Delftware: the perfect touch of Dutch

Delftware | ©mediagram/123RF.COM
Delftware | ©mediagram/123RF.COM

Delftware: the perfect touch of Dutch

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Delftware is known, if not by name, by sight. Those pretty white plates, vases and figurines with the vivid blue trim you see throughout the Netherlands are all examples of such. You’d be hard-pressed to find a souvenir shop anywhere in Amsterdam that didn’t offer diminutive clogs or whimsical windmills made of this pottery. While tiny knick-knacks with cheap price tags are likely Chinese knockoffs, authenticity in one’s key chain or fridge magnet is hardly essential.

Delft pottery takes its name from the postcard-perfect Dutch city of Delft, perched roughly between Rotterdam and The Hague, and the history of its production is a twisting, turning tale of migration, imitation and international trade.

A little history

In the 15th century, potters from southern Europe made their way north and eventually established a manufacturing base in Antwerp, Belgium. A century later, due in part to religious pressure, many of these craftsmen relocated to the Netherlands. When Delft’s beer-brewing industry fell upon hard times due to how polluted the city’s water had become, potters began repurposing disused breweries for their own needs. The pottery trade got a lucky break when wars in China interrupted its domestic production of porcelain and the Delft potters began successfully imitating their wares.

Although nowadays there’s just one factory left in Delft that produces this souvenir, the pottery’s legacy is seen and felt all over town. “Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles” (Royal Delft) offers a museum and factory tour in which visitors can see firsthand how the clay is processed, painted and fired, as well as learn more about Delftware through time. After a break for coffee and a sweet treat, the tour concludes with a pass through the factory store. While the items there don’t come cheap, buyers can rest assured they’re purchasing only authentic items. How to identify a genuine product and avoid knockoffs is a useful takeaway skill gained from the tour.

Where to buy

It’s possible to get a good eyeful of Delft even without traveling to its native town. The Kunstmuseum Den Haag in The Hague, Centraal Museum in Utrecht and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam all have collections displaying some of its finest examples. And when it comes to purchasing Delftware, Amsterdam has plenty of reputable dealers. Sellers of the real deal include Aronson Antiquairs, Madame Blue, Heinen, Kramer Kunst & Antiek, Royal Delft Experience and Galleria D'Arte Rinascimento, among others.

For an item with a truly Dutch touch, consider a unique vase specifically designed to showcase tulips. A “Tulpenvaas” has multiple tiers of spout-like protrusions, each of which is meant to hold a single flower. A brand-new Royal Delft Flower Pyramid vase, based on late 17th-century examples, stands nearly four feet tall and goes for upwards of 10,000 euros. Smaller, more modest versions of tulip vases come in at just under the 30-euro mark.

Those who enjoy the thrill of the chase as much as the acquisition itself will find chasing down Delftware at a flea market a most delightful pursuit. The one held on Saturday mornings in Delft during the warm months of the year yields all manner of wonderful surprises and has a delightful canal-side location to boot. Pieces such as a cake-serving spoon or coffee grinder are not only attractive but will find practical use in the home.

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