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( Originally Published 1963 )
Gold pigment produced a range of shades, most often pink or rose but also orange and purple. The pink luster tea sets so greatly prized by Victorian ladies were basically a gold luster. In a tea set, the pieces were not covered with luster but decorated with it in designs that were mostly floral and foliage and not strongly naturalistic. Sometimes part of the pattern was hand-painted, as in the case of a strawberry luster pattern where the berries and a bit of green clinging to them were painted, and the three-parted leaves and the lines forming the wide border were a mulberry-colored luster. Green leaves frequently were painted on tea sets where the chief decoration was blossoms and lines or scrolls in shades of pink, rose, and perhaps orange.
Tea sets usually were some kind of porcelain, but most luster decoration was done on earthenware. Mugs, pitchers, bowls, and other useful tableware, as well as vases and ornamental pieces, were made in profusion.
Not to be confused with metallic luster decoration is the pearl luster or iridescence typical of Belleek and Brianchon. The nacreous luster that reflects light somewhat like mother-of-pearl was patented by a French potter, J. J. H. Brianchon, in 185%. It was at about this same time that porcelain manufacture began at Belleek, which is not far from Belfast, Ireland.
Belleek porcelain has become as synonymous with Ireland as Waterford glass and damask linen. Some tin-glazed ware and creamware had been made in Ireland during the eighteenth century. Suitable clay for porcelain was not found there until the 1850's-at Belleek. The factory is still in business.
Belleek is a soft-paste porcelain, exceedingly thin and with an iridescence that is colorless or palest cream. The decoration was either painted or modeled, usually in pink or green. Baskets with a modeled handle and roses attached to the rim, an old Belleek specialty, are being reproduced now. Because of Belleek's proximity to the sea, shells, corals, and mermaids were also favorite shapes and decorations. These are not always as attractive as the contemporary shamrock decoration. Tea sets and vases are the pieces most likely to be found in the United States today.
The resemblance to Belleek of some contemporary pieces of Lenox porcelain made in Trenton, New Jersey, is not accidental. Walter Scott Lenox, an American born in Trenton of ScotchIrish ancestry, became interested as a boy in the pottery factories in and around his home city. In 1889 he became a partner in the Ceramic Art Co.; later he became full owner, and in 1906 changed the name of the factory to Lenox, Inc.
Walter Lenox's aim always was to make porcelain that would rank with the finest made anywhere in the world. In his early years, he worked at producing a creamy, iridescent ware like that from Belleek, Ireland. Later he worked out his own formula for a porcelain that is creamy and extremely thin but lacks the iridescence of Belleek.
Since Lenox ware is still being made, much that is in homes today is far from being antique. A pitcher or a decorative fern dish in Lenox Belleek made during the 1890's is a valuable find. Doubtless the swans, salts, and other delicate pieces as well as the place settings presently being made by the Lenox factory will be exciting possessions % 5 to 100 years from now. Six Lenox china marks have been used since 1890, and the word Belleek or Lenox appears on each one.
Preceding Lenox in the making of fine porcelain in the United States was the comparatively short-lived venture of William Ellis Tucker in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He founded his pottery in 1825. After his death in 1832, his brother Joseph and a partner managed the firm until about 1838, when it ceased manufacturing hard-paste porcelain. Tea and table services, jugs, vases, fruit baskets, cologne bottles, and figures were produced in quite some quantity in view of the short time the firm operated. The decoration, applied by hand, can be classified either as landscapes or sprigged patterns, and gilding was used with both. Tucker porcelain is very nice indeed.
As distinctive although an entirely different ware came from a famous American pottery at Dedham, Massachusetts.
The production of this pottery or crackleware began in 1860. The factory was founded in Chelsea, Massachusetts, by Alexander W. Robertson, and in 1895 was moved to Dedham and the name changed.
