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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Maw and Company Majolica Tiles

The tile firm of Maw & Co. was founded in 1850 when brothers George and Arthur Maw purchased a failing tile manufacturing firm in Worcester, G.B. The company specialty was in encaustic and mosaic tile manufacture. In 1852 in order to expand their business the company moved to a larger facility in Shropshire to the Benthall Works at Broseley where they could take advantage of the local supplies of clay and coal.

Maw & Co. factory buildings
Maw & Co. Benthall Works   Photo: David Stowell
Arthur Maw  Photo:©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Around 1862 the company expanded to include majolica tile among its products as well as transfer printed and and portrait tiles in the style of Email Ombrant. By 1883 the company had established itself as one of the largest tile manufactures in the Great  Britain, producing tiles for use across the globe. Maw also produced a small quantity of art pottery.

Maw art pottery Photo:© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Maw art pottery Photo: ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Maw art pottery Photo:©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Majolica designs from the 1867 catalog

Majolica and encaustic catalog pages

The company continued to expand and moved its location again to Jackfield. At the height of their production the Maw was producing in excess of 20 million tiles a year with clients that included the royal family of Russia, maharajas in India, several titled families throughout G.B., schools hospitals and cathedrals.

Old Library, Cardiff, Wales  Photo: Sion
By 1900 Maw & Co was the largest tile manufacturer in the world.

Whereas the bulk of the family business continued to be encaustic tiles their production of majolica tiles rival the quality of Minton and Wedgwood who were the company's main competitors. Like Minton, the bulk of their majolica tiles were of the tube-lined variety. Tube-lining is a process where liquid clay is squeezed from a tube onto the tile in a required pattern like the outline of a coloring book. The spaces between the lines are then filled with majolica glazes to create the finished tile.

c. 1880

However, the company also did molded majolica tiles in the style of the large majolica manufacturers where three dimensional surfaces were then glazed in different colors. These are among the most beautiful tiles created by Maw.

Designed by Charles Bevan  c.1870
c. 1870

c. 1870


Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
c. 1885  Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum
Designer–Lewis Foreman Day c.1890 Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Changing tastes affected the family business sales after WW1 and production slowly declined. In 1960 Maw merged with Campbell Tile and changed its name to Maw-Cambell Co. In 1968 the company became part of the H.R. Johnson Group. The company finally shut its doors in 1970 after 120 years in business.

In 2001 Maw and Co. reopened as a specialty company under new leadership and today manufactures reproduction tiles from the Victorian era.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Family's Majolica Tribute to a Loved One

In a small corner of Chesterton Cemetery in Gloucestershire lies a grave very different from those around it. In a sunny clearing near a large tree stands a seven foot grave marker made of stone and ceramic. The grave is that of Mary Ann Gibbons. A longtime sufferer of mental illness, she died in an asylum at Coney Hill on January 5, 1886. The grave is a tribute from sons Francis and Owen and son-in-law William John Hinton.

Francis Gibbons was a former art director at Doulton & Co., Lambeth, where he was responsible for the design of many of the company's products. Owen was former curator of the Royal Architectural Museum in London and a master at the Coalbrookdale School of Art. Together with son-in-law Hinton, the three founded the tile manufacturing firm of Gibbons, Hinton & Co. at Buckpool, Berkley Hill in Staffordshire.

The company specialized in encaustic and molded majolica wares. The grave marker is a colorful affair made of molded majolica ware with flowering lilies around the base; neoclassic scrolls and acanthus leaves leading upwards to a funeral urn surrounded by bay leaves–symbols of resurrection–and a pointed finial. A plaque at the base reads "In loving memory of Mary Ann Gibbons Obit, Jany 5th 1886, Aged 68 yrs."

To the side of the marker is a plaque with the initials of her husband, James Gibbons. Made of five large tiles, the plaque with scroll, bay leaves and dog roses is inset into a granite frame. It's purpose isn't exactly clear. Dog roses represent pleasure and pain in the language of flowers. Is this a tribute from a loving husband or is it a grave marker for the husband?

As you may expect for something 130 years old under constant exposure to the elements, the grave has suffered significant damage, still the beauty of the original concept shines through.

Gibbons Hinton & Co. produced majolica and encaustic tiles into the Twentieth Century. Around the turn of the century, they added tube-lined majolica tiles to their product line along with transfer and enameled tiles. The company remained in production until around 1950.

Thanks to The Kissed Mouth blog for the photos and some of the background in this post. For more information about the Gibbons family and the work of Gibbons, Hinton & Co. go to the Briarley Hill blog.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Majolica in the Media: Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Did anyone catch the Andy Serkis interview on the "Late Show with Stephen Colbert?"

Andy, who is best known for being the actor behind such digital motion capture performances as Caesar in the "Planet of the Apes" series and Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings," was wearing a shirt with an applique that bore a striking resemblance to a Minton majolica oyster plate on the sleeve!

