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

Friday, July 31, 2015

Majolica in the Movies: "From the Terrace"

Who would have suspected that a steamy pot boiler from 1960 with husband and wife team Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward would have a piece of majolica prominently placed in one of the sets?

For those who are not familiar with the storyline, Paul Newman is a young, ambitious business man unhappily married to socialite Joanne Woodward. On a business trip to Pennsylvania he is invited to the home of an associate for dinner.

Well of course, this business associate has a lovely young daughter, played by Ina Balin and a majolica owl pitcher! It's love at first sight, not for Paul and the majolica but for Paul and Ina. They decide not to pursue their feelings because of Paul's marriage to Joanne... at least not at first.

Which one is prettier?
The majolica shown is an odd choice for set dressing in this story. It's a figural owl pitcher. I suppose the rustic quality of the pottery is intended to communicate that this home is in a rural part of Pennsylvania, but it's really the only thing in the home, aside from a Staffordshire dog, that is the least bit "country-ish." The home is actually closer to a small mansion. (There are a lot of mansions in this movie.)

A better choice might have been a piece by the Etruscan Works because of the Pennsylvania setting, but I suppose we can't quibble. It's the only piece seen but it's always fun to spot familiar majolica in an unexpected place like this.

Oh, in case you are interested, the movie has a happy ending that doesn't involve Joanne but does involve the owl pitcher, at least by association.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Art of Majolica: The Art of Robert Strong Woodward

If you're not an art collector or a resident of Western Massachusetts you probably haven't heard of Robert Strong Woodward.

R.S. Woodward was born in Northampton, Massachusetts in May 1885. At the age of 21 he suffered an accidental gunshot wound that left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down. In spite of his infirmity he decided to make art his life's work.
He settled in Buckland, MA where he started work first as a commercial artist and later a painter of the rural life he loved so dearly. He gained a reputation for his rural landscapes and scenes of New England and soon his work was gracing the walls of Robert Frost, Burns & Allen, actress Beulah Bondi and fellow artist Rockwell Kent. At the time of his death in 1957 he left a large body of work encompassing a number of different media: oil paint, watercolor, charcoal, pastel and crayon.

R. S. Woodward was also a majolica collector who occasionally used his collection as props for some of his paintings. The photograph below shows his studio and his collection a few years before his death.

After his passing his studio was maintained as a museum and is open to the public; below, his studio and his majolica collection today.

Throughout his studio you can see the many artifacts used in his still life paintings. Below, his painting, "A White Day" features his George Jones Chestnut leaf plate and parrot pitcher.

Woodward's George Jones Chestnut leaf plate.
He also maintained a detailed diary entry for each work.

"Painted 1949. My little S.E. window, back of the easel, painted so many times. In this one the view outside of the orchard with tree and landscape pure white with the very essence of winter, seems to dominate the canvas. A ‘white’ light pours in the window and onto the shelf and the objects on it. To the left foreground, running out of the bottom of the picture, against the woodwork, an ivy plant in brown pot, back of it the lavender bottle and a candlestick, on the shelf by it, a small green majolica butter dish. To the right, my horse chestnut leaf majolica plate stands against the window, subtly silhouetted against the pure white snow, and standing against it and the dull red curtain, is the cockatoo majolica pitcher, a couple of small books lying flat to the right of its base. 

Below a painting done on commission, "The North Window"

This painting, from 1951, features a majolica owl pitcher.

A detail of the owl pitcher in "The North Window"
Woodward's majolica owl pitcher
"Painted in winter (Jan.) of 1951.   Painted expressly for Mr. and Mrs. ..........with motifs in it they spoke of wanting when they came up to see my paintings the day before Christmas.   Outside the N. window, both my barn and Gould’s barn with light snow in the air.   Inside red curtain to the left.   To left of shelf, owl majolica pitcher (owned by the ...........) close to an apple.   To the right center, blossoming pink geranium (2 apples at base of pot and also small open book), to right large green bottle with lavender smaller bottle beside it.   Row of small books at extreme right.   Bought by Mr. and Mrs. ..........., Feb. 1951.”

