Majolica ReproductionsBy Mark Chervenka
Until recently, there were really very few high quality majolica reproductions on the market. The majolica reproductions that were of reasonably good quality were usually sold through museums and generally well marked to avoid any confusion with old originals. By the mid-1990s more reproduction manufacturers were making majolica with improved quality and making more new pieces which are direct copies of old originals.
The origin of new majolica is about evenly split between the United States and overseas. The most accurate majolica reproductions are probably from a company in Tennessee; whereas the country that makes the most reproductions is probably Italy.
There were 25 pieces of new majolica purchased for this article. And while there are bound to be exceptions (which we note later) here are some general guidelines to separate new from old.
1. Handles on new majolica--pitchers, creamers, urns, etc.--are generally hollow and form a hole where they join the body. This is because the new pieces are cast in a mold as one single unit. Handles in old pieces were made separately as a solid piece and then applied to the body.
2. The pattern on the outsides of new majolica can usually be clearly seen on the inside. This is also caused from the new pieces being cast. Old pieces were generally made by hand pressing strips of clay into a mold. Because these strips were thicker and also smoothed to remove the potter's fingerprints, the outside pattern is very seldom visible on the insides of old pieces. You may find the occasional bump or depression on the insides of old pieces but virtually never find distinct shapes such as flower petals, vines, etc. The walls of most new pieces, though, are much thinner because they have been slip cast. This thin wall follows the outside pattern and appears as the "back" of the design on the outside.
3. A solid white colored bottom generally indicates a reproduction. Almost all old majolica has colored bottoms or at the very least some type of spattered or sponged-on color that hides imperfections and random paint drops. The color white highlights imperfections in the pottery and was not generally used on mass produced old majolica.
4. A bisque finish on insides and bottoms of pieces usually means a piece is new. Almost all original majolica was meant to be used. You couldn't very well serve milk out of a pitcher that wasn't glazed inside because the bisque surface could never be properly cleaned.
5. If the decoration, design or shape prevents a piece of tableware from functioning as a piece of tableware, it usually means a piece is new. Again, original majolica was made for every day use. Reproductions are made to be looked at. If a piece appears impractical or too delicate to be used at a 19th century dining table, it is probably new.
The new pitcher in Fig. 2 illustrates several of the guidelines. First, the handle is hollow and there is a hole where the handle joins the body (Fig. 4). Next, looking into the pitcher you can clearly see the pattern that is on the outside (arrow-Fig. 3). Finally, look at the top rim and notice the overhanging edge towards the inside. Pouring liquid out of this piece isn't practical because the rim would catch the liquid as it's poured.
Most rules generally apply to all pieces regardless of shape but there are exceptions. The most frequent exception seems to be with basically flat shapes such as trays, plate and platters. Virtually all old pieces in those shapes (Fig. 10) have smooth sided bottoms but so do most new pieces in those shapes. The new trays in Fig. 13 and Fig. 18, for example, both have smooth sided bottoms. However, the bottom sides on both are colored a solid white, which indicates their recent manufacture.
Markings on New Majolica
New pieces made in new molds taken from old originals can include the old marks that are on the originals. The new pitcher in Fig. 1, for example, carries the old Etruscan mark. The new mark by itself, even though blurred, isn't particularly suspicious since marks on genuinely old majolica are often covered over with glaze or smudged by careless molding. Looking beyond the mark, the pitcher's hollow handle and its visible pattern inside gives you enough more information to judge it as new.
Although no other pieces among our five samples from this particular manufacturer had an old mark, you should assume other new pieces with old marks exist (this same firm made over 80 different shapes, most all of which were based on old originals).
The only consistently applied new mark on our samples was an incised pair of letters, M and W (see Fig. 14). Most of the better majolica reproductions are being made by this firm so look carefully for the MW mark or the possible removal of the MW mark.
Colored and painted bottoms don't necessarily guarantee a piece is old (see Figs. 14-16) nor is weight alone a reliable indicator of age. True, many new pieces, particularly ones with hollow handles, are lighter than old counterparts but many new pieces, particularly plates and trays are also very nearly identical in weight to originals. Neither do old marks, old colors, or old patterns guarantee a piece of majolica is old.
Your best protection is not to rely on any one test or guideline but to base your decision on as many tests and general guidelines as possible.
Typical features of new majolica
Typical features of old majolica
Some examples of new majolica