A Guide to Collecting Majolica [History & Values]

Majolica is one of those antique terms thrown around to describe a lot of seemingly different types of ceramics. It can be confusing for beginners (and non-beginners!) to figure out exactly what makes a piece majolica.

I’m going to sort it all out for you in this article.

An aqua blue majolica plate with floral decoration. Text: A Guide to Collecting Majolica
Table of Contents

    The Difference Between Maiolica and Majolica

    Italian maiolica platter, circa 1740, decorated with colorful fruit (plums and grapes)
    Italian maiolica platter, c.1740, photo by Enrico Ferrari (in the public domain)

    The term majolica comes from the Italian maiolica, which refers to 15th century pottery covered with bright, festive decoration against a white background, like the piece above.

    The origin of the name is unclear but it likely comes from one of two Spanish cities–Majorca or Malaga–which shipped this type of pottery into Italy.

    As other countries began to adopt this tin-glazed form of dishware, they applied their own names: in Netherlands they called maiolica delft, in France, faience, in Spain, talavera and in England, delft or majolica.

    NOTE: What is tin-glaze? The addition of tin-oxide to a traditional lead glaze resulted the white background on maiolica and it became known as tin-glaze.

    A colorful decoration would then be painted on top of the tin-glaze and the piece would be fired. Sometimes a final coat of glaze would be applied and the piece refired.

    The History of Majolica

    In the mid-19th century, Minton, along with other English potteries, produced ceramics similar in style to the Italian maiolica.

    But for the Great Exhibit of 1851, Minton showcased a new style of ceramic, which it called Palissy ware, after the French artist (Bernard Palissy) who introduced it. It featured dimensional elements along with vibrant hand painted coloration and a shiny surface.

    Funnily enough, this style acquired the majolica name, despite the two showing some strong differences. From that point on, confusion has reigned (Wikipedia).

    Where Italian maiolica reflected religious and historic themes, Minton’s majolica was playful and often involved animals.

    And while maiolica kitchen wares featured flat surfaces, majolica always had molded elements and appeared glossy due to the final application of lead glaze.

    America and other European countries soon began producing their own versions of this popular pottery, many well into the early 20th century.

    One also sees plenty of reproduction majolica on the market that came out of Japan in the mid-1900’s.

    Today, beautiful pieces produced by the Portuguese company, Bordallo Pinheiro, abound in Homegood stores.

    Characteristics of Genuine Victorian Majolica

    Below are a list of characteristics to look for when buying majolica for resale:

    • Molded fanciful and naturalistic shapes
    • Flat internal surfaces, not molded like the outside
    • Bright colors, well applied, i.e., inside-the-lines and no dripping
    • Glossy lead glaze with no drips
    • Heavier than newer reproductions
    • Painted and glazed bottoms
    • Solid handles, not hollow


    With majolica, unlike many other vintage or antique pieces, collectors often don’t take issue with a small amount of damage in the form of flakes, tiny chips, and crazing. It may affect the price, but not as dramatically as with other types of collectibles.

    English Majolica

    Following Minton’s introduction of majolica at the Great Exhibit, many other English potters hopped on the very popular majolica bandwagon. This included George Jones and Wedgwood.

    Unfortunately, not all majolica is marked and some that’s marked, is not marked well.

    Antique banana leaf majolica plate
    Antique banana leaf majolica plate, c.1880’s

    The seller of this banana leaf decorated piece, seen at a local antique shop, marked it “English” and dated it to the late Victorian period. They priced it at $400(!).

    English white majolica salt & pepper shakers, c.1930

    By the 1890’s majolica’s popularity in England had waned and production declined, but not completely. This set of white salt and pepper shakers with molded fruit and leaf design, marked “Made in England,” dates to the early 20th century. Value: $15-25

    Click here for help with English marks.

    American Majolica

    In America, smaller, lesser-known potteries produced majolica. One of the most prolific, Griffin Hill Smith & Co., made the leaf-shaped dish you see below.

    Antique Griffin, Smith, & Hill & Co. begonia leaf dish, c.1880’s

    Located in Phoenixville, PA, Griffin, Smith, & Hill produced this begonia leaf dish sometime around 1880. The line was known as “Etruscan,” a kind of take-off on Wedgwood’s “Etruria.”

    The monogram mark reflects the name of the company by using the first letters of each name: “G,” “S,” and “H.”

    Possibly McCoy Arts & Crafts style jardinière, c.1920’s

    At some point early in the 20th century, it became popular (easier?) in America to allow the paint colors to flow outside of the “lines.” This created a flowy, slap-dash appearance, like you see in the above jardinière, which I’d attribute to McCoy. Value: $35-45

    In addition, you’d often see a much reduced color palette of greens and browns, with yellow or pink thrown in occasionally. Many collectors of Victorian era majolica would have trouble applying the term majolica to this type of pottery.

    The “257” mark likely reflects a product number.

