Delft Blue Pottery; The 10 Most Asked Questions & Answers


Delft Blue pottery is part of our Dutch cultural heritage, like windmills, wooden shoes, and Dutch cheese. However, Delft Blue is less known than these other Dutch icons. I regularly visit Delft and researched Delft Blue pottery to answer the ten most frequently asked questions.

  1. What is Delft Blue pottery?
  2. Why is most Delft Blue pottery white and blue?
  3. How is Delft Blue made?
  4. Is Delft Blue valuable?
  5. How to tell if Delft Blue is genuine?
  6. How to tell if Delft Blue pottery is antique?
  7. Where does Delft Blue Pottery come from?
  8. Where To buy Delft Blue Pottery?
  9. Where to find a Delft Blue tile?
  10. What else is Delft famous for besides Delft Blue Pottery?

Read on to learn more about the fascinating history of Delft Blue pottery, or scroll down to the question about Delft Blue pottery that interests you most.

1. What Is Delft Blue Pottery?

Let’s start with the most obvious question; what is Delft Blue pottery?

Delft Blue pottery, also known as Delft Blue, Delftware, or Delft porcelain, is the characteristic white tin-glazed ceramic pottery with blue decorations, traditionally produced in Delft in The Netherlands. Delft Blue pottery was first made around 1600 as an alternative to Chinese porcelain.

The technique to produce white tin-glazed ceramics originated in the Middle East and spread through Europe via Spain and Italy to Antwerp. Many potters from Antwerp fled to Dutch cities after the Spanish conquered Antwerp in 1585 and introduced these new pottery techniques in The Netherlands.

The Flemish potters in Delft succeeded best in refining their techniques to produce much thinner, more luxurious earthenware that could be used as tableware, and we now know as Delft blue pottery. Potters in other Dutch cities also made tin-glazed pottery, but the pottery from Delft was considered the best in The Netherlands.

Delft Blue pottery was first produced around 1600 to copy Chinese porcelain introduced by Dutch merchant ships that returned from China. Delft blue pottery became rapidly popular because Chinese porcelain was costly, and only the rich could afford it. However, it was impossible to exactly copy Chinese porcelain because the clay used to produce porcelain contained kaolin, which was not available to the Delft potters.

The majority of the Delft blue pottery is the characteristic white and blue faience, although other color schemes were used. Most of the Delft Blue Pottery was household tableware for everyday use, but items like vases, pictorial plates, and tiles were also in great demand. Thus, an inhabitant of Delft in the 17th century, the world-famous painter Johannes Vermeer, will probably have used Delft Blue tableware in his home.

The handpainted illustrations on the Delft Blue pottery were often typical Dutch, like Dutch landscapes, windmills, and fishing boats. Furthermore, tiles with proverbs and sayings were trendy and present in virtually every Dutch household.

The Delft Blue pottery production peaked around 1700-1750, with a production of millions of Delft Blue items annually. However, in 1745, kaolin-containing clay, used to produce Chinese porcelain, was also discovered in Cornwall, England. This discovery allowed the production of creamware cheaper and more robust than tin-glazed earthenware from Delft.

Josiah Wedgewood founded his English creamware factory in 1759, and English creamware took over the Delft Blue market because it was much more robust and suitable for everyday use. Wedgewood is still a well-known tableware brand today. I must admit that my tableware is Wedgewood tableware because it is ideal for everyday use due to its robustness.

After the introduction of English creamware by Wedgewood, other European creamware producers in Europe also started producing various types of creamware. At the same time, Chinese porcelain became much cheaper.

Consequently, the global market for Delft Blue decreased after 1759, and virtually all 33 Delft Blue factories disappeared. Only a single Delft Blue factory, De Porceleyne Fles, survived and still produces Delft Blue pottery today.

2. Why Is Most Delft Blue Pottery White And Blue?

Virtually all Delftware (> 90%) was white and blue. Other colors like red and orange were also used but were less popular.

There were three reasons why most Delft Blue pottery was white and blue.

  1. Delft Blue was an alternative for Chinese porcelain, and Chinese porcelain was also white and blue.
  2. The use of Blue was much easier in the production process than red.
  3. White and blue Delft Blue pottery was much more affordable than white and red pottery.

The white color of Delft Blue is due to the tin glaze used to coat the pottery. The earthenware was dipped into a bath of tin glaze containing lead, tin oxide, sand, soda, and salt before being fired in a kiln at 800 – 1000 oC. Once fired, tin oxide is white, shiny, and opaque; the well-known glossy white background of Delft Blue pottery appears.

