The Limoges porcelain sought after by collectors today was produced by a number of factories in the Limoges region of France from the late 1700s until about 1930. However, production did not cease in 1930. This arbitrary cut-off date simply denotes a change in the world economy as styles moved from the very elaborate to the more basic.
At one point in the 1920s, no fewer than 48 companies were producing items marked Limoges, according to ceramics expert Mary Frank Gaston in The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Limoges . These pieces were not only marked to indicate their origin in France, but many pieces had a number of different stamps on the back or bottom, including factory marks, decoration marks, and some had signatures indicating the person who decorated each piece.
It is important to understand, however, that the factories operating in the Limoges area produced elaborately moulded white wares as their main output. These undecorated pieces, also known as “blanks”, were transported to decoration studios away from the factory such as Pickard’s. Other pieces were exported without decoration. The ébauches imported to America often found their way into the hands of students eager to paint on porcelain, as this was a popular pastime for women in the late 1800s.
There are a number of questions to ask when evaluating Limoges porcelain objects:
Is the decoration first-rate in terms of quality and fine detail?
Do they have finely detailed hand painting?
Are they signed by the artists who decorated the pieces?
Are the pieces you are examining decorated with transfers?
Naturally, since some of these pieces are decorated by amateur porcelain painting students, collectors will notice a variation in the quality of the decoration. When evaluating Limoges pieces, this should be taken into consideration. High quality hand painting is more valuable than the work of an unskilled porcelain painter. And if the artist signs a skillfully decorated piece, it may be worth even more than an equally beautiful unsigned piece.
Some Limoges wares were also decorated with transfers. Transfers are a type of decal that mimics hand decoration and were often combined with hand techniques. Even a beautifully transferred piece will be more valuable than a poorly executed item decorated entirely by hand. In general, however, collectors prefer hand-decorated pieces and will pay higher prices for fine examples.
Limoges in America
The Limoges porcelain most often found by collectors in shopping malls and antique shops today largely represents early American versions of Limoges, with Haviland being an important name. In fact, status-conscious brides often chose Haviland dinnerware sets as wedding china in the late Victorian period, according to Gaston.
Haviland began as an import company specialising in China, appealing to the American market, which differed greatly from European preferences. The company was the first to manufacture and decorate porcelain under the same roof in the Limoges area before importing it to the United States. From the mid-19th century to the beginning of the Great Depression, Americans used Haviland Limoges tableware extensively on well-laid tables. This explains so many sets that were passed down from grandmothers and great-grandmothers to their fortunate families.