Figural Humidors in the Majolica StyleBy Mark Chervenka
Figural Humidors in the Majolica Style
Reproduction wholesalers have offered figural humidors that resemble vintage originals. The new samples in this article were purchased for only $10 to $12. The originals they copy sell for $100 to $225 or more.
Most of the originals the new pieces attempt to copy are made of majolica. The vintage pieces were primarily made in Austria and parts of what is now modern Germany and are often called "Berlin Majolica." Most of the originals were made from about 1880 up until the first World War, ca. 1914, when production ceased.
The primary differences between the majolica originals and the reproductions are the type of clay and the glaze. All the new pieces are made of a thick heavy reddish tan clay. This distinctive color is obvious in the unglazed bases and the unglazed rims of the lid and top rim. By contrast, the original majolica glazed pieces are made of a nearly pure white clay. The white clay of originals is apparent in the unglazed bases and rims as well as through the nicks and chips almost always found on vintage humidors.
New pieces are also much heavier. The new humidor in Fig. 1, for example, weighs in at nearly two pounds. A similarly sized vintage majolica humidor shown in Fig. 2 weighs only about 10 ounces, less than half the weight of the new. In other words, the new humidors weigh about the same as stoneware, not majolica. The new pieces are not particularly thicker than old piece. It's the dense new stoneware-like clay that simply weighs more than the clay used in the majolica originals.
Another clue to the recent age is the rough finish over all the new pieces. Like many ceramic reproductions, these new humidors have a surface that feels very gritty similar to the feeling of raw bisque. Other than an occasional flaw, vintage majolica originals generally have a consistently even glaze that's smooth to the touch.
One of the more obvious differences is the very fine overall crazing that covers all the new humidors (Figs. 9, 10, 13). This is totally unlike anything found on the majolica originals. The areas between the dark lines are only about the size of the head of a pin. Crazing is never a sign of age. Crazing on vintage ceramic pieces is caused by flaws in the manufacturing process, not age. Crazing is, however, now deliberately created in the glazes applied to many ceramic reproductions. While some vintage majolica will be found with crazing, it is rarely the tiny very fine crazing found on these new humidors.
Although not a guarantee of age, one fairly reliable indication of a vintage piece is the presence of impressed numbers in the base (Figs. 6). Impressed numbers are typical of the majolica humidors from Austria and Germany before 1914. There are no permanent marks on any of the new humidors seen so far. The new pieces are made in China and arrive at the wholesalers with only a removable paper label.
One usually reliable characteristic of age, hand painting, is definitely not a test to separate new and old humidors. All the new humidors have hand painted details with obvious individual brush strokes. Since both old and new are hand painted, you need to pay particular attention to specific details.
Eyes, for example, are difficult to paint in a lifelike manner and are a good indication of overall quality. Although eyes are hand painted in new humidors, they are of much lesser quality than painted eyes in originals. The new eyes include only a simple black pupil within an outline of the eye. Original eyes generally include the full white of the eye, a colored iris and a black pupil. (Figs. 11-12)