Thursday, October 7, 2010


19th century majolica gurgling fish jugs.
Last weekend, on my drive back to Portland from Ashland, I stopped in an antique shop. Can't remember exactly where it was, but it was somewhere along the way. I'd seen a sign from the highway. There was supposed to be a whole antiques district, but when I got into town, it was really just one big shop on a three-block main drag.

Unfolding myself from the driver's seat, I looked at the storefront and was skeptical about my chances of finding anything. Oregon's antique scene is not what I'm accustomed to, having grown up back east near New York and Philadelphia. Less history and fewer historical objects here, since Oregon was populated much later than the colonial states.

One thing all antique shops across the country seem to have in common is the type of people they attract. All kinds of characters! On the way in, the shop owner asked if there was anything in particular I was looking for. I said, "Well, I like old quilts," and he directed me to the other end of the shop and disappeared in the opposite direction to ask his wife where she'd put the "good" quilt.

As I made my way through the shop, trying to avoid other people, the shop owner tracked me down and cornered me near a lady who appeared to be wearing a very bad wig. "Perhaps she bought it here," I thought. She was fussing over a white porcelain tea set decorated with pink roses. I was already retreating from the pile of quilts, which were mostly grungy mattress covers and cheaply manufactured comforters.

Fortunately, the owner seemed to be giving up on his search for the "good" quilt, and asked, "anything else you might be looking for?"

"Well, I like Majolica...but I don't really see a lot of it in Oregon...and I don't have a big collection...just some gurgling fish jugs." I shouldn't have said anything. The lady with the wig picked up a teacup and announced it was the type of majolica she liked the best. I thought, "that's not majolica, that's Bavarian...and it's hideous!"

The owner, who turned out to be my ally in the situation, quickly waved me away, to the back of the shop. Nice guy, been in the business for years. He brought out two shallow dishes that looked like compote or relish dishes. One was a begonia leaf, and the other was a swirling decorative design I hadn't seen before.
19th century majolica relish dish.
"This is the type of majolica I really like," I said, "the Victorian glazed earthenware. If I wasn't collecting quilts, I'd probably collect majolica oyster plates." I'd seen the begonia leaf countless times, but the swirling design intrigued me, so I picked it up and looked at it. The wigged lady had positioned herself within earshot, but we quickly escaped to the register. 

One of the things that intrigues me most about some of the collectible pottery such as majolica and mochaware is it often holds good value despite condition. The relish dish is not perfect, but I felt good about it for $45 since I hadn't seen the design. When I got home, I looked in Warman's Majolica Identification and Price Guide by Mark F. Moran, but didn't find anything with the same design.

© 2005 Krause Publications

This piece has all the correct signs of age - a natural looking craquelure, wear on the surface, chips, and wear around the edges. It doesn't look like a manufactured patina. I've come to recognize that over the years. So I think it's of the period, late 19th century. If you've seen this relish dish design before, please let me know. I'm interested in learning more about it. :)

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