Delft – not just Blue and White

Dutch Delft Porcelain

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Brief history

The famous Dutch Delft porcelain actually is not actually porcelain,  as it is often incorrectly called, but  more correctly should be called earthenware or Delftware. It was created by the Dutch to imitate an ever so popular Chinese porcelain exclusively imported by the Dutch traders in the middle of the 17th century.  A shortage of real Chinese porcelain motivated the Dutch potters to make their own in the mid 17th century.  Earthenware is a softer clay product , which with the invention of tin glaze, was made to look like Chinese porcelain. The early Delft pieces are decorated with themes copied from real Chinese objects. Like most Chinese porcelain, Delftware was made mostly glazed in blue and white.

Created as a result of the popularity of Chinese plates, the Dutch eventually interpreted their own motifs or decorative themes. Millefleur, Peacocks, and Tulip designs are the most coveted. Yes, round but within the round you have pap bowls, flat or pancake plates, ribbed, fruit bowl, strainers (with little holes in the bottom), scalloped edges, and perhaps the most coveted, some with swelled center referred to as  belly plates.

Variations

Next to the typically blue and white, Delft is found in multi-colors which is called polychrome. There is also another monochrome one, kind of purple in color. This is called  manganese. Many of our customers opt for the rarer polychrome because it seems more special. Polychrome and Manganese however are often higher valued. Some of the polychrome pieces have up to 16 different colors!

Delft items can be signed or unsigned and the technique in design may vary from stencil application (transfer print) to tedious hand painting. Sometimes the age can be determined by the name or the factory mark on the bottom. All Delft is/was not made in Delft, however one of the oldest factories (De Porceleyne Flesch) is still located there, still operational and open to the public,

Plates and Chargers

Desk Globe, 18th century

Desk Globe, 18th century

Delft takes many forms and the ones most popular are vases, plates and chargers (large). However Delft plates was used as normal dishes the latter are not for table use but are more decorative hanging on a wall or displaying on a table easel upright. In the 17th and 18th Century Decorative wall Chargers were used to brighten up the dark interiors as they looked happy and reflected light.

The best way to decide which will become the apple of your eye is to visit a museum with a moderate sized porcelain, pottery, earthenware collection. The most important collection of antique Delftware is in The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The desk globe shown here is from the collection of The Mint Museum in Charlotte . (factory unknown)

Spotting the Genuine

To know if you have a plate  in good condition, balance it on one hand and with the other, thump gently the rim with your nail and listen if it makes a ‘clear’, enduring sound  (good) or a noticeably ’short’ sound (red flag). The first is superior to the latter meaning it has not been cracked or repaired. This practice is called making the plate ’sing’. There are other possible factors in determining value. Lack of signature does not mean the artist cannot be attributed as certain factories at certain times only had one prominent artist and very little competing makers, thus a signature was not always customary. And some plates are have staples on the backside but are highly collectable.  Collecting Delft is an amusing journey in history as well as appreciation of it craft.

Transfer print vs Hand painted

When at a brocante or exhibition, one can regularly find pieces with the inscription containing the Dutch city, ‘Maastricht’, on the bottom mostly  with very decorative blue and white floral designs, in rather linear vertical ’striped pattern. Upon closer examination and without a loop, it is possible to detect minute imperfections, typically design lines that are illogically broken, which normally would be continuous. The design seems to be interrupted or shakily applied at best. When the design does not follow a cohesively, but rather ’skips’ and appears imperfect compared to similar parts, it is almost always a sign of transfer print.

Still this form of Delft, while not made in the well known city of the same name, has respectable age and is very decorative. The minor imperfections are an allie to those seeking affordable pieces to add to their collection. The price is impacted by the aesthetics rather than technical damages that compromise longevity. Maastricht Delft delivers atmosphere with its classic blue-and-white design, baluster shape and a nice conversation piece or two. If one can indulge  a matching pair is desireable to grace the mantel or if ceiling height permits, on the top of an armoire.  In the antiques world, things in pairs or multiples carry a factored value.   

 

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