the like. Do genuine Victorian objects have firing holes inside feet?

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    1. We have seen it but it isn't that common. It is more commonly seen on larger items. Holes are placed in hollowware pieces to prevent them from exploding when they are fired. The hot air inside the item expands with the heat and will explode a ceramic if there is nowhere for it to escape to. Victorian wares were slip cast in general. Items such as feet, handles, etc. were usually solidly molded separately from the body and attached before firing by a ceramic joiner. That would not necessitate a hole to prevent it from exploding. However there is always the exception to the rule. Large complex molded designs where the foot is too large to be solidly molded and joint cast in two or more separate molds would require a hole.

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  8. I have purchased numerous books on Majolica and though they have lovely color photos, rarely do they show photos of the bottoms which would be equally illuminating. I figured I could learn by viewing expensive items on ebay because they generally have photos of bottoms, but I still have the problem of knowing, "is this piece genuine?' I was looking in one venders store, and along with his expensive majolica pieces labeled George Jones, was this horrible bird on a plate, clearly a funky reproduction, labled George Jones. I contacted them and they remarked, 'we got these from a French family and they said they are all real." Really? What happened to due diligence. It's very hard to find real majolica in antique stores. I'm looking all the time and RARELY come across a piece. Wish there were more photos of correct bottoms out there! Any good book you can recommend on the subject? I appreciate your sharing!

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    1. Our guess that the reason you don't see more photos showing the underside of pieces is because most manufacturers were consistant in the handling the bases of their wares. If you've seen one George Jones plate reverse, you've seen them all. Most books will show at least one example of a company's reverse glaze treatment for reference e.g. snakeskin mottling for George Jones, solid white or tortoishell for Wedgwood, solid yellow or brown sponged for Adams & Bromley, etc.
      In our book on Etruscan Majolica, "Etruscan Majolica: The Definitive Reference to the Majolica of Griffen, Smith & Company," we show the four most common reverse treatments used by the company.
      In cases of unmarked manufacturer's pieces, only the experience of viewing dozens of pieces of similar majolica will give you the type of guidance you are looking for because of the wide variety of companies that made majolica.

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  9. I have a large majolica cake plate set and would like your comments on it. I bought it at a flea market in Paris. There are no markings on the bottom, but its in perfect shape, no chips. It is 'brown bamboo with green leaves and pink flowers. It has a lid about 14 inches tall and about 12 inches wide. I'm trying to figure out how to send you pictures!

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    1. The only cheese dish I can think of with that description is the GJ fence cheese keeper but I'm sure there are others as well. You can take a look at the GJ piece in our post on George Jones cheese domes. The only way to make an accurate identification on your own piece is to have it looked at by a specialist.

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  10. Hi Jimbo. a majolica squirrel nut vase is up for grabs in a local auction, and I am trying to authenticate it. I have an image of the makers mark, just as you describe, with the thumbprint and hand written 1515 1/4 with an 11 underneath. Just wondering if I posted the picture, could you take a look? with thanks, Jennifer

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    1. It doesn't sound like a familiar form but I would certainly be interested in seeing it.

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    2. Sorry Jimbo, I meant to say "nut dish" - it is not a vase. It went for $75 CDN at auction and I only bid up to $50 so did not get it. I didn't bid any higher because the nut was missing from the squirrel's paws, so I thought the value would be somewhat diminished. I do however think it was original, given the markings on the bottom. I am not sure how to post an image on here otherwise I would show you..
      Thanks very much again, Jennifer

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    3. Your decision not to bid higher was the wise one. Whereas damage in majolica is somewhat more acceptable than in other types of pottery, pieces with missing sections are never a good buy.

      There are many image hosting services available on the Internet. Sites such as Photobucket are free and easy to use for the occasional upload.

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