“Majolica Matters”

“Majolica Matters”, the name of the Majolica International Society ‘s newsletter, is also the philosophy of the more than l,000 collectors who have been members of the Majolica International Society.

The Majolica International Society was founded in 1989 by Indiana auctioneer Michael Strawser. That year, at the Society’s inaugural meeting in Ft. Wayne, forty-six members attended. Since then, the Society’s membership has continued to grow and is made up of majolica enthusiasts who are scholars, collectors, dealers, traders, auctioneers, photographers, restorers, decorators, and lovers of this whimsical, humorous, richly sculpted and brilliantly glazed Victorian ceramic.

Made of soft earthenware covered with tin and lead glazes, majolica’s antecedents were the albarelli and the platters made by ninth to thirteenth century Hispano-Moresque artisans. These pieces were then shipped in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries from the port of Majorca, Spain to Italy, where, as products of the Italian Renaissance, the chargers, pitchers and goblets were renamed maiolica. The ”Ceramic Caravan” brought the techniques to northern Europe, where tin-glazed pottery was produced in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Holland ( the well-known Delft ), Germany, Sweden, and Russia. During the sixteenth century, the French scientist and ceramic artist, Bernard Palissy reformulated the Renaissance glaze and created outstanding examples of platters decorated with marine life; these Palissy ware designs were revived in the late 1800’s by artists in France and Portugal.

In the nineteenth century, the technique of tin and lead glazing was further developed in London and Brighton and then reached the Ceramic Caravan’s final destination at Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. There, in 1849, Herbert Minton, head of the renowned porcelain factory Minton & Co., had the serendipitous fortune to meet Leon Arnoux. Arnoux was a great French ceramic chemist who joined Minton’s to regenerate the production of lead-glazed pottery based on Renaissance designs. Early pieces, called “majolica,” were destined for English gardens; the lead glaze protected cache-pots, urns, fountains, garden seats, and life-sized stork-and-heron-shaped flower holders from inclement English weather.

In response to growing interest in the culinary arts, Minton & Co. produced magnificent majolica, destined for the Victorian dining table, each piece foretelling its use. Picture wonderful oyster plates, fish platters and individual fish dishes, crab servers, lobster boxes and platters, and sardine boxes, all reflective of the English enjoyment of sea food from nearby waters. Game dishes held rabbit, partridge, and venison that matched the designs on the piece. In season, strawberries were placed in large dishes complete with serving spoons decorated with strawberry leaves. Chestnuts were presented in a bowl heated by a warming stone and served with spoons decorated with chestnut leaves ….no detail too precise was excluded. Most unusual of all: tea pots modeled as a Chinese actor behind a mask, or with a cat on the tea pot handle stalking a mouse finial, or as a monkey sitting astride a pomegranate.

There was almost no limit to majolica designs. It is the unexpected, the surprise of majolica that greets the collector in a world-renowned antiques show, or a tiny flea market, that keeps the collector seeking, searching, finding! Annual and regional meetings of the Majolica International Society introduce collectors to one another, with their shared interest being (almost!) more important than finding unique pieces for their collections. Pursuing the elusive is the fate and the joy of all collectors. To assist in the pursuit, our newsletter is published quarterly, helping those interested in majolica to learn more from knowledgeable collectors, dealers, and speakers. If you wish to join this society, please contact the Majolica International Society.

Our conventions unite us with authors and experts in the field of Victorian ceramics. This web site is Victorian majolica’s introduction to interested collectors. There are also books and resources that will further inform your interest in majolica.

Many factories on both sides of the Atlantic produced majolica. Keep posted for further information as we describe the myriad shapes and designs of majolica. We will also announce dates and locations of auctions, both here and in Europe, and publication of books and articles on majolica.