There’s no secret why there’s such a wealth of lovely Limoges porcelain available to collectors! Prized when new, Limoges was the “good china” in many homes, and was well kept to pass to future generations. Today, these heirloom pieces let us share a part of the past, enjoy their lasting beauty and appreciate their growing value with the years.
Limoges potters started work in the 1770s, creating fine hard-paste porcelain from the white clays found in the region 200 miles south of Paris. Early examples are quite scarce, as only the wealthiest Europeans could afford them; but by the Victorian era, art objects and china services by Haviland and other Limoges firms had become a status symbol for the rising middle class. It’s these examples from the mid-1800s through 1930 that are most sought by American collectors.
Lavish and unusual items were staples of the elaborate Victorian lifestyle, and the pure quality and gorgeous decoration (often ornately floral) offered by the Limoges firms suited it well. Limoges potters offered a plethora of art objects (vases, jardinieres, tankard and bowl sets); decorative accessories (dresser sets, trinket boxes, humidors, inkwells); and table china. China sets could include everything from berry sets, cider pitchers, cracker & jam jars, teapots and chocolate sets to regular dishes and serving pieces., making them the favorites of new brides- and even the White House banquet room.
Limoges was always considered a premium product, in part due to the strong yet delicate nature of porcelain. Fired and refired at increasingly high temperatures, Limoges pieces allow diffused light to pass through, making them more dainty in feel rather than heavy earthenware and pottery. This proved a boon in Victorian parlors, where light was at a premium- and seems an equally attractive idea on our dim Northwest winter days. Porcelain also resists crazing (those little ‘age cracks’ some pottery gets between the overglaze and the pottery body).
Limoges pieces may be underglaze decorated (handpainted or with transfer decals between the first and second glaze layers), decorated above the glaze or both. Most commonly seen in America are Haviland Limoges pieces, as they primarily made dinner services for our market; their thousands of decorative patterns generally featured delicate underglaze transfers of floral wreaths and garlands. Other Limoges pieces seen here were usually more vividly decorated art pieces, with larger flowers or fruit- or less commonly seen figural and scenic themes. Gilding along the edges and trim pieces add depth and richness collectors appreciate now.
Many Limoges firms are still in production today, and collectors will benefit from purchasing one of the useful books on porcelain marks to tell older from newer (new marks are usually found over the glaze). Newer items are less likely to be handpainted or gilded; newer gilding lacks the rich patina of yore.
Limoges is fun to collect, for pleasurable use or as heirloom investments. -Juanita Lane
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