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.

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