Delft is a city in the Netherlands where the world famous blue and white Delftware has been produced since the 17th century. Originally artistry brought to Holland from China, the Dutch have become synonymous with the beautiful pottery. You cannot go into a gift shop in Holland without seeing lots of the blue and white pottery. Delftware is exquisite in detail and beauty. What is even more remarkable is that every piece of authentic delftware is hand painted. Many people do not know that Delftware is also available in polychromatic or multi-colored designs.
While in Holland, I did a day trip from Volendam to Delft to take a tour of one of the two factories there that welcome visitors. I did the “free tour” at the De Delftse Pauw which has a very nice sales showroom. While in the store, you could watch artists as they painted the pottery pieces. Before they can be painted, however, the clay pottery items must first be baked in the kiln for approximately eight hours. Once cooled, the clay has turned to stone and is then known as a “biscuit”.
Each artist has a line of the biscuits, each with what appeared to be a stenciled design in light pencil or ink. The paint that is used for the traditional blue and white delftware is actually black. Once painted, they are glazed before firing. In the kiln the glaze melts and the black paint oxidizes to blue to result in the beautiful pottery pieces that tourists from around the world associates to Holland.
The colored pieces all appear to be the same color that the paint is going on. The glaze merely intensifies the vivid colors. On my most recent trip to Holland, I picked up several pieces of the polychrome delftware and one of the traditional blue and white.
The Chamber of Commerce of the City of Delft has registered the trademarks of all of the “official” factories of delftware in their city. In addition to their individual trademark, this factory also includes the production date and the painter’s initials.
There are a lot of imitations and knock-offs. Genuine delftware is entirely hand painted, but don’t be led to believe that “hand painted” means that a piece is genuine as authenticated by the trademark registration process. For many visitors and tourists, having “the real thing” isn’t important as many items are still very beautiful and are nice souvenirs from a Dutch vacation. Just make sure you know what you are buying as the genuine thing is more expensive than those what are imitations. The worst of the imitations are those that are mass produced and not entirely hand painted. When you see one of these poor imitations, I believe you will know it because the lines and artistry are simply not clear or sharp as the real thing.
This review includes several photos that include “authentic” delftware and one piece of a hand-painted imitation piece that is not registered delftware. I bought the pill box piece (the imitation piece) during my first trip to Amsterdam in an airport gift shop. I think this pill box is very pretty and cannot really see the difference when compared side-by-side to a similar patterned piece.
If you make the trip to Delft, you may also see the other factory that offers tours. Founded in 1635, De Porceleyne Fles (The Porcelain Jar) is the Netherlands’s most famous delft factory. This company’s delftware is also known by the name Royal Delft. Most packaged tours to the city of Delft include a factory tour of this company. This is not a free tour, so be ready to paid if you choose to do this one.
Whatever your tastes fancy, I believe that every chest of drawers or nightstand needs to have at least one piece of delftware. For me, I use the polychromatic ashtray as a ring dish on my night stand... and I still have a bunch of old coins from my first international trip in 1996 in my “knock-off” pill box.