So you fancy starting a collection but you’re not sure what to collect? How About . . . ?
Every home will contain at least one example or more – in the kitchen, the bathroom, the fire surround. How long have they been in existence and what should we look out for when buying an Old Tile.
When trying to identify an old tile, the most difficult aspect is where was it made and when.
The most famous tiles are referred to as delft. But why?
The term delft is derived from the dutch town of Delft. The Netherlands began to produce tin-glazed earthenware in the late 15 century. Potteries were established in many parts of the Netherlands, Amsterdam, Haarlem and Rotterdam, but by the late 17 century Delft had become the most important centre of production and nearly 30 companies were working in the area.
The original delft tile designs came about when Chinese porcelain stopped being imported in the mid 17 century and the popular Chinese wares were reproduced in blue and white. Initially made in blue and white, later in the century the Delft potters introduced a wider variety of colours, yellow, purple, blue, red, green and black.
Flemish and Dutch potters arrived and settled in London in 1570, but it wasn’t until the 18 century that the delftware tile industry became established in Britain. The main centres were London, Bristol and Liverpool. The tiles usually depicted flowers, ships, landscapes and many scenes of biblical subjects.
So now we know that we’re looking for either Duitch delft or English delft, but it’s quite dificult with these early examples to determine the place of origin.
A few tips:
Dutch delft often has a gritty texture, thick glaze and ‘peppering’ on the surface caused by air bubbles exploding during firing.
Dutch tiles are painted in a very assured manner with great skill and expertise.
The tin glaze of Dutch tiles is usually whiter because it contains more tin oxides making it liable to craze.
British delftware is typically less finely potted and the glaze is often tinged with blue or pink. Colours tend to be more muted due to the absorbency of the tin glaze used. The glaze is much glossier and smoother than Dutch glaze and it does not craze easily.
So to sum up:
Gritty, thich white glaze, very well painted, crazed ……. Dutch.
Smooth, glazed tinged blue or pink, muted colours, little crazing …. English.
Now all you have to do is get out there and start looking, but beware – lots of reproductions so take time to do a bit more studying by way of delftware tiles.
Also remember, plates, flower bricks, jugs, posset pots, handwarmers, puzzle jugs, char dishes, vases, bowls and beautifully glazed drug jars for use by apothocaries were produced in delftware, but that’s another story.