Still, it is his rural landscapes for which he is best known.

For more information about R.S. Woodward go to the website tribute to his work, the source for the photos and information for this post maintained by the Friends of Woodward. 

Robert Strong Woodward

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Boteler Majolica Oyster Plate

On June 16, 1874 the United Stated patent service issued patent 7,491. It was the first patent for an oyster server ever issued by the United States government.  The registrar was the ceramics importer and retailer John W. Boteler of Washington D.C.

This server consisted of four wells for oysters, a center well intended for lemon, salt and/or pepper and a large handle for ease of service.

The company of J. W. Boteler & Brother was a struggling importer of ceramic ware whose fortune had yet to be made. Founded in 1867 the small company did all it could to distinguish itself from large national importers like E.V. Haughwout of New York.

In 1874 and again in 1875 Boteler developed patented designs that were meant to be licensed by pottery companies for the production of unique ceramics. The first of these was the Boteler oyster server. The second was the Boteler luncheon plate. Where the Boteler luncheon plate didn't find a ready market the Boteler oyster server did. Several European and American potteries licensed the Boteler design for their own version of the plate.

Haviland, Limoges Boteler oyster plate

Usually found in porcelain, Haviland & Co. was probably the best known of the companies that made the Boteler oyster plate, but the Boteler design was also produced by two majolica manufacturers.

George Jones created a Boteler oyster plate in the same style as the Haviland model.

George Jones Boteler oyster server
An unknown palissy manufacturer also created one somewhat closer in design to the original Boteler model.

Palissy majolica oyster plate
Both the palissy and George Jones designs usually bear an impressed mark on the reverse that mentions the Boteler patent certification. This patent certification protected Boteler's design for three and a half years.

All Boteler oyster servers, including the majolica Boteler plates, are hard to find today and command a premium among collectors.

Boteler & Brother remained in business until 1881 at which time the name changed to Boteler & Son. They achieved their greatest success at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition where they sold souvenir copies of the 1861 Lincoln presidential china manufactured by the same company that produced the original, Haviland & Co. of Limoges, France.

Following the fair they furnished replacement dishes for the White House service for many years. Today these copies can be found in museums throughout the U.S. The White House's Boteler replacements are marked on the reverse with the Boteler name.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Myth of the 7" Wedgwood Majolica Oyster Plate

I think everyone understands the "nails on a chalkboard" syndrome. This is how I feel whenever I see a 7" seafood plate in the "Ocean" pattern by Wedgwood sold as a small size oyster plate. Call it a pet peeve if you wish but it drives me crazy! It's just not a small oyster plate! Now I know there are those who would disagree with this assessment but allow me to make my point.

When I first started buying majolica I was particularly attracted to the Wedgwood "Ocean" pattern. I even did a blog post about it during the first year I had this blog. As such I have paid particular attention to the pattern and its various ocean themed serving pieces. Like many Wedgwood oyster plates I've always felt that the oyster plate in this pattern is one of the finest pieces in the service. The "Ocean" oyster plate is 9" in diameter and deeply sculpted to allow for the serving of five oysters and a dipping sauce.

Wedgwood Argenta majolica "Ocean" oyster plate
In addition to this plate Wedgwood created a number of other plates for seafood use, including the well known large shell dishes that make up part of the fish service, two matching platters and a smaller 6" version of the shell plate for salad or whatever.

