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

Thursday, May 3, 2018

New Discoveries in American Majolica

The Bard Graduate Center recently hosted a lecture by Research Associate Dr. Laura Microulis on her research into American majolica. The lecture concentrated on the work of the Peeskill Pottery, Arsenal Pottery and Eureka pottery. While most of her work on the Peeskill Pottery and Arsenal Pottery was basically a repackaging of information which had been published before–both in this blog and in other reference material– her research on the Eureka Pottery was new and important.

Tenuous Majolica teapot from the Peeskill Pottery
Photo of the Mayer bros, founders of the
Arsenal Pottery, from the Bard lecture
Dr. Microulis offered the theory that much of the work previously attributed to Eureka was in fact potted by other companies from the area. Speaking for myself, her attribution of the famous majolica Fan Ice Cream pieces to the nearby Willets Manufacturing Company’s Excelsior Pottery instead of the Eureka pottery resolves an issue I have had with the Eureka attribution for many years. This original mistaken attribution gained prominence through the Charles Rebert book  American Majolica 1850-1900 and the Mariann Katz-Marks Majolica Pottery books of the 1980’s. These reference books were the very first books on the identification of American majolica to reach wide circulation. As such they’ve had a disproportionate effect on the information that has circulated since.

M. Charles Rebert majolica reference

Photo of "so called Eureka" wares from Rebert's American Majolica 

The most recent edition of the Mariann Katz-Marks book
The Fan Ice Cream set bears none of the familiar characteristics of known, marked Eureka pieces. The glazes are different, the reverse is glazed differently and the design and craftsmanship is more sophisticated. I have actually wondered if this set was in fact English but all the known literature attributed the pieces to Eureka.

Dr. Microulis has uncovered the previously unknown existence of a major American majolica manufacturer who created these pieces. Willets was a large Trenton company best known for their American Belleek and art pottery. What was not known until recently was their contribution to American majolica.

Advertisement from Crockery & Glass 1882 listing the Fan Ice Cream Set
featured in the Bard lecture.

In addition to work of the Willets Company, Dr. Microulis identified pottery shards in South Carolina which copied Eureka's molds. There doesn't seem to be any proof as yet that the South Carolina Pottery Co. created copies from these Eureka molds but the indication of the possibility of these copies is clear.

Pottery shards from the S.C. Pottery Co. (right) that
copy the Eureka holiday plate
There was one small error in the attribution of the Eureka Hare butter dish design. It is not an original design as Dr. Microulis claimed but a copy of a William Schiller & Sons design. Other companies copied this design as well so the confusion is understandable.

Eureka Hare butter dish

Eureka butter dish underplate showing the classic
Eureka mark and sponged reverse.

Schiller & Sons  caneware butter dish

Dr. Microulis's groundbreaking work is in conjunction with an exhibition of English and American majolica to be staged in 2019. Her lecture adds significant new information to the literature on American majolica and is worth the time for anyone interested in the history of American majolica pottery.

The lecture in its entirety can be viewed online here.


  1. Hi--thanks so much for your review of my lecture and referencing the Schiller design source. Would you mind sharing your email address so that we could correspond further?