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 began as a potter's apprentice in the Minton factory in the 1830's. From 1844 to 1862 he worked as a pottery wholesaler, first for Minton then expanding his business, 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 by incorporating a neighboring pottery into his business. 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.
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.
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.
In 1878 Jones brought his sons into the pottery and promptly 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 wholeheartedly adopted.
If these 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.
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.