You’ll find Delftware in every Dutch home. The highly sought-after, blue-and-white porcelain is among the world’s finest earthenware, and it’s been the product of one small town in the south of the country since the 16th century.
An hour by train from Amsterdam, Delft is the artistic heart of Holland. Artists such as Pieter de Hooch and Johannes Vermeer were born and raised here, inspired by its canals and medieval architecture. Today many architects, painters, and delftware craftsmen still train and practice their crafts in Delft. But the town is truly famous for the beautiful pieces that are made of blended clay glazed in white, hand-painted with metal oxides, then fired in a kiln.
The pottery is usually white and cobalt blue. But colored delftware, as well as black-and-white pieces, is also available in most of the city’s shops and factories. You’ll find kitchenware, vases, tiles, and various objets d’art. Basins and even toilets are made from delftware.
Antique delftware is easy to find. Having been used for so long and in such quantities, the antique tiles are not much more expensive than new ones. As with all antiques, prices depend on the item’s condition. Tiles with a more common design, such as flowers, mermaids, children, birds, or soldiers, cost around $50 in reasonable condition. I found some rarer tiles, in excellent condition and with more whimsical designs, such as mythical sea creatures, Chinese men, and beautiful birds, for $95 each. Some tiles still have cement on the back from being chipped off a wall.
One advantage to buying older delftware is that dealers are open to negotiation, especially if you are buying several pieces. Antique tiles sell for anywhere from $20 to $100 each, depending on their condition and rarity. Other items, such as vases and plates, are upwards of $200 if the objects are in good condition.
Charles and Ted Van Geenen are the brothers who operate Van Geenen Delft. This shop offers a wide range of antique tiles, antique delftware, and jewelry made of antique tiles. It’s close to De Blauwe Tulp delftware factory.
You’ll find more antique delftware at Koos Rozenburg Antiquiteiten. The shop is in the town center, in one of Delft’s oldest buildings, and it’s easy to find. It has an amazing collection of antique tiles, plates, locks, keys, books, antique wooden clogs, and ice skates. The antique clogs are hand painted, each with a different design and sometimes with children’s names. Locks and antique clogs are available from $40 each.
Original, modern delftware pieces are sold in shops all over town. Simply watch out for signs in store windows that say “delftware.” Each hand-painted piece is unique, created by a Royal Delft-trained artist, and it comes with a certificate of authenticity. Tiles go from around $54; decorative dinner plates are $95 to $205 each, depending on the workmanship. Christmas-tree ornaments are popular gifts and run $50 to $68 each. Most modern pieces are decorated with Dutch scenes, such as boats, flowers, windmills, landscapes, and children.
Visiting the earthenware factories is a rare opportunity to see the artists in action. Top of the list is Royal Delft. The factory has been in operation since 1653 and has its own museum and warehouse. The entry fee is $16.20 per person, free for children under 12. If you go to any information center or tourist office, you will find various coupons offering discounts of 25% to 50% off the entry fee.
My favorite factory is De Blauwe Tulp, or “The Blue Tulip”. This is a tiny factory shop founded in 1997 by young, highly-skilled delft artists. The three craftsmen who work there sit at the door, painting intricate designs on each piece of porcelain that they sell. You can see the kiln and many works in progress at the back of the shop. Every product in De Blauwe Tulp bears its trademark. Admission is free.
All that shopping builds up an appetite and Delft has plenty of restaurants. Most places have an English menu, or at least friendly staff who speak English. Café Restaurant Vermeertje, on the canal at Markt 58, offers fine three-course meals for $40; drinks are about $3.20 each. Its international menu includes local specialties such as cod cheeks for $12 and the outstanding Strawberries Romanoff—Dutch Strawberries and merengue—for $10.80.
Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, simply click on the below button to subscribe to International Living magazine at the special introductory price of $49. You will get instant access to the current issue of the magazine as well 10 years of back issues. As an added bonus, we will also send you a FREE report – 7 Great Retirement Towns You've Never Heard of…Where You Can Live Better for Less. (You can cancel your subscription at any time.)