TRENTON MADE: MAJOLICA

Posted in Current Exhibits, Exhibits

A tribute to Potteries of Trenton Society (POTS)

Curators’ Talk at Ellarslie Saturday, June 12: Learn more

Victorian majolica properly refers to two types of majolica made in the second half of the 19th century in Europe and America.

First, and best known, there is the renowned mass-produced majolica decorated with colored lead glazes, made in Britain, Europe and the US; typically hard-wearing, surfaces molded in relief, vibrant translucent glazes, in occasionally classical but mostly naturalistic styles, often with an element of High Victorian whimsy. In Trenton, two producers of majolica were Arsenal and Eureka potteries.

Second, there is the rare tin-glazed majolica made in Britain only, primarily by Mintons from 1848 to circa 1880, typically with flat surfaces, opaque white glaze with fine brush painted decoration in imitation of the Italian Renaissance majolica process and styles.

Majolica was made by molding the earthenware into a unique realistic shape. The shapes depict a three-dimensional form of a given subject or a scene on an item such as a platter or bowl, etc. The piece was then hand-painted using vivid appropriate colors. The piece was then glazed with either a tin or lead glaze and then fired at a very high temperature. The combination of the tin or lead glaze, and increased firing temperature, producing a glass-like glaze. This unique glazing process brought out the wonderful vivid colors of the piece. On the downside, this process also left the piece a bit brittle and prone to chipping.

From the 1850s through the early twentieth century, majolica wares were produced in such a wide variety of forms, from the thoroughly useful to the outrageously ornamental, that they could literally be placed in every room of a Victorian home.

Majolica umbrella stands stood ready in the entryway; platters and oyster plates graced the dining room table; whimsical pitchers brightened cook’s day in the kitchen; bright tea sets served a family’s afternoon tea in the sitting room; manly humidors graced a gentleman’s study or billiard room; majolica figurines in human, mythological, and animal forms cavorted in whatnot cabinets in the parlor; spill vases resided on the mantles; desk sets shone brightly in the library or the boudoir; dressing and chamber sets were at home in the bedrooms; miniature tea sets, fanciful figurines, and amusing banks found use in the children’s rooms and nursery; and formidable jardinières on pedestals vied with the ornamental plants they held for the viewer’s attention in the conservatory … or anywhere else the soothing, green touch of nature was deemed appropriate.

While Majolica took on many whimsical and outlandish forms during its time in vogue, most designs were based on plant and animal motifs whose bright colors and textures brought a certain lighthearted charm to the rich but often dark and heavy Victorian décor. The nature-inspired designs were particularly popular among the urban-dwelling middle class, as Majolica was an affordable way to create an impressive décor and bring pastoral beauty into the home.

Mayer Brothers’ ARSENAL POTTERY, in operation 1876 – c.1905

Located in South Trenton, Third Street and Schenck Street / Temple Street.

1890 Sandborn Map of Trenton, source Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Washington, D.C. – the company name of Arsenal came from the nearby NJ State Prison’s arsenal
Mayer Brothers c1895 source April 2015 Glazed & Confused Website

“In the manufacture of Rockingham and Yellow Ware the Mayer Brothers excel.

 Their manufactures consist of the colored pottery known as Rockingham and Yellow Ware, and include tea and coffee pots, jars, spittoons, dishes, bowls, pans, etc. of superior make and favorably known to the trade of the country.

They also manufacture Majolica Ware, and are importers of printed and decorated ware of various kinds.” 

—  Industries of New Jersey, Trenton, Princeton, Hightstown, Pennington and Hopewell.  1882. Historical Publishing Company, New York, New York, Newark, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“Making Majolica Ware,” Trenton Evening Tines, 12/6/1883

“Two train cars full of Arsenal majolica ware were shipped to San Francisco.” – Trenton Evening Times, 6/29/1885.

Arsenal majolica Grape Leaf” bowl from the Trenton Museum Society’s collection

This gorgeous antique 19th century majolica pottery bowl, or could be considered a deep plate, measuring 10″ in diameter and approximately 2″ deep. It is attributed to Joseph Mayer of Arsenal Pottery of Trenton, NJ circa 1890. It has a leafy fluted edge with grape leaf in the bottom interior which is green with yellow highlights and it rests on the textured white bottom.  The sides are leafy green with a dusty rose colored edge and brown trimmed along the very top edge.  The underside is a spattered mix of brown and white.  

Arsenal majolica “Ferry Captain” Toby jug, from the Trenton Museum Society’s collection

Arsenal Pottery made majolica as late as 1900 and exhibited Toby jugs in imitation of English Toby jugs at the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago (1893).

Leon Weil’s EUREKA POTTERY, in operation 1883-1887

Located in the Millham section, at North Clinton opposite Meade Street.

1890 Sandborn Map of Trenton, Princeton Historic Map Division, Special Collections, Firestone Library, Princeton University

Eureka was chief among the potteries producing majolica in Trenton, NJ. Constructed in 1883 by Leon Weil, the factory had only a short period of production before being destroyed by fire in 1887.

The two best known Eureka patterns were adaptations of English majolica and inspired by oriental designs. The Bird and Fan pattern features vividly colored birds and prunus blossoms on a pebbled ground. Best known is an ice cream service with a diamond shaped tray and matching fan shaped individual dishes. The Owl and Fan pattern included a tea service and graduated pitchers. Many Eureka pieces were produced in an unusual triangular shape.

Eureka majolica “Rabbit and Cabbage” butter keeper, from the Trenton Museum Society Collection, donated by the Trenton Historical Society with a contribution from Brian Murphy,  past president of TMS

Eureka majolica “Rabbit and Cabbage” butter keeper, featuring a mother with her three kits peeking out from the leaves on cover, having bold polychrome decoration with pink insert.

Consisting of three pieces, inside is a removeable pink colored liner with holes, so that ice can be put underneath to keep the butter cold.

Dimensions
5 1/8″ HOA.

Date
1883-1887

Eureka majolica “Owl and Fan” pattern triangular pitcher loaned by Karl Flesch
Eureka majolica “Owl and Fan” tea set, from the Trenton Museum Society’s collection

The whimsical “Owl and Fan” pattern triangular pitcher was one of the signature items produced during a short four-year period between 1883 and 1887 by Eureka Pottery in Trenton NJ.

The two best known Eureka patterns were adaptations of English majolica and inspired by oriental designs. The Bird and Fan pattern features vividly colored birds and prunus blossoms on a pebbled ground. Best known is an ice cream service with a diamond shaped tray and matching fan shaped individual dishes. This pitcher is of the Owl and Fan pattern which also included a tea service and graduated pitchers. Many Eureka pieces were produced in this unusual triangular shape.

Eureka Pottery was rarely marked. This pitcher is marked with the letter “A” on its glazed based. Most likely the identifier for the individual decorator who painted the piece.

Stands 6 3/4″ high by 3 5/8 at the longest side of the triangle and 5 1/4″ from spout to outside of handle