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.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Gouda Design

Gouda Design

Stuart Lonsdale and Kim Lindley's excellent tribute to and reference on Gouda Dutch Art Pottery and Delftware. The … [read review or visit site]

Cowan Pottery Museum Associates

Cowan Pottery Museum Associates

Dedicated to raising awareness of the ceramic art work of R. Guy Cowan and his Cowan Pottery Studio in northeastern… [read review or visit site]

The Pottery Studio

The Pottery Studio

This 7,000-plus page site lives up to its self-billing as a 'knowledge base' with examples of work from all major a… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Stunning 19thc Jose A Cunha Caldas Rainha Portugal Majolica Palissy Frog C1880sVntg 60s Hollywood Regency Italy Majolica Cheetah Leopard Bookends Mid Century Superb 19thc Majolica Pineapple & Leaves Jug Or Pitcher C1880sFinest Antique 19thc Cantagalli Italian Majolica Ewer / Jug - MaiolicaRare Huge Portuguese Portugal Palissy Majolica Pottery Platter 17" ShellfishRare Antique 19thc Cantagalli Italian Maiolica Majolica BowlSuperb 19thc Large Majolica Pineapple & Leaves Jug Or Pitcher C1880sSuperb 19thc Majolica Fish Figural Gurgle Jug Or Pitcher With Leaf Decor C1880sLarge Antique Majolica Plate With Dog & Dog HouseRare Antique 18thc Spanish Faience Majolica Triangular Condiment StandStunning 19thc Caldas Majolica Palissy Charger With Reptiles & Insects C1880sSuperb 19thc Large Green Majolica Frog FigurineVintage Antique Griffin, Smith & Hill Etruscan Majolica Oak Leaf Plate TrayAntique Majolica? Googly Eye Doll Figurine Lamp? Mystery Similar To Brownie Etruscan Majolica, 6 1/2" Fern Pattern Pitcher, Griffin Smith And HillTwo Antique German Majolica Rough Coat Collie Lassie Dog Figurine, Beautiful!Cute Palmer Cox Brownie Dutch Boy Figural Majolica Tobacco Jar HumidorSuperb Mid 19thc Majolica Sardine Box With Tray, Decorative Lid With Fish C1860sMajolica Blended Glaze Signed Pottery Barbotine Rose Footed Jardiniere PlanterAntique French Faience St Malo Polychrome Anne De Bretagne Armorial Charger Antique Majolica Butterfly PlateVntg Majolica Pitcher Basketweave Flower Dogwood Pink InteriorAntique Swiss Made Flower Decorated Thoune Earthenware Plate - Johann WanzenriedAntique English Majolica Plate Ferns & Chestnut LeavesScarce Old Antique Holdcroft Majolica Small Miniature Teapot Green Fruit W FlyArt Nouveau Factory Marked Majolica Pottery Porcelain Tile England Arts & CraftsVintage Majolica * Pear * In Perfect Condition (have Matching Lemon Listed )1800s Antique Etruscan Griffin Smith Hill Majolica Begonia Leaf PlateRare Whimsical Antique Clown Figural Tobacco Jar Majolica HumidorBeautiful Italian Deruta Pottery Madonna Della Robbia 6" PlaqueAntique Majolica Butterfly PlateRare 12" Griffin Smith Hill Majolica Etruscan Handled Tray Platter Plate 1880s!Vintage Etruscan Majolica Gsh Shell Seaweed Pink Green Brown Pottery 8+inch BowlVintage & Fabulous 11" Majolica Shell Pink Green & Gold Oyster Plate Wedgwood Majolica 3-3/4" Tall Match Striker, Green And Brown ColorationsVintage Majolica * Lemon * In Perfect Condition (have Matching Pear Listed Too)Antique 1880's Majolica Compote Antique William Brownfield Majolica Honeysuckle Vine Pitcher English CobaltRare Vintage Sarreguemines French Majolica Ornate Purple & Gold Picture Frame(4) Choisy Le Roi, Higgins & Seiter Majolica 8 3/4" Rabbit Plates - All RepairedMajolica Style Porcelain Dressed Monkey Holding Tobacco Leaf Flower Design VaseAntique Majolica VaseAntique Victorian Majolica Platter Eat Thy Bread With ThankfulnessMackenzie Childs Rare 1983 Box Bottom Courtly Check & RosesVintage Asparagus Platter & Basket / Rack Antique MajolicaBeautiful English Majolica Pottery Jug Pitcher Lilies/wild FlowersItalian Majolica Hand Painted Stoneware Plates, Della Robbia (7) Beautiful Set Of 8 Bordallo Pinheiro Leaf Design Salad/dessert Plates - MajolicaPretty/old Majolica B & L Gestzl Gesch Decanter Of A Hunting Hund, RareLarge Victorian French Fives Lille Majolica Cache Pot De Bruyn Flower Vase 1880Pretty/old Majolica Wedgwood Recticulated Cobalt Plate With Grapes & FlowersOld Collection 2 Ceramic European Wall Plates Fruit Glazes Spain Italy Majolica4 New Bordallo Pinheiro Portugal Yellow Double Bunny Rabbit 10" Dinner PlatesC1890 6 Well French Classic Majolica Oyster Plate 9 & 1/2"Italian Majolica Pottery Vase #352 By S-zeno Italy W/sailboat Mark LargeContemporary Majolica Pottery Vase 15" Flower & BirdRoseville Cobalt Flow Blue Swirl Design Yellowware Jardinière. Majolica PlanterMajolica Choisy Le-roi Pansy PlateBeautiful Classic Bordallo Majolica Handled Leaf Shaped Relish Divided ServerClassic Subtil Portugal Asparagus Shaped Majolica Serving Platter/bowl