When you use the word “china” to mean porcelain tea sets and dinnerware, you are keeping alive a linguistic reminder that China used to have the monopoly on high quality (hard-paste) porcelain. That changed in the 1700s, first in Meissen, Germany, and several decades later in Limoges, France.

Beautiful French Limoges Porcelain has always captured hearts and has the ability to inspire. To collectors, the beauty, incredible artwork and exceptional quality of Limoges porcelain surpass any other porcelain in the world. A collection of Limoges, edited and arranged in a contemporary style, is as beautiful as fine art in any interior. Best of all, Limoges porcelain is usable today. Vases hold lush floral bouquets, place settings set a gracious table and teacups are a most welcome indulgence when filled with steaming hot tea.

There is an incredible range of Limoges porcelain to collect, from full dinner services to precisely painted hatpins, from one‐of‐a‐kind hand-painted objects to transfer printed items. No matter what type of Limoges captures your heart, the history of Limoges is enchanting.

The History of Limoges China

The term “Limoges” refers to the hard‐paste porcelain produced by factories in Limoges, France, for over 200 years. The name of the city has become synonymous with the luxury porcelain products made by those factories. Hard‐paste porcelain is known as grand feu in French; it is porcelain that is fired at very high temperatures. Before kaolin clay was discovered in the town of Saint‐Yrieix‐la‐Perche in 1771, the Chinese were the only ones able to produce hard‐paste porcelain. Kaolin clay creates resilient, translucent porcelain, unlike any other porcelain.

The first factory, founded by brothers Massié and Fourneira Grellet, was bought by Louis XVI, King of France, in 1784. The royal court commissioned exquisite dinner services to be made exclusively for the palaces of the King.By the beginning of the 1800s, several private factories began producing the porcelain. The French aristocracy were the main buyers of Limoges, commissioning vast dining services, vases and decorative pieces. At one time there were over 48 factories operating in Limoges.

Often, exports to the U.S. came as “blanks” so amateurs could add their own decoration. Sometimes amateur decorators transferred a design to the plain porcelain, and many were hand-painted by china-painting hobby groups. The quality of the decoration makes a difference in its value as a collectible today.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

1. Look for the mark. Almost all Limoges is marked. Each factory had its own production and decorating marks. There are online resources where you can learn about the different Limoges marks. A very few pieces have no mark.

2. Study the quality of the porcelain. genuine piece of Limoges porcelain will be translucent and bright white under the glaze. The glaze should be smooth and hard. Go to a reputable antiques shop to study Limoges pieces; after you’ve seen a few good pieces of Limoges, you will recognize it by the exceptional quality.

3. Look closely at the beauty and skill of the painting. The really good pieces of Limoges were painted by incredibly skilled artists. Many pieces of Limoges were painted and signed (or not) by an amateur artist. To determine whether to add these to your collection, look at the quality of painting. A piece of slightly inferior porcelain that is extremely well painted with a beautiful subject is superior to a piece of Limoges that is better in porcelain quality but poorly painted.

Lidy Baars sells antiques on her inspiring online shop frenchgardenhouse.com