by Dr. Lori Verderame
While there are many French areas that are home to firms which produced porcelains including Rouen, Chantilly, Vincennes, Sevres, and others, Limoges is arguably the most famous.
The west central city of Limoges, near Paris is known for its famous natives like the master of French Impressionism, Auguste Renoir, its oak barrels used in the production of Cognac, its high quality vitreous enamel works of art on copper that date back to the Medieval era, and the production of the finest porcelain known as Limoges porcelain. Limoges porcelains were produced in Limoges in the 1700s and experienced its heyday in the 1800s through the 1930s.
Earthenware ceramics, called faience, was manufactured in Limoges dating back to the 1730s. Similar to Chinese export porcelain, hard paste porcelain or the material that most of us refer to today as Limoges porcelain, was first established in Limoges in 1771 after the discovery of the necessary ingredient called kaolin in nearby Saint Yrieix la Perche, France.
Considered the finest hard paste porcelain in the world and named for the region in which it is made (and not for a specific porcelain maker or manufacturer), Limoges is synonymous with quality, good taste, and beauty in fine ceramics. Hand painted decorations on Limoges porcelains were executed by professional artists working as ceramic artists. Limoges porcelain certainly set the standard with its pristine porcelain body and translucent glaze.
Limoges porcelain is of such high quality because of the coming together of many important factors that impact the production of ceramics. First, kaolin was found near the region of Limoges. It is mixed with local feldspar and quartz to produce the famous French porcelain. Limoges’ porcelain factories are within easy access to the river Vienne. The river supplies clay rich in nutrients useful in the production of porcelain. A nearby forest is the last piece of the Limoges pottery puzzle. Necessary to keep the pottery kilns burning, wood from the nearby forest at Limousin was used at Limoges’ porcelain factories.
The first Limoges porcelain factory was built only a few years after the discovery of the all-important kaolin. King Louis XVI purchased a porcelain factory in Limoges with the intent of using the Limoges porcelain bodies that were made there and shipping them to Sevres to have them decorated.
Haviland in Limoges
While that relationship never came to fruition, Limoges porcelain consumption flourished following the French Revolution. By 1819, Limoges attracted more artisans and factories popped up in Limoges. By 1861, there were as many as 27 factories producing objects in Limoges making wares for avid consumers in Europe and abroad. Limoges porcelains were of interest to American consumers in the mid 1800s when David Haviland traveled to Limoges in order to find porcelain that he could import to the United States. Haviland’s family had moved to New York but was originally from Limoges so he know the quality of Limoges porcelain and wanted to share in the success of marketing fine porcelains to the American market. In 1855, Haviland built his own porcelain factory in Limoges. By the end of the 1850s, American sales of Limoges porcelain pieces accounted for half of the French town’s ceramic production.
What to Look For
Condition is vitally important when evaluating any piece of porcelain. For Limoges pieces, look for a strong, well-made hard paste porcelain body with well-executed, detailed hand painted designs, and a fine translucent glaze.
Unique forms including the popular trinket boxes which are now widely referred to as Limoges boxes, vases, oyster plates, and other items will command the highest prices from collectors.
In order to understand the history and quality of Limoges porcelain, understanding pottery marks is key. Marks on Limoges pieces are not from a particular studio that was located in Limoges. There were many studios in the region of Limoges making porcelain. Like Staffordshire pottery, the word Limoges stands for the region where these ceramics were produced by many different factories. Some of the markings on pieces of Limoges porcelain are standard marks used by many firms and studios. Some Limoges porcelains carry a designation from the French government for quality. For instance, Haviland & Company, Bernardaud, Tressemann & Vogt (marked T & V) were all successful companies working in Limoges. Their marks are found on Limoges porcelain pieces. Some pieces are marked “Limoges ROC”. The “ROC” stands for Republic of China, so, as with any pottery that is marked or unmarked, beware of imitations. Remember, the mark is NOT the last work when it comes to evaluating a good piece of Limoges porcelain–you need an expert eye.
Limoges porcelains have retained their high status in the field that was secured in the late 1700s and 1800s. As a result, the market has rewarded those who were savvy enough to collect and keep these important objects in good condition. Values for important and well made specialty Limoges pieces like vases with images of Napoleon on them, fanciful trinket boxes, etc. are worth upwards of a few thousands of dollars to $10,000 or more. For more traditional pieces of Limoges from the 19th Century, collectors will pay from $500 to $5,000 depending on form, age, condition, and other factors.
Keep sets of Limoges china intact since a complete service will be more valuable than stray pieces alone. It is not easy to tell an authentic piece of Limoges from a fake piece or a good reproduction. The values are very, very different when it comes to the real versus the fake, so be sure that you know what you have when it comes to Limoges porcelains.
Get an online appraisal of your Limoges porcelain from Dr. Lori