A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Monday, January 15, 2018

Majolica Clocks

Ceramic clocks have a long history in European ceramics dating to Meissen's elaborate porcelain clocks of the early 18th Century. This tradition continued particularly in Germany and France through the last half of the 19th Century and the period of majolica manufacture. Elaborate clocks and matching garniture sets were extremely popular on the continent from the Belle Epoch to the early deco period. While there are examples of British and American clocks from the period, this was an area where continental majolica dominated. Wasuel, the Barbotine manufacturers, Dreyfuss, Sarreguemines, Massier and Choisy-le-Roi all contributed to the output.

Massier majolica pansy clock

Massier majolica iris clock

Majolica Massier clock
Massier majolica bird and floral clock
Choisy-le-Ro clock designed by Robert Louis Carrier Belleuse
This Choisy-le-Roi shell clock repurposed the tray from one of their food servers
Sarreguemines majolica clock

French Barbotine majolica clock

French Barbotine majolica clock
E. Gilles Barbotine clock
Barbotine majolica garniture set
Wesmuel garniture set
Wasmuel majolica clock
Wasmuel majolica clock

Gien majolica clock

Lonitz, Schiller and Eichwald all had their own take on the clock form.

Lonitz majolica clock

Lonitz majolica clock and thermometer

Austrian majolica wall clock and thermometer
Continental majolica clock in the Barbotine style
French majolica table clock
George Dryfuss majolica clock case made for the New Haven Clock Works
Continental majolica mantle clock
Palissy type continental majolica clock
Karlsruhe majolica clock
Eichwald majolica clock

Lonitz majolica clock

Schiller garniture set
Continental majolica clock
The English and American potters also made clocks. Of the American manufacturers, Haynes made and manufactured a number of different models of mantle clocks and garniture sets. The New Haven Clock Works sold a number of majolica clocks using their own movements; the majolica cases however were imported from France.

Minton majolica clock

Wedgwood majolica clock
Haynes clock in the Barbotine style
Haynes majolica mantle clock 
Haynes majolica clock
New Haven Clock Works clock in French majolica case
New Haven Clock Works clock in French majolica case
New Haven Clock Works clock in French majolica case

Clock collecting is a specialty area that attracts more general clock collectors than majolica collectors. This has kept the price of most pieces reasonable.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

2017 Year End Wrap-Up

For the first time in ten years there appears to be an improvement in the antique market. While Victorian and earlier antiques remain fashionably outdated for the millennial home decor buying market there seems to be a small uptick in the popularity of older pieces–that is those that fall outside of the popular mid century ware that has dominated the market. This isn't to say that the popularity of the English and French country decor that supported the flourishing of the antique market during the past 35 years has returned because it hasn't, but the austerity of modern design has started to break.

I first noticed this while looking through Country Living Magazine's "40+ Elegant and Easy Thanksgiving Table Settings" last month. A number of table settings include antique china to compliment the modern china that make up the majority of the place settings. In Country Living's December "50+ Christmas Table Settings and Centerpieces." barely a piece of antique china  can be seen among the table settings, but antique china is starting to creep back into the rooms featuring the layouts. Antique glass, flow blue and Jadite appear in the display rooms. The sole use of antique china in the form of red transfer china can be seen in one of the table settings. Majolica, which used to dominate theses layouts, is nowhere to be seen. Country Living magazine declared exclusive antique spaces –as in mid century modern recreated spaces– as one of their "out" trends. They also declared that the popularity of neutrals such as beige and grey as another "out" trend with bright colors and jewel tones a new "in" trend. This supports the Pantone color forecast for 2018 which calls for cerulean blue, green, Tuscan red, violet, teal and turquoise to dominate 2018 decor.

The prices on antiques seem to have bottomed out. While the price of antiques are nowhere  near what it was before the financial collapse of 2007, the decline seems to have stopped. The recent adage "If it's brown it's down," still remains true for furniture but things may be turning around. Antique furniture has a significantly smaller market than it did just ten years ago but like everything else these prices are cyclical and are expected to rebound. Bloomberg encourages buying fancy English and French furniture right now for investment because of their current low prices.

