Majolica Reproductions from China
The continuing flood of reproductions pouring in from China now includes copies of Victorian majolica. Unlike most previous foreign made majolica reproductions, the majority of new Chinese pieces are close copies of specific originals. Beginning collectors or dealers with little experience in original majolica could easily confuse new for old if they only rely on photographs in books for authentication. This article will show buyers basic construction features to help them avoid the new Chinese reproductions.
Separating New from Old
In general, the features which characterize the Chinese majolica are: 1.) hollow handles, 2.) unglazed bottoms, 3.) dull rough surface glazes, 4.) poor molded detail 5.) dark background colors of predominantly yellow-brown or gold-brown, and, 6.) patterns on the outside of vases and pitchers can be seen and felt on the inside.
Chinese majolica reproductions vary widely in quality. Poorly made pieces show most if not all of the points listed above. Better made pieces offer some exceptions to the general rules but almost always fail two or more tests.
Here's an example: While all the poorly made new pieces have dark colors and rough dull glazes, some better made new pieces (Fig. 2 and Figs. 18-22) have shiny smooth glazes and bright colors. The copy of the Wedgwood umbrella stand, Fig. 1, for instance, does have a smooth shiny glaze and some bright colors on some pieces of fruit. However, it also has a 1.) a dark golden brown all over background, 2.) a painted but unglazed base and 3.) the outside pattern is clearly evident on the inside (Fig. 14). This piece was the most expensive of our new sample that cost around $149 but it fails three tests; verdict, new.
Let's look at some other apparent exceptions in the examples. The handles on the fish and pig pieces form obvious holes on the inside where they meet the pitcher body (see details in Figs. 11 & 12) which is a clear sign of a new piece. But looking into or feeling the sides of the teapot and frog pitcher, no holes can be found where the handles join the bodies. Does this mean the handles are solid? No, you just need to look carefully at the whole piece. Under close examination you'll find firing holes (Fig. 13) in both handles. Firing holes permit expanding air to escape from hollow pieces when they are fired in a kiln. On the frog, it is on the outside of the bottom; on the teapot, it is on the inside loop.
So although all the pitchers and the teapot shown here have shiny smooth glazes with bright colors they are all easily proven new by a thorough inspection. All have unglazed bottoms, hollow handles, and the pattern on the outside can be felt or seen clearly on the inside. Again, these new pieces failed more than one test.
Taken as a group, most new Chinese majolica is also heavier than the Victorian originals they copy. Although weight is hard to evaluate when out buying, the differences are very obvious with new in one hand and old in the other. The other tests, unglazed bottoms, hollow handles, etc., are much more accurate tests for age than weight alone.
The samples purchased for this report were bought from six different sources, two reproduction wholesalers and four general giftware catalogs. Wholesale prices on pitchers averaged $15; larger serving pieces averaged $35-$60.
For general use, the six guidelines in this article are much faster and more accurate than using measurements to evaluate age on direct copies of old originals.
Fig. 1 (New)
Made in China reproduction of majolica umbrella stand originally made by Wedgwood, shown in Fig. 2. Reproduction is 19″ high and the bottom of the base is unglazed. The background is predominantly dark golden brown with a dark brown base.
Fig. 2 (Old)
Original Victorian pineapple and fruit umbrella stand marked Wedgwood. Bottom of base is glazed; 23″ high. Multi-colored background. Except for the difference in size, the pattern is virtually identical on both pieces.
Fig. 3 New shell shaped strawberry server from China is a copy of a Minton original. Golden brown background, 11″ dia. Dull glaze, rough surface.
Fig. 4 Original shell strawberry server by Minton. Shiny glaze. Size, 9″ dia. Photo courtesy Collector Books, Collectors Ency of Majolica, M. Katz-Marks, ©1992, Collector Books, Box 3009, Paducah KY 42002-3009.
Fig. 5 (New) New made in China version of original by Minton shown in Fig. 6. Two yellow/gold rabbits under cabbage leaf. 12″ wide. Dull glaze, rough surface.
Fig. 6 (Old) Original centerpiece marked Minton. Shiny glaze. 8″ but also made in other sizes. Photo courtesy Collector Books, Collectors Ency of Majolica, M. Katz-Marks, ©1992, Collector Books, Box 3009, Paducah KY 42002-3009.
Fig. 7 (New) Made in China copy of a grape and basketweave tray originally made by Wedgwood. Left to right measurement, 12″. Cobalt center; dull glaze, rough surface. No pierced "twig" handles.
Fig. 8 (Old) Original Victorian grape and baseketweave tray marked Wedgwood with twig handles. Shiny glaze. Photo courtesy Collector Books, Collectors Ency of Majolica, M. Katz-Marks, ©1992, Collector Books, Box 3009, Paducah KY 42002-3009.
Fig. 9 (New) This close up shows the rough glaze typical of most majolica reproduction made in China. Notice all the debris. The majority of glazes on the new pieces from China are dull colored and with a matte finish; original pieces have bright colors with shiny glazes. Area shown is about twice actual size.
Fig. 10 (New) Unglazed bottoms are a sure sign of new majolica. Although hard to read, this new piece is also marked "Made in China" Most new majolica has no permanent mark.
Fig. 11 Virtually all old majolica serving pieces have solid handles which were made separately and then applied to the main body. The vast majority of new majolica serving pieces have hollow handles. This is because new majolica is cast as a single piece in one labor saving operation. There is usually a hole where the hollow handles meet the side of new pieces (see Fig. 12).
Fig. 12 (New) New hollow handles typically leave a hole where they join the side wall as shown above. See arrow above. With rare exceptions, all old handles are solid. Old pieces do not have holes in the sides where handles join the body.
Fig. 13 (New) Another sign of a hollow handle is a firing hole shown above. Firing holes vent air which expands in hollow spaces during firing in the kiln Shown about twice actual size. It would highly unusual to find a firing hole on old majolica.
Fig. 14 (New) This view is from the inside of the new umbrella holder in Fig. 1. Note that the pattern on the outside of the new majolica umbrella holder is clearly seen on the inside as shown above. Insides of the vast majority of old majolica are smooth with no sign of whatever pattern is on the outside.
NEW Fig. 16 (New) Close up of leaves on new strawberry server in (Fig. 3). No molded detail in the flower blossoms; the centers are painted only.
Fig. 17 (Old) Close up of leaves on old strawberry server in (Fig. 4). Note molded detail in the centers of flower blossoms. Even poorly made originals generally show more detail than the Chinese reproductions.
Fig. 18 (New) Figural fish pitcher made in China. Shiny glaze, 8 ½″; hollow handle, unglazed bottom. Cobalt and white.
Fig. 19 (New) Frog pitcher, 9½″. Shiny glaze, hollow handle with firing hole, unglazed bottom. Green, yellow, red.
Fig. 20 (New) Figural pig pitcher, 8″ high. Shiny glaze, hollow handle, unglazed bottom. Golden brown, green, red.
Fig. 21 (New) Teapot, 6 ½″. Shiny glaze, firing hole in hollow handle. Bottom unglazed. Cobalt and white.
Fig. 22 (New) Duck pitcher, 7″ high. Shiny glaze, hollow handle, unglazed bottom.
Fig. 23 The reproductions carry dangerous amounts of lead; never use them to serve food.
Fig. 24 Many reproductions have been found only at reproduction wholesalers. But not majolica. New majolica has been widely available in many mail order catalogs sent to the general public. The group of new majolica shown here was found in Living Quarters, a catalog specializing in home decorating and accessories. Retail catalog prices have been known to be about 8 to 10 times higher than the prices at wholesalers.