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What is Majolica? The Marks That Make This Pottery Unique

Updated on April 10, 2016
"Still Life: Majolica with Wildflowers" by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888
"Still Life: Majolica with Wildflowers" by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888 | Source

What Majolica Is

Majolica is an Italian ceramic wear and pottery that has been produced for hundreds of years. The Italian majolica is so popular that it has been copied and reproduced in countries all over the world. Original majolica has its origins in the port of Majorca. This is the port where majolica pottery was first traded.

The region that defines Italian Majolica is a town in Umbria named Deruta. Deruta has produced Majolica since the 13th century. This area in Italy is popular because of the quality of the clay retrieve from the earth in this region. The clay was gathered from the hills in Umbria. This region still produces Majolica to this day. The superiority of the pottery made in this region has made Majoilca a collectible form of art.

The name Majolica is used first as an adaptation of maiolica by Minton in 1851. The English variation of this pottery was showcased at an exhibition in 1860 at The Great Exhibition. U.S. followed suit and began production of this type of ceramic in the 1880's. Expect to pay $200 - $300 per piece while rare pieces can fetch tens of thousands of dollars.

Why Majolica is highly sought after:

  • It is highly colorful and often depicts lively scenes from nature of flowers
  • The variety is staggering; plates, saucers, jugs, umbrella stands, tea pots, candle sticks, wall sconces and compotes are only a few of the items produced in this style.
  • It is relatively easy to find because it was produced in large quantities and by different companies.
  • The collectibles retain their value. as with most highly sought after antiques and vintage items, the value remains and may even grow as time passes.
  • It has distinctive themes. Sea life, animals, flowers, sea life, oceans, fruits, farm animals, reptiles and exotic plants are the fun themes and subject matter found on majolica pieces.

The Majolica that is sought after today is Victorian Majolica. Several common makers of Victorian Majolica are Minton, Wedgwood, Holdcroft and George Jones. While two of the most recognized American names are Griffin, Smith and Hill and Chesapeake Pottery. The Smith and Hill pieces are marked Etruscan. Markings can be used to verify authenticity. There are many reproductions and fakes on Majolica on the market so buyer beware. Do your homework and learn what to look for.

Determining the Value of Majolica

Etruscan Majolica Marking stamped by Griffen, Smith, and Hill and they were located in  Phoenixville, PA
Etruscan Majolica Marking stamped by Griffen, Smith, and Hill and they were located in Phoenixville, PA | Source
Minton Marks
Minton Marks | Source

The Markings

Markings can be stamped on the bottom of the piece and some Majolica will have no markings. The listed majolica makers, above, did stamp their pieces. This includes Milton, Wedgwood, Holdcroft and George Jones. The American makers Griffin, Chesapeake Pottery and Smith and Hill used distinctive markings.Smith and Hill Majolica is marked Etruscan.

When collecting majolica it may have signs of crazing. Crazing is the fine lines and cracks that are often associated with glazes on potter and ceramics like majolica. Crazing does not affect the value of the piece and the piece is not worthless because it has crazing. Cracks and chips on a Majolica piece are a different matter entirely. Major cracks and chips can completely render a Majolica piece worthless. Small chips or cracks may diminish value but not take away the value completely.

Look for pieces that suggest age. A little dirt, a little crazing. Very clean and clear pieces suggest a replica or fake. However, bright colors and freshness help you tell that the piece was well cared for. A well cared for piece is one you want to add to your collection.

Prices can be high for certain types of Majolica. If you are a new collector of Majolica it may be wise to start collecting small pieces or common patterns. A common pattern is the corn pattern. When you collect smalls and common patterns as a beginner you gain practice and insight about Majolica. This will give you the tools and insight you need when finally purchasing a large and expensive piece of majolica.

Buying Majolica Online

These tips can help you find heirloom Majolica and other pottery collectibles.

  • Trust your online dealer. Use a dealer with a high rating and ranking. Read customer's feedback to get a sense of who you are dealing with.
  • Use only a dealer who accepts returns with enough allotted time to return the item. Some dealers do not take returns...BEWARE! Others only give you only three days to return the item...not enough time, especially if the package has to travel far.
  • Ask questions about the piece when in a doubt. A reputable dealer will gladly answer all questions quickly. They will not be vague answers.
  • Choose listings with multiple photos. Photographs should show every angle of the piece so that you can see the crazing on the product and note any chips or cracks, photos should include a picture of the bottom of the piece especially if it has a marking.

How to Clean Your Majolica Pottery

Depending on the dirt or stain that you are trying to clean, there are several ways to clean and care for your Majolica Pottery. Cleaning is necessary due to having a roseville vase or ashtray being stored incorrectly. Sometimes, when you first purchase a piece of antique pottery, you buy it soiled and must take it home to clean it. Cleaning up a prized piece of pottery is easy and the solutions here avoid harsh chemicals and abrasives. Remember that you do take a risk when cleaning pottery so you may want to test a spot on your favorite vase before cleaning the entire surface area.

Dirt and oily grime can be removed from Majolica with hot water and ammonia. Pour one cup of ammonia into 2 gallons of hot water in a large plastic bucket. Let the piece of pottery to soak for up to 24 hours. After 24 hours, remove the piece. You will want to dry your pottery well with a lint free cotton cloth.

Calcium and lime build up is usually the result of the antique pottery being used to contain or store flowers or other plants. The mineral build up can be diminished usually by soaking the pottery in full strength white vinegar. The soaking time may take a day or two depending on how set the mineral deposit stain is. Check the stain every so often and return it to the vinegar solution if it has not been completely removed after 24 hours. Once you remove it from the vinegar soaking process it will be necessary to wash the pottery with a soapy liquid dish detergent and warm water. Rinse the majolica piece well with cool running water. Keep rinsing or wash again until the vinegar smell is gone. Dry the piece with a lint free cotton cloth. Baby diapers work well for drying antique pottery.

An Introduction to Majolica


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    • profile image

      Kathy jones 

      2 years ago

      I have an old pitcher i have kept for at least 45 years,it has raised pai ted fruit basket floral and churbs on it. I was wondering if it was a majolica piece

    • cabmgmnt profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Northfield, MA

      Thanks again, Brian!

    • brianschwarz profile image

      Brian Schwarz 

      8 years ago from Washington, DC

      Great! Can't wait to read it!

    • cabmgmnt profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Northfield, MA

      Hi Brian,

      Pottery from the 1800's has always intrigued me. Majolica isn't the only pottery collected. I intend to write more. Thanks!

    • brianschwarz profile image

      Brian Schwarz 

      8 years ago from Washington, DC

      Very interesting post. I love pottery but don't know a whole lot about it. This is wonderful. Thank you.


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