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

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Year End Wrap Up

Every year at this time we check the stats at Blogger to see the posts that are most popular among our readers. As has been the case for the past several years, interest in posts on the three major English potters, Wedgwood, Minton and Jones continue to lead in page views with Jones leading the pact. Of the posts written this past year, our post on Asparagus Servers leads the way with our posts on Jardinières and Cachepots and the Majolica of Wasmuel following in that order.

While the prices for majolica have held steady this year, prices of antiques in general have taken a deep plunge since the beginning of the 2008 recession. Prices for all majolica manufacturers are at their lowest point in over 20 years. Even majolica at the highest end is down since its peak in 2007. This is great news for the collector who can now afford pieces once outside of their price range but it is bad for the investor who has seen the value of their collection drop by half. 

Majolica as a collectible has fallen out of fashion after 30 years of steadily increasing interest. This in part is probably a result of decorators now favoring modern design over the traditional design of the past 40 years, but majolica is not alone in losing value. Across the board, antiques have lost their appeal to younger buyers. Many young people associate antiques with the elderly thanks to programs like Antique Roadshow. Antique furniture has taken a dramatic drop in value as younger buyers are more interested in mid century design than Art Nouveau. The clean modern look favored by tv home makeover shows is in direct conflict with the cluttered shelves full of smalls favored by collectors.

We have become a more mobile society where transporting vans full of old "stuff" every few years simply has become impractical. Buying a new suite of disposable furniture from Ikea has become more economically feasible than spending thousands of dollars on a mover. When it's time to relocate you just throw out the old furniture and buy new at your new location. The smaller living spaces most are dealing with also do not lend themselves to the oversized pieces of the past. 

For many years the popularity of majolica could be attributed to the popularity of the "country" look in furniture and accessories. There's no question that majolica lends itself well to this, but as French country and English country and American country have all fallen from favor the market for majolica has gone with it. In part this is certainly a result of the economics of the vanishing middle class. Where the market for high end antiques continues to be relatively healthy, the bottom has completely fallen out from mid range antiques. People of modest means simply no longer have sufficient disposable income to spend. A recent survey by The Economist found that the number of antique dealers who have closed up shop has increased tenfold in just the past few years.

The changing media landscape has added to this. Ten years ago a piece of majolica featured in a popular magazine like Vanity Fair would increase the value of similar pieces across the globe. Unfortunately magazines have lost their sway with the public with social media taking its place. The last thing that social media is concerned with is antiques.. unless of course you have a Kardashian sitting on one!

So where does that leave us heading into 2016? Popularity vacillates with taste. Most observers expect the prices of antiques to rise again in time but possibly not in our lifetimes... but you never know. If you enjoy collecting for the sake of collecting there is no reason for you not to do so, but the days of buying antiques for investment purposes seem to have past. As they say, buy what you love because you love it and you will never go wrong. 

Speaking for ourselves we will continue to cover the majolica market. Our love affair with majolica has not ended and according to our Blogger stats there is still plenty of company for those who join us in appreciating the color, the fantasy and the whimsy of Victorian majolica.


  1. My mother recently passed away and had a large majolica collection. She was an antique dealer in New Jersey and she loved her collection, however, I'm considering selling a few pieces to a local dealer and they want to know if some of the things are George Jones. Can you tell me where I should look for the markings? Also do you anyone who might be interested in all of her items? There are between 35 and 40 pieces. I can send you photos if you're interested in looking at them. Thank you for your time.

    1. We have posts that help identify all three major potters. You should take a look at them all. The dealer asked about Jones because George Jones majolica commands the highest prices.

      Before selling anything you should get a good current majolica price guide. It may cost you a few dollars but it will help you protect your mothers legacy to you and prevent any dealer from taking advantage of you. It will be well worth the expense. Dealers are known for giving you much less than the majolica is worth.

      You may also want to consign your majolica to auction to get the best price. There are several auction houses around the country that do specialized majolica sales.

      Like any collector I'm curious to see what your collection may be but unfortunately we don't have a blog address you can mail photos to.

      The post on identifying George Jones is here: http://etruscanmajolica.blogspot.com/2012/11/majolica-pottery-marks-george-jones.html

      Good luck!

  2. Thank you for the valuable information. I'll do my due diligence before selling any of her pieces. If you'd like to see the collection you can email me at mmagee@gardere.com
    Thanks again

  3. What a poignant post, Jimbo. Now that I've figured out what I need to do to be able to post here again, I want to tell you how much I've enjoyed reading your entire blog and have learned a lot about the world of majolica.

    I've only recently learned of today's aversion to "brown" furniture. I would have never thought mahogany and quality furniture would be devalued. However, I've noticed the design trends in stores and the abundance of light bright colors in geometric designs.

    When my parents built their ranch house in the country back in '71 they had it all decked out in 70's decor: avacado green and harvest gold everywhere, rust colors in family room, burnt orange, shag rugs, etc. Myself, I always was attracted to old houses and antiques to go with them.

