The bright colours and bold moulding of Minton majolica wares made them a great success on their introduction in the mid-19th century, and they remain popular with collectors today.
Thomas Minton was an engraver by trade; he is credited with creating the first
Willow Pattern. In 1793 he set up a pottery in Stoke to make earthenware and, from the turn of the 19th century, bone china.
At first, the factory made almost entirely useful wares, but figures and other ornamental ranges were introduced in the 1820s.
Minton died in 1836 and his son, Herbert, took over. Herbert was an innovator, and in 1845 employed Leon Arnoux, a Frenchman who developed a cane-coloured earthenware decorated with brightly coloured translucent lead glazes.
Minton called the style 'Majolica', after maiolica, a tin-glazed earthenware produced in Italy since the 13th century. Minton majolica resembled the Italian work - particularly that of the 16th-century Florentine family of della Robbia - in its brilliant colours and bold moulding.
There were two styles of Minton majolica. One reproduced Italian wares in the neoclassical and rococo styles, while the other was based on more naturalistic modelling and colouring.
The second type was more popular with the Victorians, not least for the humour that went into creating many of the pieces.
Eccentric teapots were a staple of the range, along with relief-moulded and coloured serving dishes.
Typical of these was a cheese dish in the shape of a cheese riddled with mice; one of them forms the knob.
Large-scale decorative pieces for indoor and outdoor use, such as life-size peacocks, garden seats supported by finely modelled monkeys, and ornamental fountains, were also made in majolica. Majolica tiles were made from the 1860s to the end of the century.
Majolica's popularity spread through Europe and the USA, and other companies were quick to exploit the new craze.
In the 18th century, Josiah Wedgwood had created teapots and other wares relief-moulded and painted as cabbages, cauliflowers and the like, and his firm now reproduced them in majolica.
Both Copeland and Royal Worcester began to produce good quality majolica in the 1850s, while George Jones of Stoke made fine novelty wares from 1861 on.
There were several other, lesser manufacturers in Britain and the USA, while the style also influenced some studio potters of the late 19th century.
Though the Victorians are often painted as a sober-sided lot, given to gloom and prudery, this was only one side of their character. They also responded with child-like delight to whimsy and novelty, whether in the form of ingenious contraptions or new materials.
This sense of playfulness is what made majolica popular. In the same way, a lack of it in the nation's character in the middle of the 20th century meant that much of this delightful pottery was dismissed as vulgar and silly.
ENGLISH MAJOLICA COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Majolica has been one of the great antique success stories of recent times. You couldn't give it way in the 1950s and 1960s, but interest - and consequently prices - rose steeply after 1970, and are now at fairly high levels.
However, as even useful majolica wares are essentially decorative pieces, the best basis for starting to make a collection is enjoyment.
Buy what pleases or amuses you, rather than looking for a good investment.
Some people like to specialize in larger pieces, such as jardinieres, seats and tables, but the majority of collectors enjoy the table wares,
including cheese dishes, bread boards, fish tureens, oyster plates and asparagus dishes, all moulded and vividly coloured to show off their function.
While the more extravagant examples of Minton majolica are rarely seen offered for sale
outside of fine art auctions, the more main stream wares are a staple of general and specialist antiques dealers, country auctions
and house sales and antiques fairs. The odd piece, particularly if it's unmarked, may even turn up at a boot sale.
Majolica wares are easy to recognize and are rarely faked. Earlier pieces tend to be more highly prized, and it's worth your while getting a list of the year cipher marks used by Minton from 1842 on.
Year cipher marks will appear along with a standard Minton factory mark. These include an impressed MINTON (changed in 1873 to MINTONS) and a printed globe with the factory name blazoned across it. was amended with the addition of a crown in 1873, and with the word ENGLAND from 1891.
As the glazes are the main selling point of majolica, damage to them, the form of chips and cracks, will devalue a piece considerably.
Be on the lookout, too, for restorations; though the colours may
be matched relatively well, the shining intensity of the glazes is much more difficult to reproduce accurately.
Read articles and references:
Good standards are Warman's
English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain (Susan and Al Bagdade), and Marks
& Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain (William Chaffers).