Victorian majolica

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Monumental Minton peacock, circa 1870, coloured lead glazes. Naturalistic in style. Potteries Museum, Stoke-on-Trent, UK
Minton tin-glazed Majolica flower pot and stand imitating Italian Renaissance maiolica process and 'grotesque' style. Potteries Museum, Stoke-on-Trent, UK

Victorian majolica is a term sometimes used for other types of glazed pottery, but the name properly refers only to two types of earthenware made in the second half of the 19th century in Europe and America.

1. The mass-produced earthenware decorated with coloured lead glazes[1], made in Britain, Europe and the US; typically hard-wearing, surfaces moulded in relief, vibrant translucent glazes, in Revivalist or naturalistic or High Victorian style often with an element of whimsy.

2. The rare tin-glazed earthenware made in Britain only, primarily by Mintons from 1848 to circa 1880, typically with flat surfaces, opaque whitish glaze with brush painted decoration somewhat in the styles of Italian Renaissance maiolica tin-glazed pottery.

Caution needed with meanings of 'majolica'[edit]

Leon Arnoux, the artistic director of Mintons, wrote in 1852 "We understand by majolica a pottery formed of a calcareous clay gently fired, and covered with an opaque enamel composed of sand, lead, and tin..."[2]. He was describing the Minton & Co. tin-glazed product made in imitation of Italian maiolica both in process and in style(s). His description is often referenced, in error, as a definition of Minton's other new product, the much copied and later mass-produced ceramic sensation of the Victorian era, Minton's coloured lead glazes 'Palissy ware'. The 16th-century French pottery by Bernard Palissy and his imitators was well known and much admired[3][4]. Minton adopted the name 'Palissy ware' for his new coloured-lead-glazes product, but this also soon became known as 'majolica'[5]. Minton & Co. appear to have done little to promote the clear distinction between their tin-glazed and coloured-lead-glazes products.

Design Note[edit]

Thomas Kirkby's design G144 in the Minton Archive is inscribed "This is the First Design for Majolica ...". The design is Italian Renaissance in style, and, importantly, suited for fine brushwork on flat surfaces. Kirkby is referring to Minton's tin-glaze Majolica. Designs suited for "block painting" onto surfaces moulded in relief that made best use of the intaglio[6] effect - Minton's Palissy Ware, the commercial block-buster, soon known also as 'majolica' - should, logically, be in the Class letter T archive under "Palissy and Limoges", but are in fact mostly gathered alongside designs for tin-glazed pieces in 'The Majolica Box' of the archive.


Coloured-lead-glazes majolica[edit]

The coloured glazes of Minton and Co. were created at about the same time as a significant shift in demand[7]. A vigorous economy and expanding overseas trade was fuelling rapid growth of the middle-classes. The 'new money' was modern, adventurous, ready to follow any new fashion that spoke to them. The Greek, Roman, and Renaissance designs loved by yesterday's decorators, were of limited interest. A few patterns in Classical or Revivalist styles were produced in coloured-lead-glaze majolica, but Darwinism, natural history, and their English country gardens were much more exciting. Hence the boom in "naturalistic" pottery, perfectly suited to Minton's inexpensive, durable, multi-purpose product. A strong interest in the world at large generates a market for Egyptian forms, Japanese styles, and chinoiseries. Conservatories become a fashion statement. Adorning them are spectacular majolica fountains, garden seats, flower pots, jardinières, stands, large birds and animals. The irrepressible urge to impress guests with rare food leads to the growing of pineapples and egg-plants (aubergines) until now only available overseas. These, too, appear in majolica.

Tin-glazed majolica[edit]

Minton's tin-glazed product in imitation of Italian maiolica, praised at Exhibitions, made little commercial impact, possibly due to outdated style and high cost.


Interest in Renaissance Revival styles were waning. Fashion was moving on, with the usual protestations from older generations: "...the current of fashion, however contrary to right, wisdom, and good taste..."[8]


Compared to the lead-glaze process whereby thick, temperature-compatible coloured lead glazes were applied direct to the biscuit, simultaneously, then fired, the tin-glaze process would have been more costly.

First, an extra stage was required for dipping/coating and drying the tin-glaze before decoration could begin.

Second, brushwork decoration was much more time-consuming, requiring highly skilled, higher paid artists. Brush-applied decoration becomes 'embedded' upon contact with the 'raw' unfired tin-glaze, somewhat in the manner of fresco, with no possibility of alteration or overpainting.



