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There are two distinct types of Majolica pottery. The first is a decorative earthenware that originated hundreds of years ago on Majorca (Majolica) island in Spain. The second type of majolica originated in Victorian England during the mid-19th century. For the sake of this article, we are going to discuss how to identify majolica pottery from the Victorian era only. This guide will help you pick out specific characteristics for authentic pieces, fakes, and other reproductions.
What is Victorian Majolica Pottery?
Victorian majolica pottery is earthenware that has 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, the majolica manufacturing movement reached France, Italy, and other parts of Europe and America due to its rising popularity.
Because of the simpler 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, the forms of Majolica pottery are consistent because of the molds used, but the glazing can be highly variable and is based on the skillset of the glazer.
Wedgwood Pitcher, c. 1879
Smithsonian Design Museum Collection
Mintons Planter, c. 1880
Smithsonian Design Museum Collection
Steps to Authenticate Majolica
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 antiques don’t have markings, and a lot of reproductions don’t have markings. Also, some copies have markings that try to imitate a historical mark. Nonetheless, it’s important to take this step and see what a mark might indicate. For majolica, there are some popular manufacturers’ marks to note.
Some companies include:
- Royal Porcelain
- Joseph Holdcroft
- Wooster Royal Porcelain
- Chesapeake Pottery
- Griffin, Smith, & Hill
As far as some reproduction hallmarks, people have noted a British-looking diamond shape. Do a Google search to find more information whenever you see a hallmark. There may be some companies you find that create reproductions without intending to be deceitful. You’ll note 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.
2. Look for some common majolica qualities.
Below are some identifiers for period and reproduction majolica pottery.
- 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.
- Maker: See the list of makers above.
- 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.
- 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 demonstrate inaccuracy and noticeable drip marks.
- Motif: Some reproductions copy motifs, but modern motifs tend to be a bit more cliche and cheeky. See more about this in the shapes section.
- 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.
3. See if there are any 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 in pristine condition. 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.
Antique large 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. This delightful Art Nouveau 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.”
This is a lovely reproduction pitcher in the style of the Copeland Lotus Majolica pitcher. It is not authentic but is a very well-done vintage copy. This pitcher is a lovely aqua with blue and black trim and pink lotus flowers with their green leaves. This beautiful pitcher was made in China in the 1990s.
This piece is from the 1980s and is a reproduction of a Victorian piece. It is hand-painted and embossed with detailed blackberries and blackberry tree leaves against the backdrop of a woven basket with a handle made of a tree branch.