Most can recognise a delft tile upon looking at one and generally understands its historic link with the Netherlands. That is almost a given with any of the typical blue and white pottery the world has come to identify as Delft. Many will also know that its inception was the Dutch answer to the craze Europeans had for the Chinese porcelain that was arriving on the docks in the 17th century thanks to the rising middle/merchant classes emulating the upper classes and the Dutch East Indian Company.  Essentially, delft is pottery covered in a glaze containing tin oxide which is white, shiny and opaque.
The pottery underneath is usually red or brown earthenware. Delft pottery received its name from the factory which it originated in the 17th century in Delft, Netherlands, however, delft style is also applied to wares of similar nature made in 17th & 18th centuries in London, Bristol, and Liverpool.

 At the estate we have two framed Delft tiles on exhibit. Rarely are these noticed by the casual visitor who is often busy listening to the interpreter, however, there they are, affixed to a wall.  One depicts the Temptation of Adam by Eve, the other the western love of all “orient” exotic, an Arab gentleman sitting on a river bank with a city in the background.    If you look closely at the tiles, you can see some pitting is occurring in the tin glaze, leading to loss in various areas.  In some cases exposing the base earthenware or biscuit, as the tile base is called.
What may be further appealing is the notation on the back of the tile, on what looks and feels like a butcher paper used as framing paper applied to the back of the piece, 

“Taken from a house in Middelsburg, Holland. Said to be 250 years old. Given by Mrs Victor Ross to Mrs R.S McLaughlin, Xmas 1939”                                                                 

Noting the interesting claim of provenance, but also the deteriorating backing, I set about to take action on researching the history of these tiles and preserving the written note, in Adelaide McLaughlin’s handwriting.

Step 1: The first step was to remove the butcher paper which
scored very high on the acidic level in a pH test
This exposed the grey felt

Step 2: Removal of the felt pad. This came away with ease, as no adhesive had been used,
historically. Pressure mounted, the years of being under the butcher paper had allowed for some of the fibres to adhere themselves to the rough tin glazing of the back, but these came away easily with a natural bristle brush

Step 3: The exposed tile with the opaque tin glazing.
How a biscuit tile is made: the earthenware biscuit is dipped into the tin glazed mixture; baked. Once dry the image is stencilled onto the front of the tile; using charcoal and a dot method. An artist connects the dots and adds any additional elements; baked a second time; polished for market.

Step 4: When I removed the butcher paper backing, I reinforced the inscription with pH neutral document repair tape. I opted for this method due to the fact that the inscription was being replaced onto the fresh backing I was creating for the tile/frame. If this had been a stand alone piece, or visible and not for posterity against the wall, I would have used the Japanese tissue and wheat starch method to mend the areas of loss.

Step 5: Acid free and lignin free tissue backing replaced the previous butcher paper. This was applied to the back of the wooden frame that encapsulates the tile with an inert adhesive. The condition of the wood frames are decent, showing no evidence of wood rot or insect damage. The butcher paper inscription is applied, with an interface between the acid free tissue and original butcher paper due to the high levels of acids in the butcher stock.  This is affixed with inert adhesive.

What did I learn about the delft tiles within our collection?  Lets take a look at the inscription once again. 

“Taken from a house in Middelsburg, Holland. Said to be 250 years old. Given by Mrs Victor Ross to Mrs R.S McLaughlin, Xmas 1939”   

Taken from a house is Middelsburg & said to be 250 years old- the Parkwood delft tiles are not vivid blue and white, but rather purple brown manganese. The use of purple brown manganese for delft came into vogue in the 18th century and was widely used for tiles portraying biblical figures. Purple Brown Manganese delft tiles most often originate in the Bristol factories. Date, 250 years old in 1939- maybe an exaggeration by a few years.(??)
Originating in Middelsburg?- Middelsburg is reknowned for delftware, but actually did not have a huge part in manufacturing the tiles. This is a legend that may stay a legend, as I cannot prove or disprove any further.

Who was Mrs Victor Ross- this was a wonderful curatorial discovery, from my perspective.

Victor Ross, originally from Walkerton, Ontario, went from financial editor of the Globe to becoming the VP of Standard Oil in 1919. In 1922, now living in New Jersey,  Mr. & Mrs. Ross purchased a summer home in Pickering Village, Clarendon Woods, a 18 bedroom English country style manor, originally built and owned by Lord Hyde and Lord Somers.
Readers may recognise the property today, as the Manresa Retreat of the Jesuit Brothers.

When Victor Ross died, he was President of Standard Oil and Vice President of International Petroleum, a likely friend and guest of the McLaughlin Family, and giver of delft tile gifts in 1939.