Minton Secessionist Pottery
The basic outline of the history of Minton Secessionist is known, but many details have yet to be discovered. Leon Victor Solon joined Mintons in 1895 with the aim of revitalising the company’s designs and in 1903 the Secessionist range, which he had designed, was added to the list. In fact several pieces of what we would now call Secessionist had been made before 1903 but introduced under different product names such as ‘Klyso’, ‘Argentea’ and ‘Anglosia’. Mintons had been trying out new design ranges, but not all were successful, so some designs were incorporated into the Secessionist range. In addition to these ranges Mintons had been making art nouveau tiles designed by Reuter before Solon joined the company. In fact, Solon’s first work for Mintons was in flat patterns for tiles and decorative panels. Various of the techniques used in the secessionist ware came directly from both the tile production and the ‘Angloia’ range of pottery, including block-printing, relief moulding and slip trailing.
The Secessionist range was extremely successful because it appealed to a wide range of pockets. At the top end, its large jardinieres on stands and floor standing vases were fairly expensive, although cheaper than many competitors, but the range also included everyday objects such as soap dishes, trinket sets, sponge holders, tea and coffee sets, comports and even a watering can. The fact that these were in everyday use has meant that many were damaged in use and subsequently destroyed while others were no doubt thrown out when tastes changed later in the century.
There are, I think, three periods which can be identified. The First Period runs from around 1900 to circa 1905 when Solon left the company. The early pieces are all designed by Solon and are mostly overtly art nouveau in shape, pattern and even colour. These early pieces feature peacocks, flowers and various art nouveau trailing motifs. They are produced in a variety of techniques usually combining moulded relief with block printing. The basic shape would be produced in some quantity in moulds incorporating the raised relief. These would then be passed to decorators who would add the block printing where required and then colour the pieces with lead glazes. They would be encouraged to be quite loose in their technique so that runs and irregularities could be seen. This in effect meant that the pottery was a combination of industrial production and ‘art pottery’ finish.
The Second Period runs from 1906 to around 1912 and sees the new designs of John Wadsworth who joined the company in 1905. Many of Solon’s most successful designs continued to be made using exactly the same techniques, although it seems likely that Wadsworth introduced several new colour ways for Solon’s designs. Solon had favoured blues, greens, and turquoise grounds with sand and salmon pink decorations. Wadsworth introduced stronger colours, especially reds, pinks and blues. At the same time, he introduced new patterns, but instead of relying upon moulded reliefs, he got the decorators to use slip trailing. Solon had made limited use of this technique, but after 1906 it virtually replaced moulded relief on new designs.
Usually the decorators were required to follow Solon or Wadsworth’s patterns using a method of ‘pouncing’, a dotted charcoal line, but this is not always the case. There are many examples of ‘one-off’ designs where the decorator has been given total freedom to decorate a piece. One dealer calls these pieces ‘Friday pieces’ suggesting that certain times were allowed for free experimentation on shapes which came from the firing room, and this might indeed be possible. This freedom leads us directly into the Third Period from around 1912 to the end of production in 1919.
This last period is marked by greater freedom of pattern, shape and colour. Many of Solon’s earlier designs have been dropped from production although standard shapes continue to be made. In addition we find more thrown rather than moulded pieces which are noticeably heavier and often squatter in shape. They are decorated with slip trailing and often have very thick, colourful glazes. A favourite ground colour in these later pieces is a light blue onto which darker greens, yellows and blues are thrown. The designs are freer, less art nouveau and can even look forward to art deco ; earlier floral patterns have given way to more abstract designs. There is possibly a move away from the sophistication of Solon’s designs towards greater crudity, but this is probably a reflection of changing taste between 1903 and 1919. It has been suggested that the range died out around 1914, but there is good evidence that it continued until 1919, when the last catalogue was produced.
There appear to be three separate Secessionist marks. The square shape which we are told dates to 1901-3, but almost certainly was used up to 1908 and not only for Secessionist wares; the most common stamp with Minton underlined by an art nouveau shape which continues until the end in 1919 and quite rarely, a raised Minton relief mark. In addition to these marks, many moulded pieces carry the shape number which is etched into the earthenware body. These start around 3000 and continue into the 3700 numbers, although there is no regular progression. Thrown pieces do not have shape numbers. The popular straight sided vase 28cm high shape 3651 continued in production from 1903 when it appears in the first secessionist catalogue right up to at least 1916. It was also made with two strap handles (shape 3071) and with two more flowing handles . Other vase shapes which appear with different designs and colours are 3337 and 3707. There is also a decoration or ornament number running from 1 to 69, although l have yet to find total logic in these numbers. Date code marks appear quite often on Secessionist pieces and are standard to all Minton production. Some pieces have no marks at all. I will examine the marks, dates and pattern numbers in more detail later.
For me, there is something very attractive and lively about Secessionist pottery. There is enormous variety in the shape, colour and design of the piece, much more than in say Moorcroft. I find the glazes seductive, especially the deep turquoise, blues and strong rich reds. The reputation of Secessionist ware has suffered because often very ordinary Minton pieces, such as the mass produced, block printed ewers and jugs, are included. These were often part of the ‘Klyso’ range and should not be included in Secessionist ware. It is also often stated that the pottery was poorly made, but this does not bear closer examination. The glazes are rich, the finish sophisticated. There is much to learn. What do the ornament numbers mean? Who are the actual decorators who had so much individual input? Where did the many different patterns come from and was there a design copybook?
A group of Minton Secessionist pieces together looks modern, exciting and very much part of the early 20th century. It is time that this pottery was taken more seriously by collectors and art historians alike.