When Minton & Company of Staffordshire exhibited a new line of ceramics at The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, the firm called it Palissy ware. The name came from a 16th-century Frenchman named Bernard Palissy, whose vividly colored, high-relief, lead-glazed plates, platters, and pitchers had inspired Minton’s new, French-born art director, Léon Arnoux.
The word majolica was also used to describe the ware, since it had some commonalities with the tin-glazed 16th-century Spanish and Italian earthenware of the same name. But even though Palissy ware was a more accurate description of Minton’s new line, the work quickly became known as majolica.
Before long there was a majolica renaissance in Europe and the United States. A great deal of it was made in Italy by firms such as Ginori and Cantagalli. In Germany, the Royal Porcelain Manufactory was known for its majolica.
What these companies shared was a vocabulary of images and style that was at once exuberant and uniform. All used bright colors splashed on reliefs of plants and animals. This was fun ware for the common man, and it sold as quickly as Minton and others could produce it.
Naturally Wedgwood and other Staffordshire stalwarts wanted a piece of this action, even though Minton had about a 10-year head start. Predictably, Wedgwood majolica was more formal than Minton’s and used humor with restraint. While some potteries were producing teapots in the shapes of cauliflowers, Wedgwood stuck mostly to basket-weave patterns and relief foliage on the outsides of its standard shapes.
In the United States, a similar fascination with majolica took hold around the same time as the Minton debut. As in England, potteries coated their ware with clear glazes, so that the pieces positively shined. Griffen, Smith & Hill was one prominent Pennsylvania manufacturer, who sometimes marked its pieces with “G.S.H.” or labeled them as “Etruscan Pottery.”
Other American companies known for their majolica in the second half of the 19th century were Morrison & Carr, Chesapeake Pottery, and Edwin Bennett. They produced relish dishes,...
One of the most popular majolica forms was the pitcher, which was sometimes designed to appear as if it had been formed from vertical slices of wide bamboo, with more slender bamboo branches employed for the pitcher’s handle. Other pitchers resembled ears of corn, while syrup containers were routinely festooned with fat sunflowers or clusters of lily leaves and flowers.
There were platters and plates, or course, with leaf-shaped plates being a collectible subcategory all its own (begonia leaves were especially popular). Sardine boxes and cigarette holders were also produced—many were topped by African-American figurals, known then as now as blackamoors. And animals from bulldogs to pigs were deemed the perfect shapes within which to store tobacco.
If there was a dark side to the sunny look of majolica it was the process of making it. In 19th-century America, young girls did much of the painting, usually earning as little as 25 cents for a 12-hour day. This was well before child-labor laws, so the idea that these children were expected to work long hours and handle lead glazes was not seriously questioned until the first part of the 20th century. Not surprisingly, the difficult conditions produced work that was often sloppy, as anyone who has seen a majolica vase with colors radically out of register or running down the side can attest.
By the 1890s, the majolica craze was ending in the United States—the technique looked a bit too baroque compared to the ascendant Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles. While majolica persisted in Europe, pieces from the 20th century are generally thinner and feature less dramatic relief than those from the century before, which makes them less interesting to collectors.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Cowan Pottery Museum Associates
The Pottery Studio
Clubs & Associations
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Majolica
Source: Google News
Shop Local: Back in TimePalm Beach, March 25th
Once the stuff of common folk in Victorian England, the dynamic tin glazed earthenware known as majolica is now considered high society because of collector demand. Colorful decorations—which often include fruit, vegetables, birds, seashells and...Read more
Best Bets: Week of March 23, 2015New York Magazine, March 22nd
(Photo: Courtesy of the vendor). “This set of four majolica plates ($1,000) by Wedgwood dates back to the late 1800s. They're great for serving salad or dessert, or for wall decoration.” Related: Archive: “Best Bets”; Articles by Emma Whitford. Share...Read more
Auction Watch: For-sale items span the globe in terms of topics, originTribune-Review, March 22nd
The diverse selection features fine china, samplers, quilts, frakturs, crocks, majolica, pottery, paintings and prints, toys, old books, tintype photos, clocks, silver, 1950s and '60s LPs and 45s, pinup and advertising calendars and 1930s and '40s...Read more
2 heavy collectibles, but only one carries a hefty priceTheNewsTribune.com, March 20th
The fakes are generally of majolica or tin-glazed ceramics originally made in Austria and Germany. We have not as yet seen replicas of these plainer glass and metal ones, probably because they fall into the lower end of the value range for humidors...Read more
Bring the beauty of botanicals to your homeThe Detroit News, March 12th
Majolica plates are one of my favorites for spring. At Nell Hill's, we paired a majolica dinner and salad plate duo with a larger white dinner plate used as a charger and an adorable footed bowl featuring a bird right in the center. You don't have to...Read more
Salisbury motorcyclist killed in two-vehicle Majolica Road crashSalisbury Post, March 8th
Police investigators continue to look into the death of a motorcyclist involved in a two-vehicle accident Sunday afternoon. Salisbury Police, Salisbury Fire Department and Rowan County EMS responded to 1085 Majolica Road at 2:35 p.m. regarding a...Read more
Fine Majolica at AuctionMaine Antique Digest, February 23rd
At the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in Hyde Park, London, Herbert Minton introduced Victorian majolica, a new line of ceramics based on Renaissance designs and natural forms with rich lead-glazed colors: bright green, yellow, turquoise, and deep...Read more
Marvellous majolicaTelegraph.co.uk, September 29th
Twenty five years ago, in Britain, majolica was seriously unfashionable. Most ceramic dealers and collectors ignored it, feeling that this flamboyant expression of High Victorian taste was totally out of step with minimalist "modern" aesthetics. Not so...Read more