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Blue and White Delft

When, some years before the 1890's, American collectors first became interested in antiques- blue and white Delft plates, spinning wheels, and copper kettles were the fashionable things to collect. A small spinning wheel with its neatly turned legs and spokes provided antiquarian atmosphere in the living room or hall corner, while the decor of the dining room was dominated by Delft dishes on the wall or plate-rail, with a well-polished copper kettle added for contrast.

Today's collector leaves the spinning wheel for the museum room. The copper kettle, if present at all, goes where it belongs-near the fireplace. But blue and white Delftware still receives a place of honor in the corner cupboard or on the mantel shelf.

Delftware is not as plentiful as formerly, when there were dealers like the three Koopmans of Boston, New York, and Baltimore who were Delft specialists. Some of their pieces came from old families of Dutch descent but more of it was imported directly from the Netherlands. We can thank such dealers, who knew Delft well and were discriminating as to age and quality, for most of the pieces available today.

Delft takes its name from the town in Holland eight miles from the seaport of Rotterdam. Originally as famous for its beer as its porcelain, by 1650 Delft had become one of the important European pottery centers. Its specialty was an earthenware coated with an opaque white, decorated with cobalt blue, and finished with a transparent lead glaze. For lightness, the clay used was a mixture of those brought from Tournai and Mulheim. The opaque white background resulted from a coating of tin oxide and an initial firing. Artists then did the painting in cobalt blue, often copying their designs from Chinese blue and white porcelains. A dusting with lead oxide for the transparent surface glaze and a second firing completed the making of a piece of blue and white Delft.

The variety of designs in the Chinese manner were inspired by Chinese dishes which ships of the Dutch East India Company brought to the seaports of the Low Countries. Hollanders, like many other Europeans, could not get enough of this costly Oriental porcelain. So the Delft potters obliged with their less expensive earthenware decorated in the Chinese manner. During the seventeenth century Delft had at least thirty-five master potters, each with his own pottery. There were as many more in the eighteenth century.

Examples of Delftware from about 1650 to 1725, when decoration was often the work of skilled artists, some of them painters of reputation, are museum rarities. Until about 1800 production of Delft for home use and export was increased. Artisan painters executed the decoration, usually in the Chinese manner. Pieces were decorated in cobalt blue and opaque white background many times using female figure in the center of garden scenes. One such piece the "long Eliza"This piece was copied from Chinese porcelains of the late Ming period.

In addition to plates, some of them fourteen to sixteen inches in diameter, the Delft potters also produced mugs, bowls, teapots, cow-shaped cream pitchers, vases, tobacco and apothecary jars, fireplace tiles, both Biblical and genre, and, occasionally, bird cages. The plates and jars are now the best known.

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