The blue color of the decorations of Delft Blue is due to the use of paint containing cobalt oxide. Cobalt oxide is grey but will turn blue once fired in a kiln at 800 – 1000 oC. The more cobalt oxide the paint contained, the brighter the Blue on the Delftware.

The illustrations on Delft Blue were all handpainted until ± 1750 when the first techniques were introduced to print images on ceramics. However, Handpainting Delft Blue was not wholly abandoned after 1750 but reserved for unique and more expensive items.

3. How Is Delft Blue Made?

A potter from Delft, Gerrit Paape, published a detailed overview of the Delft Blue pottery’s production process in 1794. The book is called De Plateelbakker of Delftsch Aardewerkmaker (The Potter or Delftware maker), and you can find it online here.

The traditional Delft blue production process was a multi-step sequential process that could take two weeks and included the following production steps:

  • Purifying and mixing
    • The different types of clay were first purified and mixed.
  • Shaping
    • Delft blue items were then shaped by hand or using a mold.
  • Drying
    • Before baking, newly shaped items needed to dry for several days.
  • Baking
    • The new Delft blue items were baked at 800-1000 oC for the first time.
  • Glazing
    • Subsequently, the new Delft blue items were dipped into a bath of tin glaze.
  • Painting
    • When the glaze had dried up, illustrations on the new Delft Blue items were painted by hand.
  • Baking
    • Finally, the Delft blue items required final baking at 800-1000 oC

Nowadays, some steps in the production process are more optimized, nicely illustrated in the video of the Royal Delft factory below. You will get an excellent impression of how Delft Blue is made if you spend two minutes watching this video.

4. Is Delft Blue Valuable?

Prices of new Delft Blue items are reasonable. I have looked up prices at several websites, and prices of new Delft Blue items are in the ranges in the table below.

Delft Blue Item Price (€)
Dinner plate€ 25-35
breakfast plate € 15-20
Bowl € 10-22
Vase (small)€ 20-30
Vase (large)€ 60-80
Wall plate€ 15-120
Tile € 8-15

You can buy much more expensive new Delft Blue items if you want to. For example, check out the Royal Delft factory webshop to look at tulip vases for € 16.000 or a tile painting of Rembrandt’s Night Watch for a mere € 13.500…..!

Antique Delft Blue pieces are much more expensive than new Delft Blue pieces. High-quality antique Delftware works typically sell for US$ 3.000-6.000, but exceptional antique genuine Delftware pieces have been sold for US$ 100.000-200.000.

The best antique Delft Blue items end up in one of the best museums in The Netherlands. For example, The Kunstmuseum in The Hague has one of the world’s largest and most beautiful Delftware collections. The exhibition is called Delftware Wonderware, and I highly recommend visiting it.

5. How To Tell If Delft Blue Is Genuine?

Delft Blue is not a protected trade name; any producer can call his pottery Delft Blue. White and blue faience was also produced in other Dutch cities and European countries. Thus, Delft Blue became a synonym for any white and blue faience, whether made in Delft or not.

To determine if Delft Blue is genuine, experts analyze the marks of Delft potters at the back or bottom of Delftware products. In addition, experts will study the materials and decorations of the Delftware object to verify its authenticity.

The increased competition was an important reason that Delft Blue potters started to paint marks at the back or bottom of Delftware products to distinguish genuine Delft Blue from white and blue faience produced elsewhere.

These marks were usually painted at the back or bottom of Delft Blue items and contained the pottery owner’s initials or full name. A symbol associated with the pottery was also sometimes depicted.

You can find an overview of all genuine Delftware marks here.

In this picture, you can see the marks of the remaining Delft Blue factory, De Porceleyne Fles. The little bottle is a reference to its name.

However, the competition outside Delft often falsified these marks, and only 1/3 of all Delft potters used marks. Therefore, experts need also to study the materials and decorations of the object to ascertain it is genuine Delftware (see below).

6. How To Tell If Delft Blue Pottery is Antique?

To verify if a Delft Blue item is antique, experts carefully look at three different aspects:

  1. The marks on the bottom of the Delft Blue item
  2. The materials the Delft Blue item is made of
  3. The decorations on the Delft blue item

Marks: The marks were a way for the Delft potters to distinguish their Delft Blue faience from white and blue pottery made elsewhere. However, these marks were falsified because pottery from Delft was more expensive. Therefore, experts need to check if these marks are genuine and look for additional symbols, words, dates, or numbers to discover the items’ origins.

Materials: Delft Blue pottery was produced from three clays, usually beige, yellow, or light red. Antique Delft Blue items often have minor damages at the rims, allowing you to observe what kind of clay has been used.

Delft Blue can easily be distinguished from Chinese porcelain because Chinese porcelain is made from bright white clay. Small notches at the bottom of the item are another feature to recognize Delft Blue because its production process caused these notches.

