Silver Substitute

I spent the latter part of the long July Fourth week with family in southern Maine, engaging in some leisurely antiquing along Route One.  Our first stop was one of my long-time favorite shops, R. Jorgensen Antiques in Wells, which is always a lovely place to visit:  amazing furniture, beautiful grounds, friendly owners.  Usually I’m exclusively focused on the big pieces at Jorgensens, particularly tables:  I really can’t imagine a better place to buy an antique dining table.  But while I was gazing longingly at a pedestal table that seats eight but could be magically transformed into a Pembroke table that you could push against the wall, my eye fell on several smaller items: a “silver” tea set that was really pottery in disguise.

I thought I was familiar with lustreware but apparently not.  Many of my pearlware pieces have copper lustre bands, and you see the pink lustreware everywhere, but I had never seen pieces completely dipped in silver or platinum glaze, in such an alchemical and egalitarian way.  Silver for everyone!  This particular tea set is Edwardian, but looking around I found items from the early nineteenth century onwards.  Here are some of my favorites, all dating from the decades immediately following the invention of the glazing process in Staffordshire around 1805:  two lead-glazed earthenware coffeepots with platinum lustre decoration from about 1810-1820, and a two-handed cup, two decorated jugs, and an urn from the same period and region.  I also checked out auction results for similar items over the past few years and found that they are surprising affordable: could there be a new collection in my future?

Silver lustreware from the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, with the exception of the last two pieces:  decorated jug at Appleby Antiques and urn at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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