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

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Majolica Pottery Marks: Minton Date Codes

One topic that comes up repeatedly on people's want-to-know list concerning majolica are the marks used by various potters to mark their wares. Those companies that marked their wares, and many of them did, were erratic in sometimes marking pieces and sometimes not marking pieces. This shouldn't come as a surprise when you consider that the production period for many of these wares often covered between 50 to 100 years. Even small potteries like the Phoenix Pottery that operated over a much shorter period of time were erratic. One company though, that was quite fastidious about marking their wares is the inventor of the majolica process, Minton.

Although Minton had been marking their wares since 1805, it wasn't until 1842 that Minton introduced on their earthenwares the series of date code marks that are we are familiar with on majolica today.


Beginning in 1851, around the same time as the introduction of the majolica process, Minton supplemented this mark by using the word MINTON or MINTONS in capital letters. In addition to these Minton often used three other impressed marks: a letter indicating the month of manufacture, a pattern shape number, and a potter's mark, though not all pieces will display all three.


Above is example of a typical Minton mark. If we check the chart above, the cypher impressed into the body indicates this piece was made in 1881. The impressed S tells us it was potted in September. If the English registration mark to the left were legible it would also give us the day of registration as well.
Minton majolica marks are always impressed into the body and always found on the base or underside of the piece. Occasionally a thick glaze will obliterate part of the mark so it may not be seen but it is almost always there. On large pieces the mark can be found on the foot or sometimes even the inside of the piece but considering the consistency the company had in marking its majolica almost all pieces are marked.

The method of marking proved so successful that some smaller companies adapted the use of these date code marks for their own pieces. To guarantee that a piece was made by Minton and not another company it is best to look for the impressed MINTON mark in addition to the date code when trying to determine the pedigree of any particular piece.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Majolica Classics: Cornbread Tray

If you're just starting a majolica collection there are certain pieces that you absolutely must have. These pieces are so widely acknowledged to be exceptional examples of the craft that a collection just wouldn't be complete without them. In classical music they use the term "warhorse" to describe these works. In popular music they're called "standards." Here, we have a series called "Majolica Classics" to acknowledge these pieces in majolica that are so widely admired.
This wonderful piece I'm inducting into this majolica hall of fame is the humble cornbread tray.


This pattern, by the English firm of Adams & Bromley, has a simple art nouveau flair that seems to appeal to everyone! I know that seems a bold statement but I honestly have never met a collector who didn't love this design.

My guess is that this tray, like many of the corn pieces made in Great Britain, were made with an eye towards the American export market, where the use of cornmeal was most common. It is found in one of two colorways: brown basket weave with yellow corn and green leaves; and yellow basket weave and corn with green leaves. To this best of my knowledge it was only made by the company in one size. I have seen smaller examples but they are always of inferior craftsmanship, which makes me believe they were copies, like the one below, made contemporary to the original by smaller potteries.


The company that made the tray also made a cheese stand with the same design and at least two pitchers that matched it as well, but it is the tray itself that entrances the viewer.


Today the pattern is generally found in the yellow version with the brown version considerably less common but they are both beautiful and a must-have for any serious collector.

As long as I have been buying majolica (almost 30 years) the price for the tray has remained pretty consistent selling in the $225-$400 range so it is within the price range for most collectors.

And even if it isn't, you just never know when you'll come across a bargain for less than that.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Majolica Napkin Plates


The napkin plate seems to be another of those peculiarly unique Victorian conceits. Made in a number of different bodies, napkin plates flourished in majolica, no doubt because the level of realism majolica offered. Popular in both Europe and the United States, most of the major potteries made some version of it.
For those unfamiliar with the design, a napkin plate tries to imitate the look of a napkin laid on top of a china or basket weave plate. The plate is always visible to some degree with the sole exception of the napkin designs made by Sarreguemines. These are designed to look like plates inside folded napkins.

In Great Britain, George Jones led the way with a number of different designs. Their Strawberry Server and Horse Chestnut designs are particularly well known, having been made in prodigious quantities. While white napkins are the most common on these designs I have also seen them in turquoise, cobalt and pink.







Minton made several napkin plates.



Wedgwood's napkin plate is particularly attractive with its checkered napkin.



This tazza, believed to be by Fielding, is also a napkin plate.


In the United States both the Etruscan Works and Morley Offered napkin plates...



...while on the continent, a number of companies embraced the form.












The egg basket  and box directly above are part of the series I mentioned at the start of this post, a large series made by Sarreguemines that uses folded napkins as a basis for containers and platters. It is the idea of the napkin plate taken to its logical conclusion: a napkin by itself as a plate. You really can't take this idea any further than that!