    American majolica jardinière, c.1930’s

    Here’s another example of later, American majolica jardinière in green and brown with embossed floral decoration. Value: $35-45

    German Majolica

    Following the success of majolica in England, potteries across Europe, including Germany, began to produce it for both European and American markets. Though the quality is generally not up to that of English pieces, it nonetheless has its own fanbase.

    Antique Villroy & Boch aqua majolica plate with floral decoration
    Antique Shamburg majolica plate, c.1883-1912

    The Shamburg pottery produced this pretty aqua plate at a time when they were a subsidiary of Villroy & Bosh, hence the V & B over an S mark. In a medallion motif with floral ornamentation, it dates to between 1883 and 1912. Value: $35-45

    German majolica plate featuring green leaves and a clump of pink flowers hand painted by the CICO company of Germany
    Vintage CICO majolica plate made in Germany

    This pretty piece, painted by the CICO company of Germany, likely dates to the 1940’s. Value: $20-30. Note: The hole in the center is for a handle, making it a tidbit tray.

    Antique gold basket weave German Majolica plate with fruit and leaves
    Antique German majolica basket weave dish, c.1910

    I picked up this pretty little plate at a local flea market for $5. I knew I’d be writing this article soon and looked forward to learning more about it.

    The mark lets us know that the piece originates from Zell am Harmersbach, a small town in Germany between the Black Forest and the Rhine River. One of their most famous designers, George Schmider likely designed this piece (1910’s). I located others with this same basket weave pattern that had his mark (GS in a teacup) on them. Value: $20-40

    Antique majolica plate with green leaves on a gold background, marked 7S on the back
    German(?) majolica plate in green & gold, c.1910

    This striking 8″ plate with the deep green leaves on a gold background bears the mark “7S.” Unfortunately I’ve been unable to confirm its origin, but my gut tells me it’s German from the late 1800’s, though I’m open to being schooled. Value: $20-30

    French Majolica

    Many other potteries in various European countries produced majolica over the years, including France.

    Antique rose motif French majolica plate
    Vintage French rose motif majolica plate, c.1920’s-40’s

    A later piece, this small rose motif plate, marked “Made in France,” has some sloppy painting, which makes it less appealing. Value: $15-20.

    Large antique French majolica platter with floral, fruit, and leaf decoration
    Vintage French white majolica platter, c.1920’s-40’s

    Truly a statement piece, this large 20″ platter, marked “Made in France,” displays a beautiful combination of embossed leaves, flowers, and fruit.

    It does show signs of careless manufacture, as it has several black, under-the-glaze specks. Value: $30-40

    Czechoslovakian Majolica

    Antique Czecholslovakian red cherry majolica plate with an aqua background
    Vintage Czechoslovakian cherry motif plate, c.1930

    I love the color combo of aqua background and red cherries, which I think this Czechoslovakian plate has pulled off rather well. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any info about the maker. Value: $25-35

    Unmarked Majolica

    As I mentioned previously, not all majolica manufacturers marked their wares. In fact, a substantial amount of majolica has no mark.

    Antique blue majolica jar with floral decoration, marked "27"
    Antique blue majolica jar with floral decoration, c.1880’s-90’s

    That doesn’t mean, of course that we can’t enjoy it! This pretty covered jar in blue with floral decoration says “Italy” to me and the bottom shows quite a lot of age, so I’m taking a pretty wild guess and dating it to the late 19th century. Value: $30-40

    Large antique aqua blue majolica pitcher with leaf and floral decoration
    Antique aqua blue majolica pitcher with leaf and floral decoration, c.1880’s-90’s

    Here we have another unmarked piece that I spied at a nearby antique shop. Very pretty with a textured surface and covered with naturalistic leaves and flowers, the dealer had priced it at $125.

    Portuguese Majolica

    You might be familiar with majolica through shopping expeditions to Homegood, Marshalls, and TJ Maxx stores, which often have Bordallo Pinheiro brand pieces on offer.

    Collectors of “genuine” Victorian majolica would consider these pieces reproductions, but a dive into the history of potteries like Bordallo reveals they’ve been producing majolica since the late Victorian period(!).

    Furthermore, their quality workmanship reveals their commitment over the decades to beautiful design and attention to detail.

    Bordallo Pinheiro

    In 1884 the Portuguese cartoonist, Raphael Bordallo Pinheiro, opened a pottery and began producing majolica dishware. He entered pieces into the 1889 Paris Exhibition and the company has not ceased production of their high quality but affordable majolica.

