WHEN IT COMES to the finest example of pottery from the Victorian era, there is only one word: “Majolica”.
Artisans of the period used glazes from ancient Eastern lands, as well as shapes and motifs from earlier cultures. Majolica was developed originally by way of Spain, with its Hispano-Moresque pottery that was exported via the Island of Majorca into the Italian Renaissance, and called “maiolica” which later runed into 19th century English “majolica”.
It was in 1849 in Stoke-on-Trent, England, where Minto & Co. produced the first majolica wares. However, it wasn’t until the Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851 with Prince albert that the fever started.
Majolica designs and colors must have two distinctive features. Each piece has the same type of luster plus a tin-glaze (lead based) which dates back to Della Robbia (1399-1482). To be Victorian majolica, the body must be a soft, porous earthenware which is fired first without any glaze. It is fired again with an opaque background glaze composted of the tin and/or the lead enamel. Added to this glaze before firing, is another coat of brightly colored metallic-oxide glazes. This is not to be confused with the same glazes being applied to other ceramic wares as this would then not be Victorian majolica.
With the overproduction that ensued and the dangerous working conditions that resulted in lead poisoning, majolica went out of fashion upon the death of Queen Victoria. It simply could not compete with the bone china (30% of phosphate derived from animal bone or antique Spode china which used human bone ash) and porcelain.
George Jones and Sons was formed after Jones left Minton to found the Trent Pottery Company in 1861, Collectors know this name as the best to buy. The pottery produced by “GJ” was deemed excellent. In 1873, the watermark was changed to “GJ & Sons”. Serious majolica collectors consider the works designed by George Jones the most desirable. Serving dishes with the asparagus and leaf and the turquoise background are in typical demand.
Majolica collectors don’t have to collect just one type, style or artisan. They can start with one plate, or a figurine and branch to other pieces as the richness of the art helps experience the joys this era has to offer. Pieces from George Jones are similar to Longworth pieces from the Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati or Griffin Hill Smith & Co. In fact as majolica fever spread, even Wedgwood, Minton, Copeland, and many smaller companies went into production of their own designs in England. The French put their mark on majolica as well with manufacturers such as Longchamp, Sarreguemines, Massier and the like. Germany produced pieces through Villeroy & Boch, Schramberg, Reichard M Krause, to name a few. Each country in Europe and America had its own type and it is easy to mix countries without even knowing. It is not a bad thing. However, make sure the provenance is with each piece as each maker has its own place within the antique marketplace. The key is in knowing about the designs.
If you would like to know more about Majolica, here’s a link to a great site