Figural Humidors in the Majolica StyleBy

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)

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Fig. 1 New figural humidor; 6¾ inches tall, 6 inches front to back. Hand painted details; fine crazing over entire surface.

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Fig. 2 Vintage humidor with hand painted details .

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Fig. 3 New humidor, 6½ inches tall. Chief smoking a pipe; TOBACCO in molded and painted letters on head band. Hand painted details. A fine crazing over the entire surface.

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Fig. 4 New humidor, sailor in a barrel. Hand painted details; 7½ inches tall. Fine crazing over the entire surface.

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Figs. 5 The dark reddish tan of the clay in the new humidors shows through in the bases. The new base on the left in Fig. 9 is unglazed; the new base on the right in Fig. 9 is glazed. The dark body shows through on both. No marks.

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Fig. 6 The base on the vintage majolica humidor from Fig. 2. The left side is unglazed, the right is glazed but the white body shows through as white on both sides. Generally, impressed numbers like those in this example, are consistent with a vintage piece, but not a guarantee of age.

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Fig. 7 Lids on the new humidors have sponge holder just like lids in vintage humidors. The presence of a sponge holder in the lid is not a reliable test of age. The dark reddish tan of the clay in the new humidors shows through in the lids and bodies of the new humidors.

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Fig. 8 The insides of lids and bodies of vintage figural majolica humidors are almost always nearly white.

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Fig. 9 Detail of face on new humidor in Fig. 3. Crazing deliberately created at the factory.

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Fig. 10 Detail of face on new humidor in Fig. 4. Crazing over entire surface.

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Fig. 11 Hand painted eyebrow and eye in a new humidor. Eye is formed with black pupil painted directly on background glaze, no white or colored iris. Fine crazing over the entire surface.

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Fig. 12 Vintage hand painted eye from humidor in Fig. 2. The old eye includes the white of the eye, a black pupil and colored iris.

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Fig. 13 Close up view of the fine crazing covering the entire surfaces of the new humidors. The crazing is applied at the time of manufacture to suggest age. The average area between the dark lines is about the size of a pin head. Crazing is not an indication of age. In vintage pieces, it is caused by flaws in the manufacturing process. Crazing is deliberately introduced in the glazes of reproductions.

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Fig. 14 A typical vintage majolica humidor.

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Fig. 15 View of the white interior of the vintage majolica humidor shown in Fig. 14.