Majolica was made in many countries, the United States, England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Sweden. The word majolica has two meanings to collectors. The first of the tin-glazed pottery known as majolica was made in Spain, then Italy in the 15th century. That type of pottery was popular until the 18th century.
Today it can be seen in museums. In 1851, Minton made a slightly different kind of tin-glazed pottery, or majolica, that they displayed at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London. It became popular almost immediately.
The earlier majolica had designs that looked as if they had been painted on; the new majolica was more three dimensional. Dishes were shaped like realistic leaves, food-serving dishes with raised strawberries or bunches of asparagus looked real, oyster plates had molded oyster shells to hold the crustaceans, sardine boxes featured lifelike sardines on the cover, and even large pedestals were covered with molded designs of flowers and birds, or resembled tree trunks surrounded by storks.
The majolica of Sweden made by the Gustavsberg and Rrstrand factories was never quite as flamboyant. They made large exhibition-type pieces, like pedestals topped by vases, but the decorations were more like those found on porcelains. English and American majolica went out of style by the 1950s. It was considered too exuberant and colorful for the modern styles.
But by the 1980s it was back, favored by designers as "decorator pieces." Big, colorful and imaginative was the best. Impressive pieces sell for high prices today. Pedestals and vases can sell for thousands of dollars.
Q: I have a Castro Convertible combination coffee-dining table that has been in my family for more years than I can remember. It's in nearly perfect condition, too. Is it rare?
A: It's not particularly rare. You can find tables like yours for sale around the country and online. Prices range from $300 to $600. It's a handy table for an apartment or small house, because it can serve as a coffee table in the living room, then convert to a dining table comfortable for four people. The legs expand to dining height and the top lifts up on a hinge to double in size. Castro Convertible Corp.'s original patent for the table was issued in 1972, but the company may have been manufacturing the tables before then. Castro, founded in New York in 1931, was better known for its convertible sofa beds. The company was sold to Krause's Furniture, Inc., in 1993. Krause closed in 2002.
Q: How does an Atmos Clock work? I have one that belonged to my mother.
A: The Atmos clock doesn't need to be wound or plugged in, and doesn't require batteries. It is powered by the atmosphere -- changes in the temperature. Gas and liquid expand and contract in a sealed capsule when the temperature changes and that is enough power to wind the clock's mainspring. The Atmos clock was developed in 1928 by Jean-Leon Reutter, a Swiss engineer. LeCoultre & Cie bought the patent in 1935 and began making the clocks a year later. The company became Jaeger-LeCoultre in 1937 and is still in business in Switzerland.
Q:I've heard the term "Sunday toys." Can you tell me what this means?
A: In the 18th century, Sundays were reserved strictly for religious observances. Nothing as frivolous as playing with toys was allowed in a religious home. By the early 1800s children were allowed to play with certain toys that had some connection to a Bible story or had religious virtue. Books of Bible stories, puzzles illustrating Bible stories and Noah's ark toys were popular. By the late 1800s most families were less strict about children's playthings, and family activities and Sunday outings were considered acceptable pastimes for the day.
Q:My father-in-law gave us a 7 1/2-inch tall blue teardrop-shape glass vase with a matador and bull worked into the design. It is signed "Orrefors, Edvin Ãrstrom, Ariel." Can you tell us about it?
A: Edvin Ohrstrom (1906-1994) was an artist and sculptor who worked at Orrefors in Orrefors, Sweden, from 1936 until 1958. The Ariel technique, which creates a design by trapping air bubbles between the two layers of glass, was developed by Ohrstrom and two others in 1937. Many Ariel pieces were made. Orrefors merged with Kosta Boda in 1990 and is now part of Orrefors Kosta Boda AB, a glassworks group which includes Kosta, Boda and Ãfors. It became part of the New Wave Group in 2005.
Q: I have been trying to research penny dolls but haven't had any success. What do you know about them?
A: The term "penny doll" can mean different things. Originally it referred to carved and jointed wooden dolls that sold for a few pennies. They are sometimes called "peg wooden dolls" or "Dutch dolls," though most were made in Germany. This kind of penny doll was popular in the 1800s. Today you frequently find small all-bisque dolls advertised as penny dolls.
Tip: An old Staffordshire or Majolica pitcher has a small hole inside where the handle meets the body. A new pitcher will not have this hole, but will often have a large hole in the base.