What it is: Beginning in the 17th century, the predominantly blue-and-white tin-glazed pottery was made in and around the town of Delft in the Netherlands.
How it began: In the mid-16th century, wealthy Europeans couldn’t get enough of maiolica earthenware from Spain and Italy. Observant potters in Antwerp imitated the popular pottery until the Spanish conquerors showed up in 1585, driving many merchants from the city. Some of the potters regrouped in Delft, where they joined Dutch potters who were beginning to create earthenware inspired by Chinese porcelain, the newest trend at the dawn of the 17th century. Collectors will notice that many early pieces of Delftware depict dragons, chrysanthemums, and other Chinese or Chinese-inspired images. Imitating their Far-East counterparts’ work proved to be a smart move when the fall of the Ming Dynasty—and protracted civil war in China—dried up imports, leaving smitten Europeans clamoring for the pieces produced in Delft.
Cocktail party tidbit: Delft tiles were used as a kind of trim along living room walls, so that when Dutch housewives cleaned their floors, white-washed walls would not be ruined.
Where to use it: Everywhere. For its dramatic effect, we love a large collection of ginger jars atop an armoire or console. Designers make a bold statement by hanging a grouping of plates as an art installation on a living room or dining room wall. And for a simple, classic statement, try a pair of Delft vase lamps on a buffet or console table.
Why we love it: The irresistible cobalt-colored pieces are a beginning collector’s dream: They’re easy enough to find to make a search tantalizing and fun, and the variety of imagery, shapes, styles, and sizes will satisfy most tastes. Take note: Price points vary, depending on whether you’re buying a harder-to-find 17th-century piece or a more common 20th-century one, but in general, the cost of a piece is more modest in comparison to other antiques, making Delftware is a smart—and irresistible—investment.