Year letters on early PZH objects

In October 1981 Rob Hageman published in the magazine “Antiek” an article with a detailed and systematic argument that the letters that appear on early Gouda objects from the Estië year (1898-1905) are a year code. Based on the objects he used as examples and the identity and working periods of artists as they were then known the theory fitted very well. In the last 40 years it has been the basis of dating of these early pieces. Objects with an A were considered to be produced in 1898, the last letter used was H for 1905.

Rob Hageman’s article started with testing and discarding several other reasons for this single letter coding: for clay used, type of glaze, model, décor, colour, location of manufacturing, designer, use, quality, complexity, approval mark, and customer code. He then tested the fifteen objects to see if the working period of the artists matched the year letter on their objects. With some minor assumptions, this was the case.  

The author of this article was interested to have a fresh look at Rob Hageman’s theory. Over the last years, he has built up a database with PZH objects from the first 20 years that now contains 127 pieces that have a year letter.

The work with the database has already led to new insights in amongst others the branding on early pieces, the dating of wall plates, and better information on the identity and working periods of the early artists.

So the question was: Do these objects and insights still support the year letter theory, or is there a better explanation for the letters on these early objects?

This is for now a draft note that tests developing ideas, NOT a conclusive and finished article! To keep an open mind the letter on these objects is referred to as letter code, not year letter.

The first step was to create an overview of all objects sorted by letter code and artist.


For all early objects sorted by letter code and artist see Early PZH by letter code and artist.

For all early objects sorted by artist and letter code see Early PZH by artist and letter code

First observations:

– All objects with letter code and branding have the ‘Zuid-Holland Gouda’ branding in combination with the Lazarus gate logo.  


– Even some objects that are thought to be from 1898 (letter code A) are already missing the double E in the pediment of the Lazarus gate logo. All objects in the Rob Hageman article had these and in the literature, it has been suggested the double E (for Egbert Estië?) only disappeared after he left PZH in 1905.


– The distribution of objects per letter code is very uneven and does not indicate the increasing production over time. Even if the code would have been used for the whole production in the first two years (1898-1899) the increasing production is not reflected. 


– The letter code does run past the letter F, and even if the P and R codes on J Hartgring objects are just poorly signed earlier letters and the O is meant as a D there are still objects with clear K, L and M letter codes. Considering the I might have been skipped to avoid confusion with the J that still would mean the use of a year code for a very small part of the output up to 1909.   

 – All decors appear to be of the earliest generation of decors used at PZH, in the style of the contemporary output of Brantjes, Holland Utrecht, and Rozenburg. Some decors might be early Gouda decors ( designed by W G F Jansen in 1898/1899) but later décor families like Delft, Marine, National, etc. are completely absent.


– The artists starting from 1899 are absent, all artists that sign the letter code pieces appear to have worked at PZH already in the 1897-1899 period.  


– At first glance the monograms on the pieces all appear “early” too, resembling more the monograms of artists from their pre-1900 work than of work from the later years up to c. 1909.


– For some artists it is highly unlikely they still worked at PZH in the years their objects were created according to the year letter table. For example, Nieman left Gouda after a year in 1899 and his known output fits this window. Yet we find a year letter for 1905 on two pieces. Verhaar left in 1900 after just under two years, his oeuvre fits this period and yet a piece has the year letter for 1905.   


– The model numbers for letter code A (1898) run to model 165, but objects in the considered group with later letter codes do not go beyond this model number either.

– The largest part of letter code vases with a dark background have a white base, a minority ( mainly early Gouda decors) have a green or brown engobe or slip applied over the base. Later Gouda decor objects rarely have a white base.


Before any deeper dive into the early objects, it might be useful to present a few insights that the analysis of the full database has led to.