Dedham pottery is easy to recognize. The gray-white base has blue decoration, and in the glaze there is a cobwebby effect of blue; this, in fact, gave rise to the name crackleware. The designs look as though they were stenciled. The most popular pattern was one with a rabbit. Others were based on apples, the azalea, butterfly, chicken, clover, crab, duck, lion, owl, turtle, water lily, and horse chestnut. The age of a piece of Dedham pottery is easy to tell by the mark, which was changed every few years. The last one used, from 1929 to 1943, was a rabbit mark with the word Registered. Since Dedham is no longer being made, examples become more valuable each year.
From 1840 until well into the 1900's, Haviland porcelain was the "best" china in many an American household. Actually, a set of Haviland was as traditional for a bride (as a present from her family) as rice at her wedding. David Haviland, whose ancestors had come to America in 1640, settled at Limoges in France in 1839 to produce this fine china, expressly for export to the United States.
HAVILAND CHINA is porcelain, noted for its translucency and hardness, which are the result of the temperature at which it is fired. The temperature seals the pattern in color so that it never wears off. Delicate floral patterns in pastel colors with the handles and other small areas gilded are typical of Haviland in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Cornflowers, forget-me-nots, roses, mignonette, and other dainty blossoms were made in lovely colors. Not all patterns, of course, were floral, but all of them are delicate-looking.
The most prized Haviland china is stamped with the firm's mark curving over the word Limoges, and underneath this appears Imported by (name of American retail firm). Stamped above all this in another color is Haviland France. Since about 1940, Haviland china has been made in both France and the United States. The patterns are different in each country, and of course the potter's marks are different.
Limoges has long been one of the centers for porcelain-making in France. Both hard-paste and soft-paste porcelains have been made there since 1771 by many other firms in addition to Haviland, which currently is the most famous of the operating factories. Porcelain stamped Limoges never has been noted for its decoration and, consequently, dainty floral patterns are typical of most of the Limoges to be found now.
Royal Copenhagen, made in Denmark, also was imported into the United States in considerable quantity from 1875 to 1900. As a matter of fact, hardpaste porcelain has been made in Denmark since 1772. The famous Bing and Grondahl, which makes the Christmas plates, was established in 1853. These plates, with a different design each year chosen by means of a competition among leading artists, have been made annually for more than sixty years. Blue with perhaps a little buff or gray decoration against a white background are typical not only of the Christmas plates but also of most Danish porcelain. It was made in dinner sets, of course, as well as in such notable items as chocolate pots and coffeepots, tureens, and plaques.
Between 1890 and 1915, HANDPAINTED CI HINA also was extremely popular as a bridal gift or a remembrance on some special occasion. China-painting was as important an accomplishment for young ladies at that time as fancy embroidery, and many young girls took special lessons in the art; china-painting clubs even became quite widespread. The more gifted of these painters worked freehand or copied their designs; others traced and followed a pattern. Many charming pieces much too pretty to throw away are still around.
Flowers were the basis for handpainted designs. Each dessert plate in a set of a dozen would be decorated with a different flower. The violet, pansy, garden and wild rose, arbutus, apple blossom, lilac, and chrysanthemum were favorities. These were painted most realistically, with buds and foliage, in pastel colors. Three sizes of plates were common-dessert, bread-and-butter, and large ones for serving. Equally favored by the chinapainters were salt and pepper shakers, creamer and sugar bowl sets, sauce bowls, candv and bonbon dishes, pin trays, and trinket boxes. Many handpainted vases, large and small, seem just as attractive today, and are. not to be compared with some of the other late-Victorian horrors.
Not do-it-yourself, but commercially produced, were Gibson Girl plates, also a turn-of-the-century fashion. The Royal Doulton pottery reproduced a series of twenty-four of Charles Dana Gibson's drawings. Other portrait plates were popular in the late 1800's too. And Kate Greenaway reproductions on mugs, salt shakers, and children's sets were favorites during the 1880's and 1890's. Rose O'Neill's kewpie dolls, featured in magazine illustrations, appeared on plates, cups and saucers, and tea sets made in Germany and sold here around 1900.