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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Dudson Majolica

Dozens of companies potted majolica during the second half of the Nineteenth Century.  For most it was a sideline to their regular business. As fashions changed they dropped out of production without really making a mark with their majolica wares and as such are rarely discussed in any survey of majolica. Dudson pottery was one of these small potters.

In 1800 Richard Dudson founded the Dudson pottery on Broad Street in Hanley. So began a 200+ year old successful business run by several generations of the Dudson family. Dudson specialized in earthenware, salt glaze, parian and especially Wedgwood type jasperware. They also made majolica.

Interior of the Dudson Pottery workroom

The craftsmanship at the pottery was always first rate. Their jasper work was dependable and often quite beautiful with a distinctive style. Unfortunately their concentration on jasper, a form that was invented by Wedgwood, unfairly branded them a reputation as "the poor man's Wedgwood."

In 1881 the company announced the beginning of majolica production. According to Audrey Dudson, whose books are considered the definitive works on the company, the most popular majolica made by the company was mottled green majolica such as the twisted rope example shown below. While majolica was not a major line for Dudson this particular line of brown and green mottled ware—known as "bronze green" within the company—was a consistant seller for them. 

Image from Audrey Dudson's seminal book on the Dudson Pottery

Trade ad for Dudson Pottery

The company also made full color examples of their most popular salt glaze and parian designs such as the tulip pitcher shown below.

Other majolica designs sold by the company remained faithful to their jasper ware kin.

Spittoons in both Rose and Begonia designs are also described in the literature.
Over the years we have seen many pieces identified as Dudson majolica but without marks or other corroborative evidence we are reluctant to list them here.

Majolica production in the popular bronze green glaze continued at Dudson through the first third of the Twentieth Century. After the start of WW2 the company completely ceased majolica production. 

The company remains active today in the production of utilitarian wares for the hospitality industry.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Copeland Majolica Date Codes

We were asked recently if majolica manufacturing companies besides Minton, Wedgwood and George Jones dated their pieces. The only other manufacturer that we know of is Copeland /Spode. Theirs was a much simpler coding method than that of Jones, Minton or Wedgwood and is extended to dating their fine china as well.

From 1870 to 1963 impressed date marks were used on Copeland pieces. On majolica and decorated earthenware they were used from 1870 until 1957. On bone china and other fine china they were used from 1870 until 1963. The date marking continued after this point but since the period of majolica manufacture concluded around 1920 we will not discuss these other codes here.

The method of marking was a very simple one. It took the form of a letter above a two digit number impressed into the base. The letter referred to the month of manufacture and followed the following code: J was used for January; F for February; M for March; A for April; Y for May; U for June; L for July; T for August; S for September; O for October; N for November and D for December. One should not confused these letters for others one might find impressed in the clay. These other letters most likely refer to place of manufacturer or catalog style. The only letters that count are those directly above a two digit number.

The numbers refer to the year of manufacture. Consider the example below impressed into the base of a Copeland Lotus pitcher. The L on the base refers to the month of July and the 80 refers to the year of 1880. Hence, we know this particular Lotus pitcher was manufactured in July of 1880.

A second example is shown on the green plate below.

This green plate has the S for September on the reverse above the 02 signifying the year 1902. This particular pattern was very popular for Copeland and was made for a very long time. It was also copied by other manufacturers as well so having proof of its Copeland origin is particularly useful here.

Here is an example on a sweet Copeland majolica basket.

This one shows an S over 78 indicating September of 1878. This impression is a bit more faint than the previous two but careful examination will reveal its presence.

Here's one final example, a rather rare Copeland majolica cauliflower teapot, which was no doubt the model on which the well-known Etruscan cauliflower teapot is based. This one has the letter J indicating January and the number 74 for 1874. We can say with assurance that this piece was made in January 1874.

We should note that Copeland was not as fastidious as Minton or Wedgwood in marking their ware so  these marks will only appear on a fraction of their output but it is a genuine pleasure to be able to decode them when you can find them.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Some New Majolica Reproductions

The site Real or Repro, which is affiliated with Ruby Lane Antiques is a good place to check for some of the repros currently being imported into the country. Here are a few reproductions from their current listings.

Two different copies of the Wedgwood Fruit cane stand are currently making the rounds:

These are copies of the Wedgwood original shown below:

There is also a new group of reproductions pieces making the rounds.

The pieces these are referencing are these below.

We have also seen this copy of the Holdcroft Dolphin Shell compote.

It is a copy of the original below.

There is a new reproduction of the Minton shell ewer minus the figures. This should not be confused with the Mottahedeh reproduction which has been available for some time and is marked.
There is also an extremely crude reproduction of the Minton garden seat.