– Branding: as mentioned the letter code objects all have the ‘Zuid-Holland Gouda’ branding on “early” style decors. The first “own” décor type was what later would be called the Gouda décor, introduced in 1898/1899. With very few exceptions all Gouda décor objects up to 1908 are branded ‘Made in Zuid-Holland’. A Delft décor range was launched in 1900, but these products most often are branded ‘Delftsch’, or ‘Zuid-Holland Delftsch’. The ranges that followed (Ivory Bronce/Marine/National/P décor and others) are all practically exclusively branded ‘Made in Zuid-Holland’ until c. 1908. The branding was then changed back into ‘Zuid-Holland Gouda’. Only in a few cases, the branding in the first 10 years was adapted for special customers like in the Dutch East Indies. This makes the use of a second brand with a special letter code from say 1900 up to 1907 stand out.


– To date it looks most likely that the main range PZH model numbers in the first ten years were issued chronologically from 1 to circa 500, with very few noticeable exceptions. From c. 1900 some new series (2000 for vases with relief, 3000 for Delft décor models, 4000 for Chris van der Hoef designs, 5000 for P décor models, 7000 for the Dutch National dress themed range), again models in these ranges seem to have been numbered mostly chronologically. So it is curious that pieces with the letter code up to 1914 have been exclusively painted on models up to number 165, that all were introduced in the first 2-3 years of PZH production


– Decors style: it is possible that in the years after 1900 there was still demand for “early” decors that are in style very different from the decors that were introduced in the market. The introduction of Rozenburg eggshell ware on the 1900 Paris World Expo seemed to have hit the “Zeitgeist”, and the dark decors of the early Jugenstil period appear to have lightened up. In the products from Brantjes that have a year code the darker, earlier decors seem to be predominantly from before 1900. So to maintain an “old fashioned” range under another brand and exclusively painted by the artists active in the first years of production on models from those years does not make much sense.  


A recent look at wall plates gave another insight in branding and dating. It appears that when PZH production started in late 1897 the first wall plates were likely made in-house (similar stamped model numbers as other early objects). They are marked 25, 35, and 40, indicating their diameter in centimetres. In decors and artist/markings they all appear very early and they are all branded ‘Zuid-Holland Gouda’, with a letter code. But they are found in small numbers, especially in de larger sizes. They are heavy, which suggests that the manufacturer was struggling with warping in the oven. The next series of wall plates were bought in from the Wächtersbacher Steingutwerke (WS) in Germany and they have markings for month and year of production. These dates suggest they were introduced in PZH in 1899 and in use to at least 1901. The real surprise was that ALL these WS plates had the ‘Made in Zuid-Holland’ branding. Decors overall look less “old-fashioned” than on the earlier series. After the WS wall plates, PZH started making their own wall plates in similar sizes but with the familiar scratched-in model number. The fourth group of wall plate decors can be dated around 1908, based on branding and the fact that they are included in the PZH catalogue for 1909.  

The new website made it relatively easy to visually present these four groups of wall plates to see if there was indeed a certain development in the style of decors, see Development of wall plates.  

The grouping of these wall plates by period shows the different styles  and the development of the decors from period to period. For the author it was a strong confirmation of his growing suspicion the letter codes were indeed NOT year letters, and that all the objects marked ‘Zuid-Holland Gouda’ in combination with a letter code were from the earliest period of PZH production, from 1897 to 1899. Based on the best estimate of production capacity over the first 10 years ( number of artist active per month, ignoring differences in productivity and object complexity) the percentage of these early objects in the database would represent the production from the start to around half way 1899.  This is somewhat confirmed by the workling periods of the decorators: of those who left mid 1899 (Nieman in May, van der Rest in June, van der Kooi in July, Romer in September) we only know objects branded with ‘Zuid-Holland Gouda’. From D de Jong who started in May 1899 and worked until December 1900 all known objects are branded ‘Made in Zuid-Holland’.

However, some specific products appear to have been continued longer with the ‘Zuid-Holland Gouda’ brand. Large Paysage tiles by Andries de Groot all have this brand and are more likely from the later years of his period at PZH (September 1898 until December 1902). This needs more research.

The question remains what the letter codes did represent. Based on only the wall lates there is a slight correlation between letter and decor, but for all objects thsi is less clear.  Suggestions are welcome!




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