How to Identify Authentic Majolica Pottery and Spot Fakes

Never accidentally purchase a reproduction Majolica vase from the 1980s when you think it's from the 1880s.

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Wedgwood majolica pitcher

There are two distinct types of Majolica pottery: (1) centuries-old decorative earthenware that originated on Majorca (Majolica) island in Spain and (2) Victorian majolica from the mid-19th century. For the sake of this article, I’ll explain how to identify majolica pottery from the Victorian era only. This guide should familiarize you with specific characteristics of authentic pieces, fakes, and reproductions. 

What Is Victorian Majolica Pottery?

Victorian majolica pottery is earthenware with a white glaze that artisans painted using colored stains and enamels. Most designs are inspired by nature, fanciful, and tend not to take themselves too seriously. Eventually, due to its rising popularity, the majolica manufacturing movement reached France, Italy, and other parts of Europe and America.

Because of the more straightforward technique involved in the production, this pottery was mass-produced using molds and then hand-glazed. Anyone who tells you that Victorian majolica was handmade from start to finish is misguided because using a mold is not the same as sculpting a pottery shape by hand. Likewise, Victorian majolica pottery shapes are consistent because of the molds used, but the glazing can be highly variable and is based on the skill set of the glazer. 

Wedgwood majolica pitcher

Wedgwood Pitcher, c. 1879
Smithsonian Design Museum Collection

Mintons majolica planter with green leaves

Mintons Planter, c. 1880
Smithsonian Design Museum Collection

Common Majolica Qualities

Below are some identifiers for period and reproduction majolica pottery. 

Victorian Era

  • Glazing: Colors include rich hues of green, blue, brown, and pink that are vibrant but rarely harsh. Authentic pieces will have intricate brushwork and rarely show drip marks.
  • Motif: Potters adorned pieces with nature-inspired symbols like leaves, birds, deer, squirrels, grapes, etc.
  • Shape: The pieces include refined, highly detailed profiles that are smooth to the touch, highly embossed, and well-executed.
  • Weight: Period pieces tend to be heavy and thick.
  • Price: Victorian majolica from England is expensive, ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Period pieces from other countries like France tend to be less costly but still sell for a hundred dollars or more. 
  • Maker: There were several manufacturers of Majolica pottery during the Victorian era. Some popular companies include: Wedgwood, Minton, Royal Porcelain, Joseph Holdcroft, Wooster Royal Porcelain, Chesapeake Pottery, and Griffin, Smith, & Hill.

Reproductions

  • Glazing: Most new glazes don’t include lead or tin for safety reasons, although buyers cannot verify this without testing. Modern majolica can have harsh colors that are incredibly bright and saturated. Glazing can be very shiny and demonstrate inaccuracy and noticeable drip marks. 
  • Motif: Some reproductions copy motifs, but modern motifs tend to be a bit more cliche and cheeky.
  • Shape: Some companies copy shapes, but these shapes tend to be less refined and bulkier as if the mold no longer held as much detail. Overall shapes tend to be flatter and less embossed. Also, Victorian pieces usually had whimsically shaped items with an elaborate scene molded into the piece. This scene might include two birds, flowers, and another design. A modern or mid-century example might be a vase that is shaped like one rooster. The rooster would require fewer colors and precision when glazing, and therefore it would be less expensive to produce.
  • Maker: Many companies out of China have been producing majolica-like pottery for less cost. 
  • Weight: Modern majolica tends to weigh less than Victorian majolica. 
  • Price: Some reproduction majolica is beautiful, but dealers should always price it accordingly. Most pieces sell for under $100. If a seller lists an item for less than $50, it is most likely a reproduction of some kind.

from reddit

Majolica Joseph holdcroft ?

“I just found this plate and am trying to identify – does anyone know if this is authentic majolica pottery? It’s in good condition with some crazing in the glaze.” — itsbrittyj

Steps to Authenticate Majolica Pottery

  1. Check for a Maker’s Mark

    The first step I take when appraising any antique is to look for a hallmark of some kind. Unfortunately, a maker’s mark isn’t the panacea for all antiques because many don’t have markings, and many reproductions don’t. Also, some copies have markings that try to imitate a historical mark. Nonetheless, taking this step and seeing what a mark might indicate is essential. For majolica, there are some popular manufacturers’ marks to note. 

  2. Research the Manufacturer

    Step 2: Research the Manufacturer
    Some reproduction hallmarks have been identified. For example, people have noted a suspicious British-looking diamond shape as fraudulent. It’s good practice to do a Google search to find more information whenever you see a hallmark. Keep in mind that there may be some companies you find that create reproductions without intending to be deceitful.

    If the company is honest, you’ll find that their pieces are clearly marked, their company is easy to find, and they are straightforward with their pricing and production. Not every company making majolica today has bad intentions. However, suppose you absently buy a piece on Etsy or elsewhere without looking up the maker first. In that case, you might overpay, thinking the item is older than it is, especially if the reseller isn’t straightforward. 

  3. Look for Signs of Age

    Once you’ve looked for a maker’s mark and other general characteristics, examine the piece for signs of age. These signs could include crazing, minor chips, or repairs. Remember, newer pieces can show signs of age, and older antiques can be pristine. You want to note aging or damage to assess if the price is fair and if the condition adds to or detracts from the piece. 

  4. Handle the Pottery in Person

    It’s much easier to learn about antiques in person than over the internet. This article gives you a basic understanding, but the next step is to see, touch, and compare majolica pieces in person. You can do this at a museum or some higher-end antique shops. Also, make sure you ask questions, especially if you plan on paying more than a hundred dollars for a piece.

    If an antique dealer is selling authentic majolica for an accurate majolica price, they should be able to speak to how and why they came to that conclusion. You’ll learn a lot in this process and feel more secure in your purchase. On the other hand, if you’re trying to find authentic majolica at garage sales or flea markets, most sellers won’t know much, and you’ll have to rely on your skills to identify the majolica. 

Majolica Examples

Oval majolica dish in the style of Bernard Palissy
Majolica Dish in the Style of Bernard Palissy, Mid-19th Century. The Art Institute of Chicago
reproduction majolica pitcher
Reproduction Chinese Majolica Pitcher

This is a reproduction pitcher in the style of the Copeland Lotus Majolica pitcher. It is not authentic but is a very well-done vintage copy. Notice the aqua glaze with blue and black trim and pink lotus flowers with green leaves. The pitcher was likely made in China in the 1990s.

Antique large George Jones Majolica Jardinière circa 1870.
19th Century George Jones Majolica Jardiniere

Here’s a large antique George Jones Majolica Jardinière circa 1870. The exterior is decorated in sharp relief with hummingbirds surrounded by flowers on a turquoise background and a pink interior.

Late 1800s French Majolica Pitcher made by Frie Onnaing.
19th Century Frie Onnaing Majolica Pitcher

This authentic Art Nouveau Majolica pitcher vase is gold mustard with scrolls, green leaves with purple flowers, and a dark rose interior. The bottom is marked “655 FRIE ONNAING FRANCE.”

Reproduction majolica teapot
Reproduction Woodland Majolica Teapot

This reproduction Majolica teapot is likely from the 1980s. It is hand-painted and embossed with detailed blackberries and blackberry tree leaves against a woven basket with a handle made of a tree branch.


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Book on Majolica pottery

Collectors Encyclopedia of Majolica Pottery, An Identification & Value Guide

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