Thomas Aquinas said, “Better to illuminate than merely to shine.” While we agree that great lighting is a must, we think Tommy never took a gander at lusterware—or lustreware, as the Brits spell it—one of our favorite shine-for-shine’s sake objects.
Lusterware has its roots in the ninth century, when Mesopotamian potters pioneered the technique of mixing metallic oxides into glazes and then firing the pots a second time at a lower temperature in an oxygen-free kiln to create an iridescent effect. (They’re believed to have borrowed their methods from Tang dynasty potters, many of whom were kidnapped and held captive in what is now Baghdad during the mid-eighth century.) When Persian, Syrian, and Egyptian artisans got a load of these shimmery new treasures, they immediately adopted the technique. It later spread to Europe, especially Spain and Italy, and by the seventeenth century, Britain had started making its own version, which relied on powdered platinum, gold, and copper for a rich, gilded-with-precious-metal look.
Josiah Wedgwood—yes, that Wedgwood—first introduced pink-and-white lusterware, like the ones displayed here in our collection, and it became wildly popular for tea services. Lusterware caught on in the States in the mid-1800s, when the well-heeled would create centerpieces consisting of lusterware pieces on mirrored pedestals, which caused the pottery to sparkle in the gaslight.
Lusterware made in the mass-production period of the early 1900s is common in secondhand shops and has little in the way of market value, but real-deal handmade pieces from the 1800s and earlier sell for a pretty penny (get it? Copper? Okay, never mind).
There’s no single resource for determining the value of lusterware, so if you have some pieces that you’d like appraised, your best bet is to consult a local antiques dealer. You can also try searching on eBay and Etsy for similar items.