    I am in my mid-forties and my foray into "collecting" anything special only started last year. Before, starting as a young married couple, and then the subsequent children, we just didn't have the resources.

    Apparently, the decline in the antiques market has made it affordable for me to decorate my house with many things including some majolica pieces. Most of these items were not even on my radar the year before, I loved antiques but did not understand the history of many of them.

    There are many things I cannot afford, even in today's market, like that Minton Christmas plate that is just gorgeous. However, your post on green majolica was very inspiring and I have found a few green plates (unmarked but identified on your blog), and a Minton cake stand.

    Although not Majolica, I fell in love with the Wedgwood pink pearlware you had featured on your blog. When I spotted a pair of shell plates, I had to get them. I have also acquired a pearlware comport with dolphins. They will all be displayed in my dining room this summer.

    My display space is limited so therefore, many of these things will be displayed in rotation, through the seasons. That has been my solution for wanting so many lovely things and hopefully will keep things interesting.

    My thoughts are: have young people ever been the target for antique shopping? When people get married, they register for dishes, household, etc. How is today's Ikea trend different from other trends, like the 50-70's mod?

    I am going to try to convey to my children the value of quality furniture, compared to today, and even what went into the things Mom is collecting now compared to what is available for decor in the stores. But it's true, they are not really displaying an interest. It's too bad I didn't have this stuff when they were smaller because they would have at least developed a nostalgia for many of the items. However, they couldn't care less of many of these things I've acquired. They are much into things of the moment like technology and I think that is much of today's distraction and climate.

    Perhaps more historical sight-seeing will instill an appreciation of history. For me, the internet has been an encyclopedia, I am always reading about things and enjoy researching and learning from experts such as you.

    I am not collecting as any kind of investment but out of pleasure and I have a budget. But one thing I've stressed to my spouse, who is a science kind of guy and not so much into the arts, is that if something happens to me, please make sure these things don't go to Goodwill. They're more special than that.

    You are so right about the shrinking middle class, I won't get started into that but say things were a lot more in reach for my parents than they are for us and will probably be worse for our children.

    Thanks again for your post.

    1. Thank you for your fine comment and your kind words.

      Like anything else furniture and accessories go in and out of fashion. The 70s funiture that was so despised just 15 years ago is one of the hottest commodities in the market right now. We were watching the Billy Wilder movie "The Apartment" the other day and noticed that the shabby lower middle class apartment owned by the main character was fitted throughout with Tiffany lamps. At the time the movie was filmed it was entirely appropriate. Tiffany had minimal value in 1959. Today these same lamps would command tens of thousands of dollars each. Tastes change and the lamps benefitted because of it. The old saying remains true: what goes around comes around.

      By the way, the pink pearl shell plates you purchased must look stunning next to the green majolica!

  4. Hi, Jimbo!

    Thank you! Another thing I didn't mention on style, austere gray seems to be the rage last couple years, too, especially gray walls, or even all white.

    I hadn't thought about mixing the green majolica with the pink pearlware but that's a lovely idea! I did have the green majolica up for the holidays and it was stunning! People were asking me about the majolica and even the two other pieces I have on permanent display.

    I'm not sure about mixing them now because I just acquired another pink shell plate. One came up, I could afford it, and it was now or never. I couldn't help myself. It came today and I had to see what I would do with the three plates together and how it will display this summer.

    Here is a pic if you'd like to see:


    But I think it will be fun to mix these plates with each other like you suggest.

    I would love to have one of those big conch shell pink pearlware comports, I think it might be called Nautilus? But I am happy with this other Wedgwood pearlware comport I purchased that has the dolphins. I pulled the Venus figure out of the cabinet thinking it would look good with the shells and dolphins this summer in my dining room.

    That is interesting about the Tiffany lamps. They were probably too "new" back then. Now people see them for the works of art they are. I have two reproduction Tiffany lamps in my living room, those Tiffany by Dale lamps.

    I used to subscribe for years to Colonial Homes magazine, which then changed names to Classic American Homes, before they stopped publishing it. We had just refinished our dining room last year. I think my grandmother's mahogany dining set contrasts well against the light green and cream painted walls and off-white wainscot. I've got an eclectic mix of periods but mid-century wouldn't fit my house or style, although there are some interesting pieces. Ikea is out of the question, style and construction.

    One of these days I might splurge and try to win one of those oyster plates!

    I suspect people will eventually tire of the cold gray interiors and eventually warm it up again.

    1. For many years we kept a Wedgwood pink pearl nautilus compote on our sideboard with a collection of turquoise majolica and other pink pearl dishes. It was always the centerpiece of our buffet dinners filled with crushed ice and shelled shrimp.

  5. Wow! I bet that was hard to part with. I can picture the colors, sounds wonderful!