Dear Helaine and Joe:
My mother may have gotten this Majolica vase from her grandmother who might have gotten it for a wedding gift around 1911. The marks on the bottom make no sense to me, and I have looked around the web and found nothing as cool as my vase. It has a little damage to the raised twigs with the leaves, otherwise it is in good condition. What can you tell me about it?
D. W., Chesterton, Indiana
Dear D. W.:
Truthfully, the marks mean nothing to us either. They are probably workman or decorator marks, and their meaning has been lost in the fog of time.
However, this is a wonderful Continental European piece — probably made in Austria or somewhere in the Astro-Hungarian Empire in the years prior to World War I. The story really begins in 1896, when a group of disgruntled artists resigned from the Association of Austrian Artists and established the Union of Austrian Artists.
In a nutshell, the group, which included important artists such as Gustav Klimt (painter), Koloman Moser (glass maker) and Joseph Maria Olbrich (architect), left because of the ultra-conservative nature of expression under the Association and wanted to explore more modern avenues of art. They came to be called the Vienna Secessionists and produced work in a style that some call “Jugendstil,” which might be considered as a sister movement of French art nouveau.
Jugendstil buildings — and objects — can have very blocky forms with naturalistic floral accents, and this seems to describe the vase in today’s question to a proverbial “T.” It is a miracle that the raised flowers that look something like hydrangea to us, but may indeed be apple blossoms, have not been mangled and extensively chipped. A few damages to the stem tendrils is not uncommon and if not unsightly is often referred to as “expected losses.” And impacts the value only slightly.
Now, let us discuss these being “Majolica.” Actually, there are two types of “Majolica” — one is spelled with a “j” and the other spelled with an “i.” In simplest terms, one is a tin-glazed earthenware and the other has a lead glaze. The tin glaze variety originated in Majorca in the 15th century and is version spelled and “i.” The lead glazed version — which the piece in today’s question resembles — is associated with Minton’s in England, which introduced this type of ware in the 1850s.
We think the vase indeed have a lead glaze, and we would identify it as being Jugendstil with applied floral decoration, but not as “Majolica.” We also believe it is pre World War I, and the product of an anonymous Austrian factory. This is quite a lot to suggest about an essentially unmarked piece, but we feel that we are on solid ground.
Value, however, is more difficult. Again, we do not know the size. The price we mention is for a piece that is 8 to 10 inches tall. With the slight damage and its anonymous nature, this Jugendstil style vase should be value in the $100 to $150 range for insurance purposes.