by Dr. Lori Verderame
Based in the town of Belleek, County Fermanagh, Ireland, the well-known collectible Belleek china grew from the need for a new local industry following the Great Potato Famine of 1845.
The Belleek firm produces water-thin parian china pieces
–a famous type of bisque porcelain. Belleek is widely known for its association with Irish culture and decorative Irish based symbolism. Named Belleek Pottery Works Company Ltd., the ceramics have a unique shape, delicate ceramic body, and characteristic designs featuring shamrocks, harps, punched out forms, detailed floral decoration, and Irish motifs.
Belleek has stood the test of time. John Bloomfield, an amateur ceramist, inherited land rich in kaolin, feldspar, and flint which would later be the site of the Belleek factory. Bloomfield started construction on the factory and was able to persuade local officials to construct a railway line in Belleek so coal for the pottery kilns could be delivered there.
By 1863, parian china was produced in Belleek and sold widely to clients in England, Canada, Australia, the United States, and at home. By the 1870s, the luminous parian china called Belleek was popular all over the world. Queen Victoria commissioned pieces as did members of the European upper classes and social elite.
Belleek differs from English pottery such as Staffordshire pottery, Royal Doulton, and the like. This pottery is delicate, thin to the touch, and luminous whereas various types of English ceramics are more durable.
What to Look For
Belleek is recognized by its sleek and thin ceramic body and its pearl-like iridescence. The style, shape, and decoration of the body of a piece of Belleek are important to assessing the authenticity and value.
Baskets by Belleek
For instance, Belleek baskets of parian china have punched out areas in the ceramic’s body making these fragile pieces highly sought after and quite collectible. Designer William Henshall introduced these famous baskets to the world of collectors during the Belleek factory’s early years, circa 1865-68
There are fifteen (15) different marks that have been used by the Belleek factory over the years since 1863. When it comes to marks, understanding pottery marks is an interesting subject.
Belleek mark: symbols and colors
Since 1863, the Belleek mark has incorporated various Irish symbols: Irish wolfhound, harp, round tower, shamrock sprigs. The name Belleek in all upper case letters is found on the mark at the bottom inside a banner. Belleek pieces have marks of various colors yet the oldest Belleek mark is the black mark.
Belleek pieces with the green or gold marks are collectible and bring good prices. There are some contemporary Belleek pieces that command attention for their form or decoration and bring high prices on the market too.
Belleek pieces must be in good condition–a tall order for some older pieces–to bring high values. Belleek is very fragile and therefore, condition is vital to maintaining its overall value. Belleek parian china pieces that are cracked, even a hairline crack, lose value in the market quickly. Pieces of a particular size and form are very collectible. Belleek china sets in popular patterns like the Neptune pattern and rare objects like baskets and figurines are collectible and very pricey. Be sure that you are collecting actual Belleek pieces and not a fake or impostor piece of china.
Get an online appraisal of your Belleek parian china from Dr. Lori