Monday, January 31, 2011

New York Antiques Week, Part II

Our first stop at the New York Ceramics Fair was the booth of John Howard, a specialist dealer in Staffordshire, creamware, lustreware, and pearlware ceramics based in Oxfordshire, England.  We've bought from Mr. Howard at previous shows, and we always make a point of stopping by his booth at the Ceramics Fair because he usually has one or two pieces of pearlware that we are interested in.

Our pearlware bust of the goddess Minerva, ca. 1810-1820
Photograph by Boy Fenwick

So, what is pearlware, you might ask, and why would I consider collecting it, as I do?

Pearlware is a type of English creamware, made whiter by the inclusion of china clay, and covered with a glaze containing a small amount of cobalt that gives it a bluish cast.  The generally accepted view is that pearlware was invented by Josiah Wedgwood in 1779.  Sometimes called "Prattware," and originally called "china glazed" or "pearl white," it was produced in quantity by Wedgwood and other potteries, such as Enoch Wood & Sons, in England from 1780 to around 1820, and remained in production, albeit in declining levels, until around 1840.

The Enoch Wood & Sons potteries, circa 1840
from Ward's
History of the Borough of Stoke-Upon-Trent

Given when pearlware was produced, at the height of the neo-classical revival, much of it is classically inspired in its form and decoration, taking its aesthetic inspiration from ancient Rome and Greece.  We collect pearlware figures of neo-classical deities and the Christian virtues, made 1800-1820, and have a dozen or so of them at Darlington House.  The pearlware figures we collect were made for domestic consumption in the English markets, and relatively few of them were exported to America, unlike later Staffordshire figures.  It is relatively rare to find pearlware figures for sale here in the United States.

 Two pages of pearlware figures, a number of which are in our collection at Darlington
 from English Earthenware Figures, 1740-1840 by Pat Halfpenny

At John Howard's booth at the fair we came across a pearlware bust of the goddess Minerva, circa 1810-1820.  Standing a robust twelve inches tall, the bust has painted enamel overglaze decoration, meaning that it was first glazed and fired in an undecorated state, then paint-decorated, and then fired again.  Typical of such figures, the paint decoration is in pretty pastel colors.

John Howard's advertisement in the
Ceramics Fair dealers directory

The base of the bust is painted to resemble marble, and the figure wears plum and lavender colored classical robes and a slate colored helmet surmounted by plumes of russet feathers.  It is stamped (twice) as being the goddess Minerva, the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Athena, the goddess of wisdom, war, art, and commerce.  Minerva was the daughter of the god Jupiter, whose image appears on the bust's peacock blue colored breastplate.

Given the bust's substantial scale it was an expensive piece when originally produced and it is a costly rarity today.  Despite the hefty—although eminently fair—price quoted to us by Mr. Howard, we decided to take the plunge and buy it to add to our collection at Darlington House, where it sits as the jewel in the crown of our pearlware figures collection.

I think our Minerva is really rather marvelous, and I am thrilled we have her.

Next: A piece of Staffordshire of elephantine proportions . . .


  1. What a great post, i used to write an antique column and still find the subject utterly fascinating.

  2. Wonderful Reggie Darling. I am carried away with her robe and "top" lavender with green and that wonderful mask- I would love to have one made up like that-wouldn't it be something! I had a great auntie that rouged very similarly.pgt

  3. She's gorgeous. Congrats.

    I must say, last week-end was the "perfect storm" of antique shows, and one that finally defeated me- The Winter Antique Show, the 26th street show, the Piers, the Ceramic Show, a great viewing at William Doyle (I was a succesful bidder on a Regency Calamander wood card table- uneeded, but I couldn't resist) and the Charles Ryskamp drawings at Sotheby's. I went to the theatre that evening (the Importance of Being Earnest- which I highly recommend) and promptly fell aslep during the first act. No reflection on the play, which is first rate.

  4. Dearest R, What a coup! She is regal and glorious and I am certain that she has been given a position which suits her status at Darlington House.

    I am most interested to learn that you are a collector of 'Staffordshire' figures since that seems a peculiarly English pastime From what you write, your collection sounds absolutely charming and it is good to know that they are being cherished by a knowledgeable collector.

    The Potteries of Staffordshire, home of some remarkable china ornaments and tableware, have been severely hit in recent times and particularly during this latest recession. But, I understand that a revival is underway and we may yet see this part of the country at the vanguard of pottery making once more.

  5. What a well written and informative post. I don't know much about antique ceramics so I really enjoyed reading this.
    I will be going to the antique and estate jewelry show in Miami Beach this week and because of your post I will pay extra attention to the ceramics at the show. I might even spot some neo-classical pearlware!

  6. We have several examples of pearlware in the china closet and adore them just as much as you do yours. It's a magnetic glaze, don't you think?

  7. Envy.
    Could you kindly take a moment to visit my blog and give me your input on the "candle holders" I found on Craigslist? They look to be reliquaries but I am uncertain.


  8. A lovely piece, and thank you for the history. Your gray wall appears to be the perfect backdrop for Minerva.

  9. How wonderful. I am sure Minerva has found a good home.

  10. Reggie, she reminds me of, um, something on Ru Paul's Drag Race. In a good way. Athena was always my favorite, I mean really, the other goddesses were annoying. Now, on to other matters. If you have a moment this week, could you pop round the blog and tell me if you have any ideas about my grandmama's ostensibly Federalist mirror? Thank you my dear.

  11. Dear Mr. Darling,

    Minerva is indeed a marvelous and rare piece. I particularly love her colors and the faux marble plinth she sits on. She looks quite at home against the warm grey walls of Darlington House. Well done Mr. Darling on your splendid find!

  12. Reggie -- she's stunning -- absolutely stunning!!! A perfect addition to Darlington House.

    I can't wait to see your Transferware post!!!

  13. Thank you for your informative post on Pearlware which I really did not know anything about. I have seen items similliar to this in various relative's homes and have never enquired of their style. Minerva is wonderful, not doubt casting her gaze over those at Darlington house with proper aplomb!

  14. She IS stunning. It is such fun to find something we MUST have don't you think?

  15. So the lovely Minerva now resides as the goddess of Darlington! I knew very little about pearlware, so as always enjoyed the history lesson. Her details are truly exquisite!

  16. Thank you for taking the time to try and identify my "candle holders"! I was thinking they were from Peru or other South American country. It matters not, though. I like them!
    You ROCK!


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