Victorian majolica

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Monumental Minton peacock, circa 1870, coloured lead glazes. Naturalistic in style. Potteries Museum, Stoke-on-Trent, England
Minton tin-glazed Majolica flower pot and stand imitating Italian Renaissance maiolica process and 'grotesque' style. Potteries Museum, Stoke-on-Trent, England

Victorian majolica properly refers to two types of majolica made in the second half of the 19th century in Europe and America.[1]

Firstly, and best known, there is the mass-produced majolica decorated with coloured lead glazes, made in Britain, Europe and the US; typically hard-wearing, surfaces moulded in relief, vibrant translucent glazes, in occasionally classical but mostly naturalistic styles, often with an element of High Victorian whimsy.

Secondly, there is the much less common tin-glazed majolica made primarily by Mintons from 1848 to circa 1880, typically with flat surfaces, opaque white glaze with fine brush painted decoration in imitation of the Italian Renaissance maiolica process and styles.


Glaze is a vitreous coating on a ceramic. Types of glazing include feldspathic or alkali-glazed, salt-glazed, lead-glazed, and tin-glazed.

Lead oxide is a key ingredient of both lead and tin glazes. Lead oxide is a flux that causes lead and tin glazes to fuse to the earthenware biscuit body at a low oven temperature, about 800 °C. The other ingredients in lead and tin glazes are typically an equally large quantity of silicates, and a small proportion of alkali (feldspar or similar) ground up with a little water and the large proportion of lead oxide to form a paste.

A coloured glaze results from adding a small amount of particular metal oxides to plain lead glaze, different metal oxides producing different colours.[2] Since mid-19th century coloured glazes earthenware has been known as majolica.[3]

An opaque white tin-glaze results from adding a small amount of tin oxide to plain lead glaze. Decorated with brush-painted enamels, tin-glazed earthenware from mid-15th century onwards has been known as maiolica,[4] also later as faience, delftware, talavera, or rarely majolica, though commonly majolica in USA.[5]

Coloured glazes[edit]

majolica n. 1. is earthenware decorated with coloured lead glazes applied directly to an unglazed body. Victorian majolica is the familiar mass-produced earthenware decorated with coloured lead glazes[6] made during the Victorian era (1837-1900) in Britain, Europe and the US, typically hard-wearing, surfaces frequently moulded in relief, vibrant translucent glazes, in a variety of styles and forms[7] (some examples below). Shown in Britain at the Exhibitions of 1851 and 1862,[8] it became fashionable, widely copied and mass-produced world-wide. Also known as: maiolica, Palissy ware, coloured glazes majolica, coloured-glazed majolica, lead-glazed majolica, and misleadingly 'lead or tin glazed' majolica.

Some coloured glazes majolica was produced in traditional Classical or Revivalist[9] styles, but Darwinism, natural history, their English country gardens, expeditions abroad, and trade in oriental products generated more exciting styles appealing to the upcoming merchant classes. There was a boom in Naturalistic[10] pottery, often with an element of whimsy, to which Minton's inexpensive, durable, multi-purpose product was well suited. A strong interest in the world at large generated passing fashions for Egyptian forms, Japanese styles, Chinoiserie and High Victorian style. Conservatories became a fashion statement. Adorning them were spectacular majolica garden seats, flower pots, jardinières, stands, large birds and animals. The irrepressible urge to impress guests with rare food led to the growing of pineapples and egg-plants (aubergines) formerly only available overseas. These too appeared as decorative objects for admiration around the home. Minton's Palissy ware boomed. Pottery makers throughout Britain, Europe and the US copied the process with great success, albeit variable quality. Palissy ware/Majolica went global.


majolica n. 2. is earthenware, coated with opaque white tin-glaze and ornamented with metallic oxide colours. Tin-glazed Victorian majolica is the rare tin-glazed earthenware made primarily by Mintons[11] from 1848 to circa 1880, typically with flat surfaces, and opaque whitish glaze with brush painted decoration in the style(s) of Italian Renaissance maiolica tin-glazed pottery. Also known as: maiolica; and 'lead or tin' glazed majolica.

