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    

6 Antique Etruscan Majolica German Art Pottery Begonia Leaf Plates, No Reserve!6 Antique Etruscan Majolica German Art Pottery Begonia Leaf Plates, NrMassive 55"julius Dressler Art Nouveau Majolica Bohemian Jardiniere&pedestal Yqz2 Antique German Majolica Art Pottery Begonia Leaf & Fern Plates, NrAntique Victorian Era Majolica White Cockatoo Bird Figural Pottery Pitcher TmgSuperb 19thc Majolica Monkey Figure At The Base Of A Tree Candlestick C1880sSuperb 19thc Majolica Recumbent Blackamoor Female Figurine C1880sHuge Stunning Majolica Australian Pottery Cheese Bell Dome & Plate 1890 Bendigo?Antique Majolica Art Pottery Begonia Leaf Dish Tray 8" Antique Majolica Plate With Yellow Daffodils On Border18th C Spanish Faience Blue White Majolica Pottery Albarello Apothecary Jar YqzAntique Majolica Pitcher With Sea ShellsVintage Majolica Artichoke Strawberry Plate ServerAntique Majolica Pitcher With Leaves And BerriesSuperb 19thc Majolica Seated Blackamoor Figure Playing Concertina Dish C1880sAntique French Majolica Orchies Pitcher...absolutely Stunning !!!Old Minton-like Majolica Game Terrine/tureen With Hare, Duck, Quail And Liner Huge Majolica Rooster Palissy Portugal Caldas Cock Statue Pitcher Antique Victorian Era French Majolica Crested Bird In Chery Tree 8" Plate Nr TmgMajolica Pitcher Shorter &son England Cobalt Blue Berries & Multi Colored LeavesMajolica Antique German Platter, 13 1/2" By 10 1/2" Brown Green Plate Dish NiceAntique Wedgwood Majolica Fans & Star 9" Plate M 2935 P Aqua Brown Pink 1800's?Vintage Etruscan Majolica Seashells/ Seaweed PotteryArt Nouveau Glorious Majolica Pottery Porcelain Tile England Arts & Crafts ArtsyMackenzie Childs Glass Plate New-2Antique Minton Majolica Compote Cat Holding Bowl On Pedestal 11” X 13”Antique Rustic Cobalt Majolica Pitcher W Primrose Attributed WedgwoodBeautiful Large Antique Majolica Pitcher/ Jug Antique 19 Century English Or American Majolica Open Handled Leaf Shaped Dish Mackenzie Childs Majolica Pottery Taylor Brittany Ruffled Dinner Plate PlatterAntique Griffin Smith Hill Etruscan Majolica Shell And Seaweed 7" PlateVintage Sarregumines Oyster Plate Majolica Majolica Pottery Fan & Cherry Blossom Platter .10" Majolica Parakeet Candle Holder Dish As Is Restore RepairBrush Pottery Jardiniere Green & Brown Glaze Pot Planter Majolica Gargoyle RomanAntique Eagle Decorated Majolica PitcherFrench Antique Art Nouveau Large Majolica Vase Ewer Pitcher Extra Large AmazingLarge 9" Antique Majolica Pottery Cockatooparrot Bird Pitcher Vase W HandleAntique Majolica Classic Begonia Leaves Plate....stunning VibrantMajolica English Antique Green Leaf Plate 11 " Majolica Footed Bowl Dish Lilies As Is Restore RepairAntique Majolica Wood Framed Tile "family Of 3" -crackle Majolica Estate AMajolica Style Oyster Plate Heavy Unmarked Majolica Cobalt Blue Pitcher Branch Handle, Leaves And Pink FlowersVintage Etruscan Majolica Tea Cup - Shell & Seaweed, As-isAntique 1800s George Jones English Majolica Dog Palissy Spongeware Cabinet PlateAntique Majolica Gsh Etruscan Butterfly Pitcher...8"Appealing Little Majolica Teapot & Matching Mended Sugar Bowl In A Berry PatternFloral & Corn Majolica 6 1/4" Cream Pitcher Maine Estate Ex Condition 12" Majolica Cobalt Blue Pink Rose Trellis Platter As Is Restore RepairSeashells & Seaweed Majolica Pottery Tea Pot, Possibly Etruscan, Circa 1880 Nice Early Marked Majolica Plate Cone Flowers~antique American Faience Manufacturing Co Barbotine Majolica Vase Pitcher RosesFrie Onnaing Majolica Mallard Duck Pitcher 712 Pv Made In FranceVintage Metropolitan Museum Of Art Majolica Swan Fox CreamerSet Of 5 Vintage Majolica Green Cabbage Leaf Cresent Salad Plates PortugalAntique Majolica Collector Plate With Leaf - 8"Vintage Wardle Pottery Vase Carved Leaves Unusual Finish MajolicaAntique Majolica Plate Asian Motif - 10"Vintage Light Yellow Czechoslovakia Majolica Grape Plate10"