The Limoges porcelain sought by collectors today was produced by a number of factories in the Limoges region of France from the late 1700s until around 1930. Production did not cease in 1930, however. This arbitrary cutoff date simply denotes a change in the global economy when styles changed from very elaborate to more basic in design.
At one point in the 1920s, as many as 48 companies were producing wares marked Limoges, according to ceramics expert Mary Frank Gaston in The Collector's Encyclopedia of Limoges. These pieces were not only marked denoting their origin in France, but many pieces had a number of different back or bottom stamps including factory marks, decorating marks, and some had signatures indicating the individual who decorated each piece as well.
It's important to understand, however, that the factories operating in the Limoges region produced elaborately molded white wares as their primary output. These undecorated pieces, also known as "blanks," were taken to decorating studios away from the factory like that of Pickard. Other pieces were exported without decoration. The blanks brought into America often ended up in the hands of eager china painting students, as this was a very popular hobby for ladies during the late 1800s.
There are a number of questions to ask when valuing Limoges porcelain items:
- Is the decor top-notch in terms of quality and fine detailing?
- Do they have finely detailed hand painting?
- Are they signed by the artists who decorated the pieces?
- Are the pieces you're examining decorated with transfers?
Naturally, with some of these pieces being decorated by amateur china painting students, collectors will notice a variation in the quality of the décor. When valuing Limoges pieces, this should be taken into consideration. High-quality hand painting holds more value than the work of an unskilled porcelain painter. And if a skillfully decorated piece is signed by the artist, it can be worth even more than an equally as nice unsigned piece.
Some Limoges items were decorated with transfers as well. These transfers are a type of decal that mimics hand decorating and were often combined with techniques executed by hand. Even a beautifully transferred piece will hold more value than a poorly executed item completely decorated by hand. Generally, however, collectors prefer hand decorated pieces and will pay premium prices to procure nice examples.
Limoges in America
The Limoges porcelain found most often by collectors in antique malls and shops these days largely represents the American versions of early Limoges, with Haviland being a prominent name. In fact, status-conscious brides often chose Haviland dinnerware sets as their wedding china in the late Victorian period, according to Gaston.
Haviland began as an import company specializing in china appealing to the American market, which differed greatly from European preferences. The company was the first to actually manufacture and decorate china under the same roof in the Limoges region before importing it to the United States. From the mid-nineteenth century to the beginning of the Great Depression, Americans extensively used Haviland Limoges dinnerware on well-set tables. This accounts for so many sets that have been passed down from grandmothers and great-grandmothers to their lucky families.
Some porcelain collectors solely concentrate on Haviland products and largely ignore other company names. Others focus on a broader range of Limoges items from a variety of manufacturers. They move away from the quaint dinnerware toward decorative accessories such as vases, trays, and tankards which generally feature more vivid coloration and an abundance of decorative gold trim.
When evaluating Limoges, Gaston says looking at the quality of the decoration can often be more important than determining the age. But since both are important, her book identifies numerous factory marks with dates of production as a good starting point for researching Limoges pieces. Not all factories could be listed, however. Some companies were in business for only a short time long ago and the company records no longer exist.
Although Limoges pieces have remained popular with collectors for many years, there are few reproductions on the market. If being victimized by fake antiques worries you, consider Limoges as a safer collecting choice.