Decorations: Authentic antique Delft Blue is always handpainted, and these decorations, therefore, provide important information about the authenticity of an antique Delft Blue item. Printing of decorations only became possible after 1750.

7. Where Does Delft Blue Pottery Come From?

The name Delft will not be familiar to everyone because many people don’t know that Delft is a small city in The Netherlands.

Delft Blue pottery comes from Delft, a small city in The Netherlands. However, Delft Blue is not a protected trade name, and Delft Blue has become synonymous with white and blue faience, independent of where it was produced.

You may wonder why Delft succeeded better than other Dutch cities in producing refined, luxurious tin-glazed earthenware. What was so special about this quaint little Dutch city that became so spectacularly successful in the pottery business?

First and foremost, many of the most innovative potters that fled from Antwerp after 1585 ended up in Delft. However, that raises the follow-up question of why these Antwerp potters moved to Delft rather than any other Dutch city.

Delft was ideally located for pottery bakers because it was next to the river Schie. This river was the source of (part of) the clay to produce Delft blue pottery. Ships also transported the additional clay types, sourced abroad, to Delft.

The river Schie also provided Delft with a convenient connection to Dutch sea harbors, like Delfshaven and Amsterdam, to export Delft Blue worldwide. At its peak at the end of the 17th century, the 33 potteries in Delft produced and shipped millions of Delft Blue tableware items yearly.

Delft blue pottery is still produced in Delft because one of the original 33 Delft blue potteries still exists. The Royal Delft company still operates a Delft blue factory in Delft and produces high-quality Delft Blue tableware.

If you are interested in purchasing Delft Blue from Delft, make sure that the mark of the Royal Delft factory (see above) is on the bottom.

8. Where To Buy Delft Blue Pottery?

There are several possibilities to buy Delft Blue Pottery:

  1. If you visit Delft, you can buy Delft blue pottery at Heinen Delfts Blauw or the Royal Delft Blue factory shop
  2. If you visit Amsterdam, you can buy Delft Blue Pottery at Heinen Delft Blue in Amsterdam.
  3. You can buy Delft Blue Pottery online at Heinen Delft Blue webshop
  4. You can buy Delft Blue Pottery online at the Royal Delft webshop.

Of course, the best place to buy Delft Blue pottery is in Delft itself. There are several places in Delft where you can go shopping and buy your favorite Blue Delft item.

There is a shop of Heinen Delfts Blauw at the market square in the city center of Delft. This shop has an extensive collection of Delft Blue pottery. Ask for the genuine Delft Blue because part of their merchandise comes from China. It would be a pity if you are a visitor from China, and you return home with a Delft Blue souvenir made in China…!

Another possibility of buying Delft Blue is at the Royal Delft Blue factory (see above). The Royal Delft factory has guided tours to see the Delft Blue production process yourself. You can buy their products after the guided tour in their shop. That is an excellent combination if you want to understand how to produce Delft blue pottery and, perhaps, buy an item yourself.

The museum of the Royal Delft Blue factory is relatively small, but their shop is very impressive, much more impressive than the shops of Heinen Delft Blue. The Royal Delft factory shop items may be much nicer but are also much more expensive.

9. Where To Find A Delft Blue Tile?

You can buy a Delft Blue tile in any Delft Blue pottery shop in the Netherlands. All Delft Blue shops have an extensive collection of Delft Blue tiles with sayings, proverbs, and wishes.

What may be more interesting is to create a personalized Delft Blue tile with a personal wish for a particular person. For example, it was pretty standard in The Netherlands that a new baby’s arrival was celebrated with a Delft Blue tile with its name and birth date.

However, you can be as creative as you want to be. Ask for this possibility in one of the Delft Blue shops in the Netherlands, or order your personalized tile online. Personalized tiles cost around € 8-15 / tile.

10. What Else Is Delft Famous For?

The name Delft is derived from the Dutch word delven, meaning to delve or dig. The name Delft was entirely appropriate because Delft was located next to a canal called Delf, called like this because it was delved.

Delft is also famous as the hometown of the world-famous Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, who lived and worked his entire life in Delft.

Delft was also the hometown of the founder of the Netherlands, William of Orange, who is buried in the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) in Delft.

Articles About Other Dutch Icons

Check out the articles below to learn more about other Dutch icons like wooden shoes, Dutch tulips, or windmills.

Pim

Pim has lived his entire life in The Netherlands in various parts of the country. Pim enjoys writing this blog because it is a wonderful excuse to revisit all the parts of the Netherland that he liked and rediscover all the activities that he enjoyed. He hopes that you will enjoy The Netherlands as much as he does.

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