Reproduction Minton ewer

Minton majolica shell ewer

Reproduction Minton majolica  garden seat

Minton majolica garden seat

There is also a new reproduction of the George Jones palm plate.

Reproduction palm plate marked J.J.

George Jones palm plate

This copy of the Sarreguemines bird plate is part of a series of four bird pattern plates marketed by Pottery Barn. The Sarreguemines original is shown below it.

Most of these originate in Asia and are slip cast. They are much lighter in weight than the originals and often have unfinished bases or unfinished interiors.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Antique Pottery Repair

A reader recently asked us a question concerning pottery repair and it occurred to us that on our blog we've never addressed the different kinds of repair available to the antique pottery collector.

Most damaged pieces of pottery will benefit from pottery repair. Damage to any piece will compromise its value but a good repair could help to restore some of that value, particularly in soft earthenware and majolica where such damage is common. There are basically two types of repair: functional and cosmetic. In the days before modern adhesives when objects were harder to replace than they might be today most repairs were done to restore the usefulness of an object. This would be functional repair.

The most common type of functional repair one sees is staple repair where a thick metal staple was inserted into the body of the pottery to support whatever damage may have been done. These repairs were done commonly up until the 1950's but their history dates back hundreds of years. They are quite remarkable when you think about the fragile material involved. The process itself is actually very simple. The two sides of the object to be repaired were solidly bound together using a sturdy twine. A small shallow metal staple with prongs pointing slightly inward was fashioned to hold the pieces together. On either side of the damaged area two small holes were drilled with a diamond bit at a 90 degree angle to the surface of the pottery where the staple prongs were intended to be inserted. The staple was then heated, causing the metal to expand and be more flexible. It was then inserted into the two drilled holes and allowed to cool. Once cooled the metal would contract forming a tight bond between the two pieces.

Staple repair on a majolica pitcher
Staple repair on a majolica pitcher

A second type of functional repair uses metal to replace a missing section. This type of repair is often referred to as a "make do." Most commonly these are seen replacing sections of spouts or handles that are missing. Either a frame or a piece of metal is fashioned to replace the missing piece. It is then attached by small pegs to the pottery body in the same manner in which staples are inserted. These kinds of repairs are usually quite charming in their inventiveness as they are often done by amateurs. Some people even specialize in collecting "make dos" because of their gentle folksy look.

Make do repair
Make do repair
A type of repair used in Japanese ceramics which we have never seen in Western culture is called Kintsugi. In Kintsugi, lacquer is mixed with gold or other metallic powder to make a liquid bond that glues the pieces together. The resulting piece is often more valuable than the original ceramic because of the beauty of the finished product as well as the precious metal used in the repair.

Kintsugi type repair 
Today, most repairs we see are purely cosmetic in nature. Using a piece that has a decorative repair will cause damage to the repair. A professional restorer will use modern adhesives, pigments and fillers to return a piece to its former glory. An important point to remember is to choose a restorer who will repair a piece so as to not compromise the integrity of the original object. Any repair should be completely removable without damaging the item. We have shown the work of several restorers previously on our blog here, here and here. All of these are decorative. None restore the usefulness of the original object but when you have a choice between this:

and this:

Retored Minton fountain base. Photos courtesy of Sarah Peek.
its appeal is obvious.        

The Majolica International Society maintains a list of restorers who specialize in majolica on their Web site, but most of them can repair other bodies as well. Local restorers can also be found through a reference from local antique dealers or through an inquiry of your local chamber of congress.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Cyber Crime and the Remote Auction Buyer

Unlike most of our posts, the subject of this is not about ceramics. It is however about the tools one maintains when buying remotely by auction, something most antiques buyers do. Whether you buy through eBay or Online Auctions or any number of other auction services one needs to keep a PayPal account for convenient payment to these sites. Recently we were a victim of theft through our PayPal account and it may be instructive to others to detail our experience.

A while back we heard of the massive breach of Yahoo email accounts by Russian hackers. We didn't give it much mind because, although we had a Yahoo email account, we hadn't used it for many years. One afternoon while randomly checking our balance on PayPal we noticed a large money transfer from our bank to the PayPal account. To those unfamiliar with PayPal, all PayPal accounts require a source of funding on which to draw be it a credit card or a bank account. We had ours tied to a checking account.

The transfer was in an odd amount: $999.00. We couldn't recall having purchased anything recently that would have required such an amount of funds. We checked with our bank and sure enough the checking account had been depleted by $999.00. To get to the bottom of this we called PayPal and asked what the money had gone towards paying for. All they could tell us was that a cash withdrawal from our funding source had been initiated from the PayPal account two days prior to our first having noticed it. Because of PayPal's rules such a transfer requires five days to finalize. The money was actually still in the PayPal account. We told the operator that we had not authorized the withdrawal and wanted to know if we could get the money back. She said we could after the hold was complete. We were relieved that the money was still there. We were told to change the password on the PayPal account so that whomever had gained access to the account could not return to withdrawal the money. After that it could be safely allowed to sit in the account until we decided to return it to the funding source.