Wedgwood Argenta majolica "Ocean" fish platter
Wedgwood Argenta majolica 9" "Ocean" fish service plate
Enter Mariann Katz-Marks and her Collector's Encyclopedia of Majolica. We have written about the influence of Ms. Katz-Marks' books before. As the first real majolica identification guide available on the market it became an invaluable resource for collectors and dealer alike. The book became the reference of record until the Karmason-Stack book Majolica: A Complete History and Illustrated Survey became available several years later. Since the publication of the latter book the Katz-Marks book has fallen to the wayside as other, better researched books became available, but the influence of the book on the early development of the American retail market is unmistakable. Unfortunately the many errors and biases in the Katz-Marks book were also perpetuated until they became part of the collector's lexicon. One of these errors is the identification of the 7" "Ocean" seafood plate as a small oyster plate.

7" Wedgwood Argenta faux oyster plate
Now why anyone would believe that this plate is a small oyster plate confounds me. It does kind of look like the "Ocean" oyster plate, yes, but the plate is essentially flat without wells to hold either oysters or dipping sauce. It is completely useless for the proposed purpose. Compare this flat plate to a real small size oyster plate such as the one below with deep wells, and you can see there is no mistaking the function of the real oyster plate.

Wedgwood small oyster plate
Besides, looking at it from a purely practical point of view, why would a small plate for oysters hold six oysters when the larger plate only holds five?

The answer to this quandary comes to us from the Wedgwood pattern books. A 9" version of this plate design also exists and it is just as flat as the smaller one. 

9" Wedgwood Argenta majolica "Ocean" "Seafood" plate
The Wedgwood pattern book identifies this larger plate as a "Seafood" plate. And there is your answer! The small plate is not an oyster plate but a general seafood plate or pickle to compliment the larger 9" "Seafood" plate the way the 6" "Ocean" fish service plate compliments the larger one.

I suppose it wouldn't bother me so much if it was simply a case of misidentification but the truth is that dealers are selling these small seafood plates as oyster plates and charging ridiculous prices for them.
This makes us all out for fools and no one likes being a fool.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Twins Separated at Birth

In spite of the creation of a registry system specifically designed to circumvent this very problem, the copying of designs between manufacturers was pervasive during the main period of Victorian majolica manufacture. Where it is well known that American companies like the Etruscan Works of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania copied numerous designs of European manufacturers, the same is true of potteries throughout Europe. In reality there are dozens of similar types of copies by European companies who learned by copying the large potteries. Here are a few of the most common ones.

One of the most frequently seen Victorian design copies is the Vine and Strawberry plate usually credited to Wedgwood. The pattern was copied by Brownfield & Son, Gustafsberg, Alcock, Edge Malkin & Co., Davenport and numerous small potteries who all did their own majolica copies of the piece.

Wedgwood Strawberry & Vine plate
Gustafsberg Strawberry & Vine plate
Brownfield Strawberry & Vine plate
Alcock strawberry & vine plate
Edge Malkin Company strawberry & vine plate
Another commonly seen copy is the Minton Six Well Oyster plate which became the standard for all oyster plates and as such, was copied by a number of small potteries in Europe.

Minton six well oyster plate
Minton copy by unknown potter
Minton copy by unknown potter
Minton copy by unknown potter
The Gorege Jones majolica acanthus leaf sardine box was copied by a number of potteries in Europe as well as the Etruscan Works in the U.S.

George Jones majolica sardine box
Copy of George Jones sardine box by unknown potter
Minton's Chestnut server was also copied by several potteries. Lunneville, Sarreguemines and St. Honore all did their own versions of the same piece.

Minton chestnut server
St. Honore chestnut server
Luneville chestnut server
Large potteries throughout Europe had their designs copied.

Wedgwood blackberry pitcher
Shorter & Sons blackberry pitcher
Blackberry pitcher copy by unknown potter
George Jones squirrel nut tray
Copy of George Jones by unknown potter
George Jones barrel hops beverage set
Copy of George Jones barrel hops pitcher
Wedgwood Argenta majolica St. Louis plate
Wedgwood St. Louis copy by unknown pottery
George Jones majolica cattails pitcher
Copy of George Jones cattails pitcher by unknown pottery

As George Bernard Shaw said:

Imitation is not only the sincerest form of 
flattery–it's the sincerest form of learning.