Victorian majolica was originated by Minton & Co., who exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

The Exhibition Catalogue [9] does not use the name 'Palissy ware' that was used in the Minton factory[10], but does use the word 'majolica' when referring to the tin-glazed product painted with in-glaze enamels:

  1. Palissy ware, [coloured lead glazes]. The debt to the 16th century potter Bernard Palissy is obvious from its naturalistic plant and animal motifs. The Exhibition Catalogue section "Earthenware ... Flowerpots, etc." "Number 60. A variety of ... flowerpots and stands, and garden seats."
  2. Majolica, anglicizing the Italian maiolica, [tin-glazed coloured with enamels]. The Exhibition Catalogue section "Tiles, Terra Cotta, and Vases, etc, in imitation of Majolica Ware" "Number 74. Variety of flowerpots and stands, coloured in the majolica style, etc."

At the Paris Exposition Universelle (1855) the Illustrated London News reported with approval on Minton's two newest products:

The collection of Palissy and Majolica ware, however, is that which appears to have created the greatest sensation among Parisian connoisseurs. The reader will remember that the main difference in these wares is that whereas the Palissy ware is coloured by a transparent glaze, Majolica ware contains the colour (opaque) in the material [11]. The care and taste with which these manufactures have been brought by the Messrs. Minton to their present state of perfection, have been amply rewarded. Within a few days of the opening of the Exhibition all the specimens exhibited had been sold.[12]

Despite this reminder Minton's Palissy Ware became known as "majolica ware"; "Palissy ware" dropped out of use and "majolica" stuck. In the 1870s, the curators of the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) tried to clear up the confusion by reviving the Italian spelling "maiolica" with an 'i' instead of a 'j' for Italian tin-glaze[13].


Wedgwood began to manufacture majolica about ten years after Mintons. Wedgwood's glazes and modelling were denser and more formal than Minton's, but there were many pieces that displayed the naturalism and humour of Minton shapes. Wedgwood's majolica included cachepots, jugs, candlesticks, cheese bells, umbrella stands, sardine boxes, plates in naturalistic patterns, bread trays, etc. In Wedgwood's "greenware" the green glaze emphasizes the low relief patterning, typically of basketwork and foliage. Numerous smaller factories in the Staffordshire Potteries specialised in such green majolica wares in which the translucent glaze brought out the low relief of the cast body: some, like Wedgwood, marked their majolica with impressed stamps.

Majolica was influenced by the design of the old "Cauliflower" and "Pineapple" teapots that had been made by Thomas Whieldon, Wedgwood and other 18th-century Staffordshire potters. Both English and American majolica potters reproduced the "Cauliflower" pattern and other raised fruit, vegetable, leaf, and berry patterns, with green, yellow, pink, brown, light blue and purple-blue glazes. There is also a teapot of yellow corn and green leaves, similar to the old Whieldon "Pineapple" teapots, and a teapot, jug and sugar bowl of pink coral and green seaweed with accents of brown and blue, marked "Etruscan Majolica". Many late 19th-century majolica designs had rustic motifs with backgrounds of basketry and wooden-bound buckets decorated with moulded flowers, birds, fish and animals. Handles were made to resemble tree branches, rose stems and twined flowers and leaves.

Plates, jugs, teapots and other articles were moulded with the shapes of wild roses, lily pads and herons, begonia leaves, shells, coral, seaweed, corn and bamboo stalks, cabbage leaves, strawberries, ferns and sprays of flowers, borders of basketry and oriental motifs.

George Jones[edit]

The Trent Pottery, George Jones and Sons, made majolica cupids, shells, dolphins, birds, figurines and coral designs in numerous shapes. Their mark was a monogram of the initials "G.J." joined together. A beehive bread dish with a cover has a design of wild roses against a background of basketwork and has the Trent Pottery mark. Also flowerpots were made in bright colours and with raised designs of natural flowers.

[[|thumb| ]] many varieties of majolica. Their work was marked with a castle and the letters "D.B. & Co. Etruria" within an oval garter bearing the words "Trade Mark".

European and American potteries[edit]

France: Barbizet,


Sarreguemines, Massier, Choisy le Roi, Boch Freres, Longchamp, Luneville, Orchies, Nimy, Onnaing, Salins, Vallauris. Lonitz (Austria), Krause (Poland, formerly Germany), Eichwald (Germany), Bloch (Germany), Villeroy & Boch (Luxemburg), W S Schiller (Germany), Gustavsberg (Sweden)

Rörstrand (Sweden).

Several American firms also made majolica, with the English born Edwin Bennett producing it in Baltimore as early as the 1850s.[14] The best known are Griffin, Smith and Hill of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, whose Etruscan majolica made from 1880 to 1890 includes compotes with dolphin supports and flower, shell, or jewel cups, a design of coral weed and seashells, and tableware with leaves and ferns. Their mark was an impressed monogram, "G.S.H.", sometimes circled and with the words "Etruscan Majolica".

