D. G., Naples, Florida
To begin, what exactly is majolica? It actually can be several things. In the Renaissance, “majolica” or “maiolica” started being made as a type of tin glazed earthenware that was introduced to the world from Moorish Spain through the Island of Majorca — thus the name.
The “tin glaze” produced a white surface (think of the white tin oxide sometimes put on noses to prevent sunburn) that was intended to mimic the white porcelain wares coming to Europe from China. Europeans did not know how to make porcelain yet, so they had to cheat with the tin glaze on earthenware.
Many of these early majolica pieces are highly prized by collectors, but the majolica we are discussing today is a different variety altogether. It is called “Victorian majolica” and has colorful lead glazes on the pottery’s surface.
Many items have fanciful shapes. Umbrella stands, for example, might be shaped like a stork among bulrushes; or a pitcher might resemble a bunch of asparagus. Majolica-covered boxes might look like cauliflowers and a tea pot might be shaped like a monkey with coconuts.
In the current marketplace, the word “majolica” has been terribly misused and we see it applied to ceramic objects that have an opaque glaze but are just not Victorian majolica — not by a long shot. Unfortunately, we also see tons and tons of reproductions that can confuse new (and even some experienced) collectors into making unwise purchases.
Many pieces of old Victorian majolica are not signed but others are signed by English firms such as Wedgwood, George Jones and Mintons. Some French majolica pieces signed by Utzschneider and Company (located in Sarreguemines, France) also can be found, but is not as prized as American and British examples.
The fact that the two jardinieres in today’s question are not signed is not surprising, but we are suspicious of the age of these two pieces. Carefully examining better photos of another pair, we found a crudeness that surprised us more than a bit.
Some Victorian majolica can be rather crude, so without seeing better photos of the underside and the inside of the jardinieres we cannot pass judgment on the age of this particular pair. But we did find other pairs exactly like D. G.’s pieces that have sold in recent years at prices that suggest these have a retail value of around $800 to $1,000 for a perfect pair.
The value of a well-repaired set is probably not reduced by more than $100 or $200, but today’s market in majolica is very weak.
Write to Joe Rosson, P.O. Box 27419, Knoxville, TN 37927, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you'd like your question to be considered for the column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus.