Valuable Majolica earthenware hiding in plain sight

George Jones majolica pedestal & jardinière, circa 1870

Valuable Majolica earthenware hiding in plain sight

By Sherri Hall-Wilcox

One of the most valuable pieces of pottery that tends to lie about, its value unknown, is Victorian Majolica. To most, this brightly colored earthenware often appears too gaudy to possibly be antique or even worth anything, and since a great deal of it has no maker’s mark, it is often overlooked.

Majolica’s history begins in 1851 when it was exhibited at London’s Crystal Palace by Herbert Minton of Minton & Co. The demand was so great other European makers soon began production of their own lines of majolica. For the next 45 years, no home’s decor was complete without a variety of majolica centre pieces, fish servers, platters or umbrella stands. The market for majolica lasted until the end of the Victorian age and finally died out in the early years of the 20th century.

Majolica became popular again in the 1970s with the revival of public interest in the Victorian floral designs and chintz patterns. Pieces that had gathered dust for the better part of a century were brought out of attic trunks, dusted off and put on display. A whole new group of collectors were born in the process. By the late 1980’s, values for this gaudy tin-glazed earthenware began to appreciate at a great rate.

In the beginning, only the pieces by Minton’s and other early makers were the collector’s darlings, but by the 1990’s, these pieces were becoming well beyond the reach of the average collector. Even the unmarked pieces began to sell for several hundred dollars.

Just how valuable are individual majolica item? Well, the piece pictured at the top of today’s column is a not a record maker, but this George Jones majolica pedestal & jardinière, circa 1870, sold for $20,000 two years ago. Some pieces, such as a rare Minton Majolica Peacock, have sold for more than $230,000 at major auction houses such as Sotheby’s. How well values will hold up for majolica over time remains to be seen.

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