Andy Serkis, left
There was no acknowledgment of the peculiar ornament so I haven't the slightest idea why it was on the sleeve. There was nothing else even vaguely similar on the rest of the shirt. My guess is that whoever created the shirt saw an oyster plate and decided to create a patch similar to it. In reality, it was probably not meant to represent a real Minton oyster plate, just a daisy-like ornament but, you never know! The oyster plate inspiration was obvious

Minton oyster plate
In any case, the patch caught my eye and I was curious if anyone else made the association. It was lots of fun seeing it from the perspective of a collector.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Majolica of Joseph Holdcroft and Company

When collectors talk about the top three English majolica potteries they always mention Minton, George Jones and Wedgwood. That these three are considered separate from all the other dozens of potteries is based largely on their quality. The three had a very high standard of design and workmanship that sets them apart from the rest. But there was a fourth large pottery that made fine quality majolica, one that is rarely placed in such illustrious company—Joseph Holdcroft and Company. In spite of their prodigious output Holdcroft never quite makes the cut. Their designs are a little less sophisticated, their glazes a little less vibrant, and their workmanship a lot more variable than the others. This is not to diminish all their work because they made some extraordinary pottery. Their output just seems to lack that little something extra that distinguishes "great" from "very, very good." It's hard to believe, but in the 6+ years that I have been doing this blog I have never done a post exclusively on the Holdcroft pottery. That fact alone echoes the general consensus of how Holcroft is considered. It is the pottery equivalent of Rodney Dangerfield. It just doesn't get any respect!

Unlike most who worked in the pottery trade, Joseph Holdcroft did not come from poverty. He was the child of an affluent pottery owner, William Holdcroft, who spent most of his education in private schools. Upon graduation from the Wedgwood Institute he joined his father's pottery, the George Street Pottery, where he developed several patents for the manufacture of earthenware. Like George Jones before him, Joseph Holdcroft then worked for Mintons, leaving there around 1865 to open his own concern on St. Martin's Lane in Longton where he specialized in silver luster. About five years later he opened the Sunderland Pottery at Daisy Bank, Longton where he specialized in majolica, Parian and silver luster.

Joseph Holdcroft
The William Holdcroft George Street pottery in Tunstall
Longton, described as the "center of cheap china" production
The Joseph Holdcroft pottery at Daisy Bank, Longton

The company's product was well respected and received good sales during its time. After 1885, the thrust of the company changed and it went from producing high quality original ware to cheaper, poorly potted imitative patterns. The quality of the work suffered for the sake of output and workmanship varied significantly. The company continued production of this cheaper majolica until 1906 when Joseph Holdcroft died. The pottery was then taken over by his son, Thomas who changed the name to Holdcroft Ltd. and added the production of enameled brick. The company continued in operation until around 1930.

It's this long and varied quality production of majolica that is responsible for the tainted reputation of the Holdcroft name today. Whereas their finest majolica is among the best produced, the Holdcroft name on a piece is no guarantee of quality as it is the case of the big three potteries.

Of Holdcroft's original designs, at least twelve were registered between 1870-1883. Many of their other original designs were produced in prodigious quantities though few were copied by contemporary studios.

Holdcroft majolica design registered 1870
Recognizing Holdcroft majolica is not always easy since they didn't always mark their wares. When they did mark it the company marked its wares in one of two ways, either with the initials JH in a circle or the name J. Holdcroft in capital letters in a straight line. A way of recognizing unmarked ware is by the underside glaze. Most commonly the underside of Holdcroft pieces will be glazed a recognizable dull green glaze. Some pieces, particularly plates, can be glazed in a mottled gray, blue and brown combination. Less commonly the undersides were glazed in a solid brown or green and brown mottle.

Another way of recognizing Holdcroft is by the quality of the glazes themselves. Their turquoise glaze is a slightly duller color than that of the turquoise of other companies; their green is a slightly dull gray/green. They tend to favor strange color combinations like turquoise, chartreuse and brown as well as turquoise and brown and cobalt and brown. Their modeling is also not among the finest. Human faces look a little bit odd and animals are usually highly stylized. In general their design sense is rather clumsy from a modern perspective but most of it had decent craftsmanship close to that of the "big three".

Still, the company made some wonderful things... and a few slightly peculiar things.

Holdcroft oyster plate
Holdcroft fox and goose game dish
Holdcroft apple blossom punch bowl
Holdcroft majolica butterfly vase
Holdcroft peacock butter pat
Holdcroft copy of a George Jones design

Holdcroft parrot and banana jardinieres

Holdcroft fish plate. A popular design it was expanded to cheese bells and jardinieres
Holdcroft dolphin compote
Holdcroft tobacco leaf umbrella stand another popular design.
Holdcroft pomegranate design mustache cup

Holdcroft fish platter
Holdcroft shell and daisy butter pat
Holdcroft "Melon" teapot, registered 1879
Holdcroft Asian on cocoanut teapot
A Holdcroft registered design from 1877

Holdcroft alligator ground bird and reed jug
Hodcroft "Rustic" tea service, registered 1877
Rare Holdcroft bird on apple teapot.

Holdcroft majolica shell bonbonnière, registered 1880
Holdcroft majolica stork cane stand
Holdcroft "Rustic" Stilton cheese stand
Holdcroft pond lily cheese dome

When collecting Holdcroft, it is easily found but doesn't quite bring the prices of the larger potteries so a fine collection can be assembled at a relatively reasonably rate. You need to be conscious of the craftsmanship when buying because of the large variation in quality made. There are a variety of interesting patterns, like: Rustic, Alligator, Pomegranate, Tobacco Leaf, Pond Lily, and Apple Blossom plus the usual assortment of novelty items. As in other cases, signed examples will command higher prices than those that are not signed.