Majolica was also made by Odell and Booth at Tarrytown, New York, and by the Faience Manufacturing Company at Greenpoint, Long Island, whose mark is an incised "F.M. Co." Their pottery was dipped in coloured glazes, creating a streaked or marbled effect. Majolica was made at Evansville, Indiana. Work from the Chesapeake Pottery in Baltimore was called Clifton Ware and was marked "Clifton Decor 'R' " with the monogram "D.F.H.".

The Arsenal Pottery of Trenton, New Jersey, was making majolica as late as 1900 and exhibited Toby jugs in imitation of English Toby jugs at the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago (1893)

Production had increased since 1875 but with fewer original examples and with less artistic enterprise. By the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, majolica production was at an end, superseded by Art Nouveau and Art pottery.

Much Victorian majolica appears in antique shops and auctions. It is popular with collectors and some old patterns have been reproduced.

See also[edit]

  • Palissy, as a brand of A.E. Jones and Sons

In contemporary fiction[edit]

  • The Majolica Murders by Deborah Morgan


  1. ^ Leon Arnoux, 1867, British Manufacturing Industry - Report on Pottery, p.42 [1]"Majolica [tin-glaze earthenware, opaque white surface brush-painted in enamel colours] was produced for the first time by Messrs. Minton, in 1850, and they have been for many years the only producers of this article. The name of majolica is now applied indiscriminately to all fancy articles of coloured pottery. When, however, it is decorated by means of coloured glazes [applied directly to the 'biscuit'] , if these are transparent [translucent], it ought to be called Palissy ware ... Messrs. Wedgwood, George Jones, and a few other makers of less importance, are reproducing it more or less successfully. To Messrs. Minton, however, we owe the revival of the ware [the coloured lead glazes ware that they named 'Palissy ware'], which, in connection with [in addition to] their majolica [the tin-glaze product], created such a sensation in the French International Exhibition of 1855."
  2. ^ Arnoux, Leon, 1853, Lecture 23 Lectures on the Results of the Great Exhibition of 1851, David Bogue, 86 Fleet Street, London. p.396
  3. ^ Art Journal, 1850, Catalogue to Mediaeval Exhibition "…sections are thus enumerated in the catalogue:- … 4. Italian Majolica [tin-glazed Italian maiolica]; … 7. Palissy Ware [16th century]; …"
  4. ^ Christie, Manson & Woods Catalogue, June 16, 1884, Sale of Fontaine Collection of Majolica [tin-glazed Italian], Henri II, Palissy Ware [16th century] ...
  5. ^ Paul Atterbury and Maureen Batkin, 1997, 'Dictionary of Minton', Antique Collectors' Club. "Minton did not use the word maiolica themselves, relying instead on the Victorian version, majolica, which they used to mean wares of Renaissance inspiration, featuring hand painting on an opaque white glaze. These were therefore quite distinct from the coloured glaze decorated wares which we now call majolica, but which Minton referred to as Palissy wares."
  6. ^ Light and dark created by glaze pooling in the lower areas of a relief moulding.
  7. ^ May 26th, 1858, M. Digby Wyatt, Journal of the Society of Arts, 'On the Influence excercised on ceramic manufactures by the late Mr. Herbert Minton', p.448 "After the death of Payne Knight, Towneley, Sir William Hamilton, Hope, Soane, Gandy Dering, Flaxman, Tassie, and others, the Dilettanti Society's energy flagged; and "public taste was diverted from the pure and classical foundations ". No one knew better than Mr. Minton the sacrifices any manufacturer must be prepared to make, who would enter upon the Herculean task of attempting to stem the current of fashion, however contrary to right, wisdom, and good taste, it might be running ... The wise manufacturer will prudently direct his efforts to the production of novelties ..."
  8. ^ Digby Wyatt, M., Journal of the Society of Arts, May 26, 1858, p.448
  9. ^ Catalogue, (1851), Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue in Three Volumes, Volume II. London. W. Clowes & Sons
  10. ^ Digby Wyatt, M., Journal of the Society of Arts May 26 (1858) p.442
  11. ^ in-glaze decoration
  12. ^ The Illustrated London News, Nov. 10, 1855, p.561
  13. ^ M is for Maiolica/majolica, Victoria and Albert Museum
  14. ^ Schneider 1999, p. 19


  • Arnoux, Leon, British Manufacturing Industries, Gutenberg, 1877. [9]
  • Karmason, Marylin J., and Stacke, Joan B., Majolica: A Complete History and Illustrated Survey, 1989, Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
  • Atterbury, Paul, and Batkin, Margaret, Dictionary of Minton, Antique Collectors' Club, 1990.
  • Katz Marks, Mariann, "The Collector's Encyclopedia of Majolica", Collector Books
  • Schneider, M. Majolica. Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. 1999.

External links[edit]