Small antiques stores unfortunately seem to be going the way of mom and pop stores everywhere. Antique malls, auctions and online buying seem to be the wave of the future

The prices on majolica and other antique smalls has also finally steadied after ten years of relentless declines. A survey of general antiques auctions across the past few months support that conclusion. Specialty auctions have also become more competitive with good pieces bringing reasonable but not outrageous prices. Among smalls, antique art and jewelry still bring the highest prices in the secondary market with decorative arts at the low end.

So where does that take us in the individual markets going into 2018? Barring another recession or devastating national disaster the prices should continue to slowly climb upwards. English majolica continues to dominate the market as it always has but some American and French pieces have brought good prices this year as well.

George Jones and Minton majolica have dominated the English majolica market as they always have with Wedgwood and Holdcroft bringing up the rear. The correction of the market has finally made many of these pieces affordable again for the mid range collector. Animal bottles and pitchers continue their reign over the animal majolica market with prices remaining steady.  Humidors too remain popular with good prices across the board. The market for match strikers, butter pats and smokers has largely collapsed.

In all, things are looking good at this point in time for collectors. Bargains are available and this is the time to take advantage of the low prices and strong availability.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Etruscan Majolica Shell Pattern

Plates and cuspidor in the Etruscan Shell pattern

The Etruscan Shell pattern, often referred to as Shell and Seaweed, is easily the most popular pattern made by the Etruscan Works of Phoenixville. It is also the most extensively realized pattern made by the company. It is one of three ocean themed patterns made to compliment each other: Shell, Coral and Dolphin.

Shell was originally designed as the Etruscan response to the Belleek shell pieces. It was the main pattern of Etruscan Ivory Ware, launched around the time of the other two main dessert patterns, Cauliflower and Bamboo. Ivory Ware pieces were fired for biscuit then glazed in an opaque white lead glaze base. The pieces were then fired for a second time with luster glaze highlights in a special kiln made specifically for these pieces.

Belleek shell bowl
Like Belleek, Ivory Ware hollowware pieces were glazed with a yellow luster glaze lining. Exteriors were highlighted with other color luster glazes and colored trims. Unfortunately, the delicacy of Belleek porcelain was far superior to that achievable with the earthenware used by the Etruscan Works. Shell Ivory pieces and Etruscan Ivory suffered from the comparison. Also the lusters used, particularly the yellow luster lining, easily wore off with use, an issue that Belleek did not have, making for a product that did not have durability.

Shell Ivory Ware cake plate
After the relative failure of the Shell Ivory Ware line the company decided to make broader use of the Shell molds created for Ivory Ware by adding a full color majolica version to their catalog. The new version of Shell was an outstanding success soon overshadowing the rest of the company's output. The company continued adding shapes to the pattern over the years and modified others making for a fully realized dessert service.

Full color Shell cake plate
Shell pieces as illustrated in Charles Rebert's American Majolica book
The Shell line consisted of 9", 8" and 7" plates, coffee cups with 7" saucers, teacups with 6" saucers, a mustache cup, two types of butter pats, bowls, a footed salad bowl, tall compotes, dessert or card stand, thirteen sizes of jug, a straight spout teapot in two sizes, a crooked spout teapot in two sizes, sugar bowls in three sizes, waste bowl, spooner, relish dish–only made in Ivory Ware–cake platter, three kinds of fruit dish, ice cream bowl, humidor, cuspidor and two types of butter dish.

One of two styles of Shell butter dish
The pattern molds were also used in the company's Venicine line of enamel decorated earthenware. These Venicine pieces were the favorite of decorators because they required meticulous detail and allowed the decorator's to showcase their artistic talent.

Venicine Shell plate

One of the Shell pages from the 1884 Etruscan catalog
Shell has always commanded a premium price. In the 1884 catalog it is the most expensive dessert pattern shown. The pages featuring the pattern were also the only ones completely removed from copies of the catalog distributed after the New Orleans Cotton Exposition. We can only speculate why but my own guess is that the popularity and expense of the pattern made additional promotion unnecessary. On the secondary market Shell still commands good prices. While it suffered the same fate as all other pottery after the 2008 crash Shell is still the most expensive pattern you can purchase by the company.