Minton's tin-glazed majolica in imitation of Italian maiolica, praised at Exhibitions and purchased by Royalty and museums, made little commercial impact. Other pottery makers shunned the process.

Interest in Renaissance styles was waning, fashion moving on with the usual protestations from older generations: "...the current of fashion, however contrary to right, wisdom, and good taste..."[12]

Cost of production was high. Compared to the lead-glaze process whereby thick, temperature-compatible coloured lead glazes were applied direct to the biscuit, simultaneously, then fired, (paint, fire), the tin-glaze process required extra stages for dipping/coating and drying the tin-glaze before decoration could even begin, (dip, dry, paint, fire). Added to this, the expense of brushwork decoration, especially the fine painting of pictures and designs, was very time-consuming, requiring highly skilled,[13] higher paid artists.

Meanings of majolica[edit]

The term majolica has been dogged by confusion starting with the English anglicisation of the word maiolica into majolica following the appearance of the letter j in the English alphabet mid-17th century.[15]

Leon Arnoux, the artistic and technical director of Mintons, wrote in 1852 "We understand by majolica a pottery formed of a calcareous clay gently fired, and covered with an opaque enamel composed of sand, lead, and tin..." He was describing the Minton & Co. tin-glazed product made in imitation of Italian maiolica both in process and in styles. Remember, tin-glaze is simply plain lead glaze with a little tin oxide added. His description is often referenced,[16] in error, as a definition of Minton's other new product, the much copied and later mass-produced ceramic sensation of the Victorian era, Minton's coloured lead glazes 'Palissy ware'. The 16th-century French pottery of Bernard Palissy was well known and much admired.[17][18] Mintons adopted the name 'Palissy ware' for their new coloured glazes product, but this soon became known also as majolica.[19] Minton & Co. appear to have done little to promote the clear distinction between their tin-glazed and coloured glazes products.

Minton archive first design for majolica[edit]

Thomas Kirkby's design G144 in the Minton Archive[20] is inscribed "This is the First Design for Majolica ...". The design is Italian Renaissance in style. Close-up images illustrate a design suited for fine brushwork on flat surfaces. The design is for Minton's rare tin-glaze Majolica imitation of Italian tin-glaze maiolica. Minton's designs for Palissy ware, also known as majolica, were suited for 'thick' painting of coloured lead glazes onto surfaces moulded in relief to make best use of the intaglio effect.[21]

English Makers[edit]

Minton, the Originator[edit]

Great Exhibition (1851)[edit]

Victorian majolica was originated by Minton & Co., first exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

The 1851 Exhibition Catalogue[22] lists the two Victorian majolica products by Minton in consecutive sections.

Earthenware [...] Flowerpots, etc. Exhibit Number 60. "A variety of [...] flowerpots and stands, and garden seats." refers to the coloured glazes product that Mintons called Palissy ware.[23]

Tiles, Terra Cotta, and Vases, etc, in imitation of Majolica Ware. Exhibit Number 74. "Variety of flowerpots and stands, coloured in the majolica style, etc." refers to the tin-glazed product painted with enamels that Mintons called Majolica.

Exposition Universelle (1855)[edit]

The Illustrated London News reported with approval on Minton's two new products shown in Paris:

The collection of Palissy and Majolica ware, however, is that which appears to have created the greatest sensation among Parisian connoisseurs. The reader will remember that the main difference in these wares is that whereas the Palissy ware is coloured by a transparent glaze, Majolica ware contains the colour (opaque) in the material.[24] The care and taste with which these manufactures have been brought by the Messrs. Minton to their present state of perfection, have been amply rewarded. Within a few days of the opening of the Exhibition all the specimens exhibited had been sold.[25]

Despite this reminder Minton's Palissy Ware became known as 'majolica ware'; 'Palissy ware' dropped out of use and 'majolica' stuck. In the 1870s, the curators of the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) tried to clear up the confusion by reviving the Italian spelling 'maiolica' with an 'i' instead of a 'j' for Italian tin-glaze.[26]

Great Exhibition (1862)[edit]

At the second Great Exhibition of the Art-Works of All Nations a range of Minton's products were exhibited and illustrated in the Exhibition Catalogue. Amongst them were the two Minton majolicas a) tin-glazed Minton Majolica and b) coloured glazes Minton Palissy ware soon known also as 'majolica'.


Wedgwood began to manufacture majolica about ten years after Mintons. Wedgwood's glazes and modelling were denser and more formal than Minton's, but there were many pieces that displayed the naturalism and humour of Minton shapes. Wedgwood's majolica included cachepots, jugs, candlesticks, cheese bells, umbrella stands, sardine boxes, plates in naturalistic patterns, bread trays, etc. In Wedgwood's "greenware" the green glaze emphasizes the low relief patterning, typically of basketwork and foliage. Numerous smaller factories in the Staffordshire Potteries specialised in such green majolica wares in which the translucent glaze brought out the low relief of the cast body: some, like Wedgwood, marked their majolica with impressed stamps.

Majolica was influenced by the design of the old "Cauliflower" and "Pineapple" teapots that had been made by Thomas Whieldon, Wedgwood and other 18th-century Staffordshire potters. Both English and American majolica potters reproduced the "Cauliflower" pattern and other raised fruit, vegetable, leaf, and berry patterns, with green, yellow, pink, brown, light blue and purple-blue glazes. There is also a teapot of yellow corn and green leaves, similar to the old Whieldon "Pineapple" teapots, and a teapot, jug and sugar bowl of pink coral and green seaweed with accents of brown and blue, marked "Etruscan Majolica". Many late 19th-century majolica designs had rustic motifs with backgrounds of basketry and wooden-bound buckets decorated with moulded flowers, birds, fish and animals. Handles were made to resemble tree branches, rose stems and twined flowers and leaves.

Plates, jugs, teapots and other articles were moulded with the shapes of wild roses, lily pads and herons, begonia leaves, shells, coral, seaweed, corn and bamboo stalks, cabbage leaves, strawberries, ferns and sprays of flowers, borders of basketry and oriental motifs.

George Jones[edit]

The Trent Pottery, George Jones and Sons, made majolica cupids, shells, dolphins, birds, figurines and coral designs in numerous shapes including highbrow centrepieces alongside snuff boxes, spittoons, dog bowls, vases, serving dishes, tea sets, jugs, cheese keeps, desk sets, garden seats and pie dishes. Their mark was a monogram of the initials "G.J." joined together. A beehive bread dish with a cover has a design of wild roses against a background of basketwork and has the Trent Pottery mark. Also flowerpots were made in bright colours and with raised designs of natural flowers.

Joseph Holdcroft[edit]


Brown Westhead Moore[edit]


Thomas Forester[edit]

Samuel Lear[edit]

  • Poole and Unwin


Adams & Bromley[edit]

  • Edge, Malkin & Co, Burslem

Royal Worcester[edit]

Doulton Lambeth[edit]

Victoria Pottery Company[edit]

John Roth[edit]

European and American makers[edit]

Majolica from other countries is included in this article for two reasons

  1. The term Victorian is occasionally used also to describe majolica made in other countries.
  2. European and American makers employed English immigrant technicians and copied Minton's Victorian coloured glazes majolica process and styles.





Delphin Massier


La majolique[27]

"A la fin des années 1870 apparaît un produit qui renforce la notoriété de Sarreguemines en Europe:la majolique.Il s’agit d’une faïence fine recouverte de glaçures colorées. Les couleurs privilégiées: le gros bleu, le bleu turquoise, le vert dit bronze. Les bibelots, « objets de fantaisie » ainsi que certaines pièces monumentales bénéficient largement de cette nouvelle technique."

Thomas Sergent

Choisy le Roi

Boch Freres









Augusta Baptista de Carvalho

Avelena Soares

Bordalo Pinheiro


José Francisco de Sousa

Manuel Cipriano Gomes Mafra


Krause (Germany, now in Poland) Reichard Krause, quality German maker late 19th century, coloured majolica glazes, styles classical and naturalistic, usually with clear K/M shield makers marks.


Bloch, Villeroy & Boch (Luxemburg)

W S Schiller


Hugo Lonitz





Several American firms also made majolica, with the English born Edwin Bennett producing it in Baltimore as early as the 1850s.[28] The best known are Griffin, Smith and Hill of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, whose Etruscan majolica made from 1880 to 1890 includes compotes with dolphin supports and flower, shell, or jewel cups, a design of coral weed and seashells, and tableware with leaves and ferns. Their mark was an impressed monogram, "G.S.H.", sometimes circled and with the words "Etruscan Majolica".

Majolica was also made by Odell and Booth at Tarrytown, New York, and by the Faience Manufacturing Company at Greenpoint, Long Island, whose mark is an incised "F.M. Co." Their pottery was dipped in coloured glazes, creating a streaked or marbled effect. Majolica was made at Evansville, Indiana. Work from the Chesapeake Pottery in Baltimore was called Clifton Ware and was marked "Clifton Decor 'R' " with the monogram "D.F.H.".

The Arsenal Pottery of Trenton, New Jersey, was making majolica as late as 1900 and exhibited Toby jugs in imitation of English Toby jugs at the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago (1893)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 1877, Leon Arnoux, Pottery, British Manufacturing Industries,, Gutenberg pages 392-394, The name of majolica is now applied indiscriminately to all fancy articles of coloured pottery. When, however, it is decorated by means of coloured glazes [coloured lead glazes], if these are transparent [translucent], it ought to be called Palissy ware [coloured glazes], from the name of the great artist who used these for his beautiful works.
  2. ^ blue (cobalt oxide), green (copper oxide), brown (manganese dioxide), yellow (iron oxide), etc.
  3. ^ 2018, Claire Blakey, Minton Majolica: A Visual Feast of Victorian Opulence Minton Archive[permanent dead link] "Majolica is the term used to describe pottery made of an earthenware body coated with semi-translucent coloured lead glazes. It was developed at the Minton factory in the late 1840s by Léon Arnoux, who had come to the Potteries in 1848."
  4. ^ See wikt:majolica for quotations, citations
  5. ^ Unambiguous citations for the two distinct 'majolica's' (distinct in appearance, origin, history, style, and manufacturing process/technique) will contain the word 'majolica' along with a qualifier to show which product is being cited. 1. Majolica meaning tin-glazed earthenware: Qualifiers: dateable to before 1848, 'maiolica', 'tin-glazed', 'tin-enameled', 'opaque', 'white', 'brushwork', 'delft', 'stanniferous', 'faience', 'Minton tin-glazed majolica'. 2. Majolica meaning colored lead glazes earthenware: Qualifiers: dateable to after 1848, used in the same sentence as tin-glaze majolica/maiolica, 'coloured glazes', 'Mintons Palissy ware', 'lead-glazed majolica'
  6. ^ Leon Arnoux, 1867, British Manufacturing Industry - Report on Pottery, p.42 [1]"Majolica [tin-glaze earthenware, opaque white surface brush-painted in enamel colours] was produced for the first time by Messrs. Minton, in 1850, and they have been for many years the only producers of this article. The name of majolica is now applied indiscriminately to all fancy articles of coloured pottery. When, however, it is decorated by means of coloured glazes [applied directly to the 'biscuit'], if these are transparent [translucent], it ought to be called Palissy ware ... Messrs. Wedgwood, George Jones, and a few other makers of less importance, are reproducing it more or less successfully. To Messrs. Minton, however, we owe the revival of the ware [the coloured lead glazes ware that they named 'Palissy ware'], which, in connection with [in addition to] their majolica [the tin-glaze product], created such a sensation in the French International Exhibition of 1855."
  7. ^ monumental exhibition pieces, ornamental vases, flower pots, household table services, decorative candlesticks, centrepieces, desk and dressing table paraphernalia, floor and fire-surround tiles, garden seats, walking stick holders, dog bowls, etc.
  8. ^ Editorial Staff, Art Journal Catalogue (1862). "Exhibited Class XXXV, no.6873, D78". The Italian Vase [top, left, p.8] is Majolica [tin-glazed imitation Italian maiolica], […] The Ewer [bottom, middle, p.8] is a Palissy vase [coloured glazes].
  9. ^ Inspired by historical wares
  10. ^ Derived from or closely imitating real life or nature
  11. ^ Arnoux, Leon (1877). "Pottery, British Manufacturing Industries". Gutenberg. pp. 392–394. [...]majolica [tin-glazed], Palissy [coloured lead glazes], Persian ware, and flooring and wall tiles. I have given the name of majolica [tin-glazed] to that class of ornament whose surface is covered with opaque enamels[...]the opacity[...]is produced by the oxide of tin; [...]. Majolica [tin-glazed] was produced for the first time by Messrs. Minton, in 1850, and they have been for many years the only producers of this article. [...]majolica [tin-glazed], created such a sensation in the French International Exhibition of 1855
  12. ^ Digby Wyatt, M., Journal of the Society of Arts, May 26, 1858, p.448
  13. ^ Brush-applied decoration becomes 'embedded' upon contact with the 'raw' unfired tin-glaze, somewhat in the manner of fresco, with no possibility of alteration or overpainting.
  14. ^ "Magnificent Majolica: Kirkby's Mantegna – the Minton Archive".
  15. ^ Butler, Charles (1633). "English Grammar". London. The first English language book to make a clear distinction between i and j was published in 1633.
  16. ^ * Merriam-Webster Online [2]
    • Oxford Dictionaries online [3]
  17. ^ Art Journal, 1850, Catalogue to Mediaeval Exhibition "...sections are thus enumerated in the catalogue:- ... 4. Italian Majolica [tin-glazed Italian maiolica]; ... 7. Palissy Ware [16th century]; ..."
  18. ^ Christie, Manson & Woods Catalogue, June 16, 1884, Sale of Fontaine Collection of Majolica [tin-glazed Italian], Henri II, Palissy Ware [16th century] ...
  19. ^ Paul Atterbury and Maureen Batkin, 1997, 'Dictionary of Minton', Antique Collectors' Club. "Minton did not use the word maiolica themselves, relying instead on the Victorian version, majolica, which they used to mean wares of Renaissance inspiration, featuring hand painting on an opaque white glaze. These were therefore quite distinct from the coloured glaze decorated wares also called majolica, but which Minton referred to as Palissy wares."
  20. ^ "Magnificent Majolica: The First – the Minton Archive".
  21. ^ Light and dark created by glaze pooling in the lower areas of a relief moulding.
  22. ^ Catalogue, (1851), Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue in Three Volumes, Volume II. London. W. Clowes & Sons
  23. ^ Digby Wyatt, M., Journal of the Society of Arts May 26 (1858) p.442
  24. ^ in-glaze decoration
  25. ^ The Illustrated London News, Nov. 10, 1855, p.561
  26. ^ M is for Maiolica/majolica, Victoria and Albert Museum
  27. ^ "Musée de la Faïence".
  28. ^ Schneider 1999, p. 19


  • Arnoux, Leon, British Manufacturing Industries, Gutenberg, 1877. [4]
  • Karmason, Marylin J., and Stacke, Joan B., Majolica: A Complete History and Illustrated Survey, 1989, Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
  • Atterbury, Paul, and Batkin, Margaret, Dictionary of Minton, Antique Collectors' Club, 1990.
  • Katz Marks, Mariann, "The Collector's Encyclopedia of Majolica", Collector Books
  • Schneider, M. Majolica. Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. 1999.

External links[edit]