Gouda is a small city in Holland, settled in the marshy lands east of The Hague. In the past, the area’s moist terrain was perfect for harvesting peat which was used as fuel for cooking, heating, and combustion. The area’s wetlands were also a rich source of clay. The ready supply of clay—plus fuel to fire the kilns (peat)—established Gouda as an ideal place for many ceramics workshops to prosper.
Around 1740, the first few pottery factories opened in Gouda. Initially, they produced clay pipes for smoking the new, intoxicating crop from the New World. Before long, the area was producing other ceramic products, mostly “useful” objects like bowls, platters, cookware and service ware.
In time, however, useful and decorative objects were desired, and Gouda began to produce hand-painted ceramic vases, figurines, and fancy service items. These items were not intended to sit on a collector’s shelf; indeed, they were bought to by used within the household—whether holding flowers or serving tea.
Around 1910, while Art Nouveau design was en vogue, the glaze masters figured-out how to produce matte glazes. Gouda pottery remained popular through the Nouveau and Art Deco periods and the pottery was shipped throughout the world. Most surviving pieces represent one of theses schools, if not a hybrid of the two.
Most of the Gouda pottery was cast of “slip” (that is, liquified clay). Popular shapes could be quickly produced, by the hundreds. It was in the decorating that Gouda pottery distinguished itself. Each piece was laboriously painted—following a pre-determined pattern—and signed (initialed) by the decorator. Each painter would be paid by the piece and a count of signatures would determine the number of pieces an artist produced, thus his or her pay. This system ensures that almost every piece of Gouda bears the artist’s initials.
The name, “Gouda,” does not represent a particular factory, rather the region in which many factories operated. In fact, in Holland, “Gouda” is sometimes used as a generic term for all pottery (except Delftware).
And, like the famous cheese made nearby, it is pronounced “How-da,” not “Goo-da.”
The piece above, meant to sit as a table’s centerpiece, was made in the 1910’s or 1920’s.