If you would like a complete survey of all of the pieces of the Shell pattern it is available in my book, Etruscan Majolica: The Definitive Reference to the Majolica of Griffen, Smith & Company. You can also catch our Shell video on the Etruscan Majolica Facebook page.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Special Thanks

I would like to offer special thanks to Freeman's Auction house, Ceramics Division Head Nicholas Nicholson, and consigner Dr. Howard Silby for making reference to my book Etruscan Majolica: The Definitive Reference to the Majolica of Griffen, Smith & Company, in their recent auction catalog of Dr. Silby's majolica collection.

I had the good fortune to view Dr. Silby's collection at his home when I was seeking rare examples of Etruscan Majolica for inclusion in my book. He was most gracious in allowing me to photograph these samples for my book.

My book is in its updated second edition and is currently available through Amazon and fine book sellers everywhere.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Etruscan Baseball Pitcher

The Etruscan Baseball pitcher in its most common colorways.

The Etruscan Baseball jug is one of the signature pieces in the GSH oeuvre. First produced in the early 1880s the pitcher is the earliest known pottery depiction of baseball in the U.S. The subject may be strictly American but the pitcher's roots are firmly British.

Wedgwood Cricket and Soccer pitcher in Argenta

The Etruscan pitcher is derived from a Wedgwood jug. The Wedgwood soccer and cricket jug was introduced around 1872 as part of the company's Argenta line. One side of the jug features two figures playing cricket while the other side shows two figures playing football, or soccer as it is known in the United States. The Etruscan version is a pretty faithful rendition of the Wedgwood original with one exception. As cricket was not played in the U.S., the cricket players on the one side of the Wedgwood jug were replaced by baseball players. Baseball was a growing popular sport in the U.S. The Etruscan Works itself had its own baseball team, the Etruscans, who played games against teams from local businesses.

The Wedgwood original on the left with the Etruscan version on the right
The Etruscan Baseball pitcher was made in three different sizes with the largest being the most common. There were also five different variations of the jug made: one with the baseball player on the right side of the handle and the soccer players on the left; one with the soccer players on the right side of the handle and the baseball players on the left; one with the baseball players on both sides of the pitcher with no soccer players; one with only soccer players on both sides; and one version with both baseball players and soccer players with an enlarged spout. 

There are four glazing treatments used that I am familiar with. The most commonly found multicolor treatment is a copy of the Wedgwood Argenta original: white ground with green, grey and rose trim and multicolor figures. Less commonly seen is a red ground with green, grey and rose trim and figures in colors of grey, blue and brown.

Etruscan Baseball pitcher with rare red ground

Etruscan Baseball pitcher in the large spout variation

The pitcher was also decorated using the over-the-glaze Venicine enamel treatment. These jugs were made from traditional earthenware, as were all the others, and marked with the Etruscan Majolica stamp. There does exist a unique variation of this treatment—in Etruscan China made by David Smith for his youngest daughter Alice. This pitcher is decorated in the Venicene manner with an added pink ground, pastel figures and gold trim.

Etruscan Baseball jug in Venicine

Alice Smith's Baseball pitcher

Of all of these the most commonly found treatment for the jug is in a solid majolica color. These were most likely issued as promotions/premiums or issued by the potteries that succeeded the Etruscan Works at the Phoenixville location: the Griffen China Company and the Chester pottery. These solid color jugs are never marked.

Solid color Baseball jug

In addition to these variations of the baseball pitchers adapted from the Wedgwood jug, the basic design for the jug was also adapted for other uses without figures. The company used the design for vases, tumblers, and umbrella stands with solid colored grounds and gold banding or decorated with transfers. The same design was also elongated and the spout enlarged for a tall cider jug. None of these are ever marked.

Etruscan vase with transfer decoration

Phoenix Pottery cider pitcher

Phoenix Pottery tumbler

There was in addition a special version of the pitcher made by the Chester pottery for the political presidential campaign of 1896 with William McKinley on one side and of his vice- president, Garret Hobart, on the reverse. These are marked with the Chester pottery logo.

McKinley campaign picher based on the Wedgwood model

We don't know when production of the Baseball pitcher stopped but our guess is that it was sometime after David Smith left the Chester Pottery in 1885. The other pieces derived from the Wedgwood pitcher –umbrella stand, the cider pitcher, tumbler, vase and plain pitcher– continued in production for several years until the closing of the Chester pottery in 1899. It is believed that all majolica production ceased at this time.

Today the baseball pitcher is still one of the most popular pieces made by the company and even in its unmarked, solid color variation continues to command good prices in the collector's market.