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Occasionally, in old cottages and farmhouses, one finds genuine examples of English lustre ware. Collectors must beware, however, because there is such a thing as "planting," and in many instances dealers go round in country districts and "plant" examples of lustre ware-which may possibly be old, but are very likely to be modern-in suitable houses, trusting to the visit of confiding persons who take lunch or tea in the cottage and who, attracted by the lustrous objects on the mantelshelf, proceed to endeavour to purchase them, feeling quite sure that they are acquiring bargains at a very low price.
Really fine old English lustre is well worth having. There are three kinds of it-the silver, the copper, and the purple, as it is called. The oldest silver lustre is on a black or brown body. Later on it was made on a creamy body, but one gets the extreme brilliance of the silver lustre on nothing but the brown or brownish-black body.
It was not actually silver that was used, but an oxide of platinum, the first coat being composed of platinum dissolved in nitric acid and treated with a spirit obtained from tar, painted with a large brush over the earthenware and then fired. Then came the second coat, which gave it its rich appearance, added in the form of oxide of platinum, produced by sal ammoniac. The shapes were generally those which were also used in silver, and consequently, at a distance, it is not easy to detect the difference between a fine piece of silver lustre and a similar piece made in the precious metal itself ; in fact, some of the old tea-pots that were made in the silver lustre are almost identical in their appearance with the silver ones, and it is not until one handles them that one is aware of the divergence.
In buying silver ware it is well to look out for pieces that are on a dark ground or body. They always have a far richer, fuller effect of colour than those that are on cream.
The copper ware is much more frequently to be found, and belongs to a later period-about 1824-and copper lustre is still being made at various Staffordshire potteries, but the finish is not as smooth, and the colour is not as clear and mirror-like because, as the small proportion of gold which the old potters used with the copper is generally omitted nowadays, the copper has lost lustre and depth.
What the Leeds manufactory called the "purple" lustre was of a rose shade with a metallic gloss upon it. Pieces entirely of this lustre are exceedingly rare. It is, however, very often to be found in bands round mugs, goblets or jugs. It was very difficult to obtain a perfect effect of colouring, and the firing sometimes injured it, so that very seldom indeed is it found applied altogether to a piece.
The shapes in the copper and the purple are not quite as fine, as a rule, as those in the silver ; the majority are jugs, but in the silver there are saltcellars and tea-pots, shaving-cups and basins, and various things intended for tea ware, and occasionally vases, but these latter are particularly unusual.
The copper was cheaper and it was applied to more ordinary objects of everyday use. The collectors who desire lustre ware very often unite with it some other pots which were made at the same factory, those that are called agate or tortoise shell, or pieces made of an absolutely black basalt, which forms a very pleasing foil for the lustre. All of these wares were made in Staffordshire; Wedgwood did some wonderful black basalt, and he also did some agate and some tortoise shell, first of all for knife-handles, and then for small vases or pots, agate being made of various coloured clays mingled together, the mottled or tortoise shell made in something the same way, but worked upon, while the clay or slip was wet, with a feather, a tool or a comb, producing an effect resembling that of marbled paper or tortoise shell.
Very few of these pieces are marked. The collector must not search for marks or names upon them, and as they came from various potteries, it is seldom safe to attribute them to any special potter. The pieces made at the Leeds pottery were, however, the best, and they generally can be identified by their lightness and by a particular charm of deep, full lustre or effect. The Leeds black basalt ware, which contained a considerable proportion of manganese, is not quite as smooth or as highly polished as Wedgwood's, and for that reason, many collectors rather prefer it, because Wedgwood's lathe work took away a little from the simplicity and dignity of the piece and engine turning was out of place on pottery. Some of the prettiest pieces of the black are hot-water jugs, others are coffee-pots or butter-pots, vases, tea-canisters, sugar-basins, and sometimes busts;all are worth attention and represent English potteries which have long ago disappeared and which produced some excellently good results.
Marked pieces are especially rare,and if anything can be found marked Leeds "Pottery or Hartley, Green and "C.O.," referring to Charles Green, or " L.P. " which is the abbreviation of the words " Leeds Pottery," then the collector is particularly fortunate, as such pieces have a distinctive value and are in great demand amongst collectors.