    Below are several pieces bearing the Bordallo Pinheiro pottery mark.

    vintage green cabbage leaf dish by Bordallo Pinheiro
    Portuguese Bordallo Pinheiro green cabbage dish, c. late 20th century

    A green 3 1/2″ cabbage leaf bowl. Value: $12-15

    Vintage green majolica cup with embossed leaf decoration by Bordallo Pinheiro
    Portuguese Bordallo Pinheiro green leaf decorated cup, c. late 20th century

    A green 4″ cup with embossed leaf decoration. Value: $10-12

    Portuguese Bordallo Pinheiro pink carrot plate, with scalloped edge
    Portuguese Bordallo Pinheiro pink carrot plate, c. late 20th century

    A pretty 10″ pink plate, commonly referred to as the “carrot” plate, though it also has embossed radishes and cabbage as part of the design as well. Value: $20-25

    Vintage Bordallo Pinheiro white cabbage leaf dinner plate
    Vintage Bordallo Pinheiro white cabbage leaf plate, c. late 20th century

    A 10″ white cabbage leaf plate. Value: $15-20

    Brand New Bordallo Pinheiro Majolica

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    As mentioned, Bordallo Pinheiro continues to produce gorgeous majolica pottery in Portugal.

    You can find these two pieces, the frog decorated and fox decorated pitchers, available for purchase on Amazon.

    Other Portuguese Majolica

    Throughout the years, I’ve come across several pieces of majolica marked Portugal, for which I’ve been unable to identify a maker. Here are those pieces:

    Vintage 4″ Portuguese Olfaire cabbage leaf bowl, c. late 20th century

    A 4″ green cabbage leave bowl marked “Olfaire, 805” on the bottom. Value: $12-15

    Portuguese white platter, c. late 20th century

    A 15″ white platter decorated with embossed leaves and fruit. The sticker on bottom reads, “Made in Portugal, Over and Back Inc. Purveyors to the world.” It has a presence in Portugual but I don’t know where their dishware is manufactured. Value: $20-25

    Portuguese green cabbage leaf dish, c.1960’s

    A 10″ green cabbage leaf dish, marked “Made in Portugal.” Value: $15-18

    Portuguese white cabbage serving dish, c. 1960’s

    An 8″ white cabbage leaf serving dish with an incised, hard to read mark that includes the word, “Portugal.” Value: $20-25

    Japanese Majolica

    Japanese potteries have never been afraid to copy popular pottery styles that originated in other parts of the world. This is true for majolica.

    Collectors of authentic Victorian majolica would refer to pieces like the ones you’ll see below as reproductions. The quality tends to be low.

    Qualities of Japanese Reproduction Majolica

    • Light weight
    • Paint outside the lines
    • Paint and glaze drips
    • Hollow handles
    • Garish colors and color mixes
    • Unpainted bottoms
    Vintage pink Made in Japan teapot with blue and green floral decoration
    Japanese floral decorated majolica teapot, c.1950’s

    A pink teapot with floral decoration marked “Made in Japan” in ink. Value: $12-15

    Small vintage basket weave jam pot with strawberry finial, likely made in japan
    Japanese(?) basket weave jam pot, c.1950’s

    A white 3 1/2″ high jam pot with a strawberry finial and no mark. Value: $6-8

    Likely Japanese basket weave creamer, c.1960’s

    A 3″ high, yellow basket weave creamer with no mark, though likely Japanese. Value: $2-3

    Chinese Majolica

    Majolica style ceramics continue to enter the market, mostly from China. The quality follows in the footsteps of that made in Japan in the mid-20th century.

    Likely Chinese strawberry mug, c. late 20th century

    A 4″ high strawberry shaped mug with no mark. Value: $1

    [Likely] Chinese cabbage leaf dish with bunny finial, c. late 20th century

    A cabbage leaf covered dish with a white bunny finial, no mark. Value: $12-14

    More Information About Reproduction Majolica

    You can find more information about reproduction majolica here.

    What is Your Majolica Worth?

    If you’ve been reading along with this article, you’ll have noticed that I posted values for each of the pieces I shared. That should give you a good idea of some of the value range.

    In general, pieces from England garner some of the highest prices, $40-200 for a simple plate, $60-400+ for a serving piece.

    Examples from other European countries will be somewhere in the ballpark of 25% less than English ones.

    You’ll find many American jardinières and umbrella holders priced in the $40-200, but Japanese and Chinese pieces much, much lower, in the $5-25 range.

    Where to Buy Majolica

    It can take some real scouring of markets to get your hands on nice pieces of majolica. In antique shops, where it’s more plentiful, you’ll typically pay full value.


    To find older pieces at lower prices, with enough room for you to make a profit, keep your eye out at flea markets and estate sales. That’s where I found most of the older pieces you saw in this article.


    To find Bordallo Pinheiro and other Portuguese pieces, check your thrift stores where it tends to be plentiful. Prices should leave you plenty of room to 3 or 4X you investment.


    No one can argue that vintage and antique majolica doesn’t make a strong statement with its color-saturated, often whimsical designs.

    Whether you collect “genuine” pieces from the late 1800’s or more modern pieces produced in Portugal, visitors to your home or antique “store” will ooh and ahh over any you have in stock.

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