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    

Antique 19thc French Victorian Sarreguemines Majolica Pottery Flower PlanterSuperb 19thc Copeland Majolica Bowl Or Dish With Leaf Decoration C1880sAntique Majolica D & C Plate LeavesSuperb Pair: 19thc Majolica Seated Monkey Figures With Hat Candle Holders C1880sSuperb 19thc George Jones Majolica Plate With Strawberry Leaves On Napkin C1870sLarge Antique 19th Century Majolica Art Pottery Fish Tureen On Fitted Stand YqzMajolica Leaf Dish Plate Green Yellow Pink AquaSuperb Pair: Mid 19thc Emile Regal & Jules Sanejouand Majolica Plates C1860sBeautiful Antique French Majolica Oyster Plate C19th Talevera Majolica Inkwell And Quill HolderAntique Wedgwood Majolica Chicken 1877Great Antique Majolica Syrup Pitcher With Pewter Lid, Grape PatternSarreguemines Majolica French Faience Art Pottery Asparagus Large Vegetable TrayAntique Rare Unique Majolica 1890 Figural Clean Owl HumidorSuperb 19thc George Jones Majolica Plate With Strawberry Leaves On Napkin C1870sEnglish Majolica Basketweave Pineapple 1880s Antique Covered Dish With CowOld Etruscan Majolica Butter Pat, Marked Gsh Superb 19thc Majolica Teapot With Fish In Relief DecorSuperb 19thc Wedgwood Majolica Sardine Box & Cover With Nautical Decor C1880sGriffin Smith And Hill Etruscan Majolica Leaf Flower Bowl 6.5"Superb 19thc Thomas Forester Majolica Sardine Box & Cover With Swan C1880sOld Majolica Butter PatEx Large Antique Majolica Pottery Jardiniere Planter Pot Ohio Art Weller MccoyAntique Embossed Majolica Oyster Plate - Ca 1900 Perfect ConditionOld Majolica Butter PatRare Pair Of 2 Large Vintage Antique Blue Green Majolica Glazed Cockatoo ParrotsAntique Majolica Dish Plate PlatterOld Majolica Butter Pat, Marked Edge Malkin & Co. George Jones Majolica Dish19th Century Porcelain Majolica Oyster PlateAntique English Majolica Cup Saucer Sunflower FanLovely Majolica Green Ivy Pattern On Dark Blue With Pink Interior Cream PitcherAntique Majolica Cream Jug: Ear Of CornAntique Blended Majolica Pottery Vase Iris Flowers Relief Art Nouveau Deco 6" EcAntique Pottery Majolica Begonia Leaf Turquiose & Brown NrAntique Etruscan Majolica Maple Ivy Round Pedestal Cake Stand C 1880'sAntique Majolica Oyster Plate Multi ColoredPair Antique Pottery Porcelain Majolica Figural Colorful Vases Some Damage Old 1800's Majolica Child Size Teapot, Bird On BranchVintage Blue Majolica Zell Plate Pears On Basketweave 9" Made In Germany Antique Victorian English Majolica Barbotine Basket Vase With Applied Flowers Early Antique Etruscan Majolica Pitcher CreamerAntique French Special Majolica Oyster Plate Fish HeadsQty 3 Antique Majolica Green Maple Leaf Plates C1880 9" DiaAntique Majolica Swan & Water Lily Cheese KeeperVintage Schramberg Majolica German Art Pottery Vase - Bold 7.5" Beauty!Antique White French Seafood Majolica 6 Well Oyster Plate Digoin Sarreguemines Girard Majolica Horse Shoe & Heart Wall Pocket ItalyVintage Majolica Victorian Girl Figurine By Wine Bottle Vase Antique 10030Mottahedeh Pottery China Floral Lattice Weave Modern Majolica Plate Rare Majolica Bird On Branch Picture Frame American Stylized Odd Shaped PlateLot Of 2 Vintage Majolica Pottery Dark Green Embossed Leaf 8 3.5" PlateAntique Sarreguemines Majolica Art Pottery Bud Vase 862 A 83 4" TallAntique Vtg Majolica Pottery Wall Pocket Cobalt Blue Parrot Bird Family ColorfulEtruscan Majolica Shell And Seaweed Bowl Pink Green Griffin Smith & Hill 8"Mackenzie Childs Piccadilly Small Oval Dish/plate Discontinued **look!**Faenza Blue Carnation Large Coffee Pot Teapot Signed Repaired