In 1879, three brother, Joseph, David and Esmond R Willets, bought out the Excelsior Pottery built by William Young and Sons in Trenton, New Jersey. The company started with four kilns and by 1882 it had expanded to fourteen kilns and about 300 workers. Under the guidance of William Bromely Sr., Willets started the production of Belleek wares around later 1884 and continued for twenty-four years until 1909. The company had its' own decorating department as well as selling white-ware products.
This wonderful hand-painted tankard stein, circa 1900, I feel is a product of the Company decorating department or a professional studio environment outside of the Belleek factory. The detail and professionalism is fantastic. The piece is signed on the front just below the portrait, but I am unable to decipher enough of the letters to formulate a name.
The portrait presents a young, dashing cavalier or explorer, attired in dark blue cape and shaded brown wide-rim hat with large crimson plume. Great facial details showing strength and determination, with long, dark brown hair, wide eye-brows and impressive mustache and go-tee beard. His dark eyes have a sparkle that makes you take a second glance. The background is a medium olive green/brown shading while the decorative embossed handle and base of the mug is a rich brown. The upper rim has a narrow gold edging. The base has also been glazed masking the original color of the back-stamp, but the coiled snake and "Belleek - Willets" is clearly visible. The mug measures 5 1/2" in height, 3 3/4" across the base and 3" across the top. There are no cracks, chips, scratches or repairs. Great piece for the Belleek or portrait collector.
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