Many people have referenced pieces of antique porcelain marked with a “beehive” mark as “Royal Vienna” for as long as they can remember. The truth is that Royal Vienna is actually a collector’s moniker and the beehive mark is really a shield. Somewhere along the line, the mark was viewed upside down and a beehive was born. So should you describe the mark as a beehive and call this porcelain Royal Vienna?
Correctly Describing “Royal Vienna” Wares
The mark does look much more like a beehive than a shield to the average person, but correct is correct, right? Well, not if you want to sell a piece through an ad or in the online marketplace. The term that rules will always be what collectors recognize, especially when it comes to buying and selling. In this case, people associate Royal Vienna with what they reference as the beehive mark.
So what should you do to accurately describe a piece? It’s really best to use both terms—beehive and shield—just to make sure you attract casual buyers who search on “beehive” and others who know the correct terminology. Being correct in this realm goes beyond understanding the mark.
As marks4antiques.com explains, “Most classically-themed Decorative Plates that have a 'beehive' mark and made ca. 1880-1940, are often called 'Royal Vienna Plates,' but in this case, when applied correctly, the reference is to their style. Therefore, when someone proclaims a piece to be Royal Vienna, the obvious question should be: Do you mean from the Imperial & Royal Factory period or made later in that style?”
A Brief History of Royal Vienna
Even though you now understand the true meaning of the mark, it doesn’t hurt to know a little about the history of this porcelain and where it originated so you can better describe the pieces you own.
Joe Rossen, a columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel, noted in a past article that two workers from the Meissen factory in Germany took the “recipe” for Chinese hard-paste porcelain with them when they headed for Vienna in the early 1700s. This sneaky duo shared the porcelain secret with Claude Innocentius Du Paquier and he began utilizing it in 1717 to make porcelain comparable to that of his German neighbors.
By 1744, Paquier ran into financial trouble and sold his porcelain manufacturing business to the royal family in Austria. Paquier’s early wares were unmarked, but when the Royal family took over, they began marking the porcelain with the shield mark, now known as the aforementioned beehive mark. The Imperial and Royal Porcelain Manufactory of Vienna became the most important porcelain manufacturer in the area and continued to make fine hand-decorated porcelain wares until 1864.
Originals or Reproductions?
Those older shield-marked pieces from the Imperial and Royal Porcelain Manufactory of Vienna can be quite expensive now, if you can find them. What you’re more likely to find are reproduction pieces mistaken as originals, but there are also some older pieces of porcelain you need to know about when researching Royal Vienna.
There are actually other companies that made porcelain marked with a number of ways including “Royal Vienna” over a crown (a mark that’s also been used on reproductions of late, so do your homework before buying these pieces), and another reading “Handpainted Vienna China”. These marks largely date to the early 1900s and aren’t generally as expensive as the old shield-marked pieces.
Lots of beehive pieces have been produced in the recent past and imported into the American marketplace as well. The easiest way to make sure that you’re buying older porcelain, rather than a reproduction, is to educate yourself before making a purchase.
According to Schroeder’s Antiques Price Guide (now out of print), you can distinguish newer pieces by remembering that the more recent beehive-marked porcelain is heavier, the decoration is always applied as a decal, rather than hand-painted, and the mark is on top of the glaze. Old pieces will have the beehive mark under the glaze.