The History of Majolica Pottery
Majolica is a type of glazed jewel-toned pottery associated with Spain, Italy and Mexico. It was widely produced in Europe and America in the second half of the 19th Century, but its roots are much older.
During the Renaissance, a collection of majolica signified affluence and good taste. Majolica also was considered to be the perfect gift for important occasions such as engagements, weddings or births.
The process of making maiolica includes applying a tin (lead, on early pieces) enamel to a fired piece of earthenware, forming a white, opaque, porous surface on which a design is painted.
The most dominant themes are fauna and flora, especially leafy patterns. The completed design is then coated with a transparent glaze and the piece is fired again.
Often the terms “Majolica” and “Maiolica” are used interchangeably. Hamer refines the distinction between “maiolica” and “majolica” by defining “majolica” as a late nineteenth century English ware with shiny, colorful glazes distinct from tin-glazed maiolica (1975:193). “Maiolica” is defined as the fifteenth century luster Spanish ware imported to Italy from Maiorca. The name, at first, referred only to the lustered ware (produced in Moorish Spain as an alternative to precious metalware) but later embraced all tin-glazed wares. It is now used in this broad sense (Hamer 1975:191). Read More: The Journal of San Diego History
Many of the items made from majolica were fun and humorous. Almost anything was made in majolica: teapots, tobacco jars smoking paraphernalia from ashtrays to match holders, butter pats, oyster plates, mugs, platters and other dinnerware, figurals and cuspidors. Dessert sets were very popular.
Majolica was made originally by 14th Century potters and was popularized in the mid-15th Century. It takes its name from the Spanish island of Majorca, from which it was exported to Italy during the Italian Renaissance.
It soon made its way across Europe and eventually to America, where it made its debut at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876.
Almost all the majolica made in the 19th and 20th Centuries was from a mold. The more intricate the pattern, the more desirable, especially pieces that feature raised decorations.
Decorative ceramic pottery fell from fashion in the early 1900s. But it has been making a comeback since the 1960s. Because of its popularity, reproductions abound. Many potters are making majolica today, but collectors covet early pieces.
As with most popular antiques, the cost of a piece of old majolica is much higher than its original price. Pieces may cost anywhere from $35 for a small plate to thousands of dollars for a set of dishes. Look for bargains at flea markets, yard or garage sales.
Cost depends on the condition, size, quality, maker, pattern or uniqueness. Among the more familiar names of majolica-makers were Wedgwood, Holdcraft, Minton and Etruscan. Most majolica is unmarked, but the European pieces often feature a mark or a series of numbers pressed in before firing.