Limoges porcelain refers to a town and region about 229 miles southwest of Paris where deposits of kaolin, a key mineral used for fine porcelain, were discovered in the late 18th century. Porcelain factories sprang up -- each with its own artists, patterns and marks -- cranking out the hardest and among the most prized porcelains in the world. The first porcelain factory opened in 1771, and belonged to brothers Massie and Fourneira Grellet. An American manufacturer, Haviland Limoges, produced widely coveted dinnerware in a Limoges factory from 1842 on. Collectors are most interested in the French Limoges made before about 1930. Marks help to authenticate it. If you're looking for genuine French Limoges, be aware that there are a lot of different marks.
Look for telltale marks under the glaze, not on it, on the back or bottom of the piece. Marks were applied on "whiteware," prior to any painting or glazing. If the mark was applied on top of the glaze, that's the work of a retailer, importer or decorator, and it may or may not affect the value of the piece. Under-glaze marks are clearer and less worn than retailer, importer or decorator marks. By 1891, a change in U.S. customs law required country of origin to be marked on porcelain -- so a piece that says "France" dates from after that time and was made for export. Internal sales did not require the "France" mark.
One of the earliest Limoges factory marks is "AE." The Allund factory made Limoges with AE marks from 1797 to 1868, and then the company changed hands and the mark changed. From 1868 to 1898, the former Allund factory, now Haviland-owned, used the marks "CHF," "CHF/GDM" and "CH Field Haviland, Limoges." As the Haviland factories in Limoges expanded to meet American demand, so did their marks. After 1898, pieces were marked:
- "Porcelaine, Haviland & Co. Limoges"
- "H & CO/Depose"
- "H & CO/L"
- and "Theodore Haviland, Limoges, France."
Some companies, especially the smaller, single artisan and local family-run factories, left out the word Limoges and just marked their family name. These include "M. Redon," an 1853 mark, and "A. Lanternier," an 1885 mark. "C. Ahrenfeldt" used just that name in 1886 but sometimes added or substituted "France C.A. Depose." Colors are another age giveaway. A New York manufacturer that set up a Limoges factory, Bawo & Dotter, called their firm Elite Works and started turning out porcelain marked "Elite France" or "Elite Works France" in 1892. From 1900 to 1914, Elite's marks were red; they switched the color to green from 1920 to 1932.
Pictograms and Petite Print
A combination of words and pictures, some too tiny to distinguish unmagnified, are marks from a few prominent Limoges makers. Latrille Freres is an easy one: a star enclosing a circular L I M O G E S and underscored by the word "France." Martin Freres and Brothers, not too concerned about redundancy, marked their wares with a bird holding a flowing ribbon in its beak. One side of the ribbon has microscopic letters spelling "France" written on it. R. Laporte marked porcelain with a butterfly over the initials RL/L. And Louis XIV, who bought the first Limoges porcelain works in 1784 and directed the factory to make white "blanks" that were decorated by court artists, had his own mark, a royal cipher topped by a crown, a Manufacture Royale.
Marks applied over the glaze by decorators, importers and retailers may also help to establish authenticity and age. Very small studios and individual artists hand-marked their work and often included the method of decoration:
- Rehausse main for highlights applied by hand
- Decor main for some part of the design hand-applied
- Peint main for hand painting the entire design.
Importers and retailers may have stamped their names on the bottom, so marks for Tiffany, Sinclair Limoges, Rochard and others reveal pieces imported during the era that those distributors commissioned or handled French Limoges.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .