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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Cheese keeper; George Jones manufacturer; 9 inches high; sold: $6,037.50. Photo courtesy of Majolica Auctions
Itís the kind of glazed earthenware thatís colorful and quirky. I like that. Itís not trying to make a statement. But in the lack of effort, it does.

Iím talking about majolica.

Monkeys playing the piano, colorful turtles dressing up wall fountains, frogs croaking as pitchers, lettuce leaves serving as serving dishes.

Might seem a bit ludicrous. But it works. For me, majolica is the metamorphosis of nature into earthenware.

Not all majolica pieces have nature as their theme. But those are the pieces that speak to me. I appreciate the ocean themes, mythological figures and animals.

The irony is that majolica was a popular Victorian pottery, popular in an era known for its somber take on life, but cheery soft spot for things garish.

The English firm of Minton & Company already known for its porcelain and fine china first exhibited the radically colored but reasonably priced earthenware at Londonís Great Exhibition in 1851. It was a winner.

It didnít take long for other companies in England and America to copy the idea. By the 1880s, majolica was given away at A & P grocery stores in America with the purchase of baking soda.

Underneath the bright glazes is soft earthenware covered with tin and lead glazes. Majolica dates back to platters made by 9th to 13th century Hispano-Moresque artisans. It was eventually shipped from the port of Majorca, Spain to Italy, Holland, France, Germany, Sweden, Russia, etc.

Renamed and reformulated over centuries, majolica was tough enough to stand the wet, chilly English climate. It showed up in Victorian English gardens as seats, urns, fountains, and flower holders.

Majolica also showed up on the English dinner table as oyster plates and fish platters. Rabbit was served on rabbit platters.

Strawberries were eaten with spoons decorated with strawberry leaves. No detail was too trivial in formal Victorian dining.

The colors and never-ending assortment of majolica attracts collectors today. Many pieces have no identifying marks.

But some English manufacturers like Minton, Wedgwood, Holdcroft and George Jones did mark their pieces. Signed pieces are usually worth more.

Well-known American majolica manufacturers include Griffin, Smith and Hill (Etruscan) and Chesapeake Pottery.

Even without markings, itís not that difficult to tell the difference between English and American majolica. Most English pieces are more painstakingly modeled and colored than American pieces.

The English also liked human figures. So, if you see a human figure, itís probably an English piece.

Victorian majolica is the most popular area for collectors today and workmanship is critical. Carefully painted pieces whose colors stay within the outlines of the design are important. When majolica became popular in the 1880s, some companies hurried production and sloppy painting resulted.

Large pieces like vases, in good condition, are also desirable. The basic design of a piece is another important factor as well as the condition.

On Oct. 26, Majolica Auctions in Wolcottville, Ind., hosted by Michael Strawser, offered 1500 pieces of majolica on the block. Here are some current values.

Majolica highlights:

Humidor; figural; Arab in brown headdress; 4 inches high; $28.75.

Humidor; figural, monk head; 5 inches high; $57.50.

Owl pitcher; figural; 6Ĺ inches high; $172.50.

Tea service with tray; 6 piece set with teapot, creamer, sugar, two cups and saucers; turquoise color; $1,150.

Frog pitcher; figural; T.C. Steele maker; standing frog; bright colors; 11Ĺ inches high; $2,587.50.

Cheese keeper; George Jones manufacturer; great color; 9 inches high; $6,037.50.

Pitcher; George Jones manufacturer; underwater scene; rare; outstanding color; 7 inches high; $20,700.

Fruit bowl; George Jones; decorated with buck; deer and rabbit under tree; outstanding detail; 10 inches high; $27,600.

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