This is when we realized how the warning about the Yahoo breach played into the story. This is how the hackers had gained access to the account! Although we did not use our ancient Yahoo account in setting up our PayPal account we did use the same user name and the same password that we had used in the Yahoo account. The hacker must have done a random search of thousands of Web sites trying the combination of user name and password and finally found a match in PayPal. Once inside our account they transfered the maximum amount that PayPal allows, $999.00, and waited for the five day waiting period to end so they could withdrawl the money. It was merely a fluke that we had signed into PayPal and seen the money transfer within that five day waiting period in time to stop it.

After this we went through all of our online accounts and changed all our passwords. We believe the PayPal account was unique among our accounts for using the same account name and password as Yahoo, probably because it had been established around the same time that we were using the Yahoo account. We had since moved onto other email accounts and more sophisticated password combinations but this one outlier still had the old combination.

As for the hackers, well we doubt they will ever be caught even though the United States justice department has identified four agents of Russia's Federal Security Service as being responsible for that massive Yahoo breach. Of course even though they have been identified the U.S. has no way of arresting them as they are in Russia and the United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia. PayPal told us they had blocked the Web address of those who had initiated the withdrawl from ever being able to access PayPal again. However these guys always manage to find a way around such blocks.

The important thing is to pay attention to the discovery of these types of breaches and change your online passwords frequently. We had dodged a bullet but a lesson had been learned to give each site we used online a unique password/user name combination. And you should too.

Friday, January 27, 2017

French Barbotine Majolica and the Work of Perret-Gentil, Menton

Picturing the citrus representative of the area is this turn of century poster for Menton

It is probably something of a redundancy to refer to a special type of French majolica as "Barbotine" since it is a generic term that is in general use in France to encompass all forms of majolica and Faience. In reality however it describes any slip form ceramic body that has applied decoration added to it. Specifically what I am referring to is majolica with flowers, fruits and animals applied separately from the body and covered with majolica glazes. While you see a bit of English majolica potted in this manner, the French were particularly adept at this kind of trump-l'oil decoration and used it extensively. They even have their own term for it, "garnissage." It is a form of decoration that has been popular in hard paste European porcelain for hundreds of years. In the late Victorian period it was extended by the French and English to include soft paste work in earthenware with majolica glazes.

The final result is wildly ornate and completely over the top by today's standards of taste but for the Victorian it fit in well within their design philosophy that there is no such thing as too much ornamentation. As you may suspect, this type of decoration is highly subject to damage, particularly done in the soft bodied earthenware that majolica was made of. It is virtually impossible to find an example today without some degree of damage. The one positive note here is that most pieces have so much detail that a broken petal or leaf is easily lost in the overall decoration. Unlike other forms of French majolica, Barbotine work has a limited market in the United States among majolica collectors. It is much more popular on the European continent. There is one manufacturer of this type of work though, whose work is very much in demand among American majolica collectors. The manufacturer to which I refer is the Perret-Gentil factory in Menton, France, commonly referred to simply as Menton.

The pottery industry on the French Riviera has been active manufacturing utilitarian ware since the Greek era. The area is known for its blue seas and abundant citrus. It is the only area in all of Southern France to which the lemon tree is native. As such the symbolic fruit of Menton, the lemon, is frequently used as a decorative motif. In the late 1800's the area's azure shores and beautiful weather became popular with Victorian tourists looking for relief from the Northern European climate. With the creation of majolica the popularity of colorful pottery modeled as citrus and other fruit developed as a souvenir market catering specifically to these tourists.

A Victorian view of Menton on the French Riviera

Signature of the Pereit-Gentil pottery of Menton

Perret-Gentil is not the only Barbotine manufacturer in Menton but it is certainly the best known. It was established in Menton in 1879 by Swiss potter Eugène Perret-Gentil and is still in operation today. The peak of its manufacture of Barbotine majolica started around 1890 and continued until around 1920. The work the pottery has produced since is decorative utilitarian ware most frequently decorated with citrus.

Eugène Perret-Gentil is seen today as one of the most important potters of the Côte d'Azure as he is credited for having developed this market for decorative pottery that has transformed the fortunes of many in the area to this day. Today, signed Perret-Gentil majolica brings top dollar on the antique market. It's easy to see why. Who's spirits wouldn't be raised by its bright, sun drenched colors and realistic life sized citrus. It's like bringing a part of the French Riviera home with you.