Ask A Worthologist Question: Dutch Delft Tiles

The subject of Jennifer’s tiles—birds, flowers, houses and ships, as well as the “Ox Head” corner scrolls—gave them a definite 18th-century Dutch Delft look, but her tiles were reproductions. Still, the reproductions dated back some several decades and would be valued at between $30 and $70 each.

When Jennifer T. bought a house, she found some ceramic tiles wrapped in Dutch newspapers. Having seen similar tiles in auction catalogs, Jennifer engaged WorthPoint’s “Ask a Worthologist” service to see if the tiles she had were similar to those selling for hundreds of dollars or more at auction. The question was forwarded to me. Here is the question:

“I found these tiles in a house I just bought. They were wrapped in Dutch newspapers from 1959-63, but look like one’s I’ve seen in auction catalogs listed as being from the 18th century. Mine are smaller than the ones I’ve seen; they measure only 2 inches by 2 inches. Are mine real antiques?”

After a little research, I solved Jennifer’s tile mystery. This is what I was able to tell her:

Your tiles—as you might have guessed from the Dutch newspapers they were wrapped in—are Dutch Delft. Delft pottery first appeared in the 1500s, and from the 1740s onward, the production, makers and their marks were well recorded. The main exception to this being the original Delft tiles, which were very seldom ever marked by their makers, making the identification of the earliest tiles difficult to assign to any particular maker—without documentation—virtually impossible.

While at first glance, your tiles appear to be late 17th- to early 18th-century in style, they are early to mid-20th-century examples. Even thought they exhibit stylistic features found on 17th- to 18th-century Delft tiles—such as birds, flowers, houses and ships—and feature “Ox Head” corner scrolls, they are of a size we have never seen used for tiles made during the 17th or 18th century. The earlier tiles, like the 18th-century example on the left, measure about 5.5 inches square, and often exhibit “nail marks” left by the manufacturing process, something not visible on yours.

An example of a genuine 18th century Dutch Delft tile.

The original tiles were made by rolling wet clay out into the proper thickness with a round wooden stick. When the clay dried, it resembled leather in texture. At this point, the clay was cut into roughly 5.5-inch squares. To cut the tiles, a wooden template was placed on the surface of the leathery clay. Until the middle of the 17th century, the template had small nails on three or four corners to hold the clay still during the cutting process. These nails left small holes. Later, patterns that used only two nails opposite each other were hammered in the template. Hand-cutting of tiles in this way was used until the1860s. After about 1860, most tiles were cut using templates without nails or were cut by machine.

Even though your tiles are tiles actually reproductions, these reproductions often date early enough now to be considered collectible in their own right. Today, comparable tiles in the style of 18th century Delft originals often sell in $30-$70 each range.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.


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