The Collector’s Minute: Unmarked Porcelain Puzzles

Porcelain pieces made by small potteries and decorating shops in and around Paris in the 18th and 19th centuries are referred to as “Old Paris Porcelain” or simply “Paris Porcelain.”

Unmarked 18th- & 19th-century porcelain is a puzzle to everyone, even among dealers and experts. Trying to attribute an unmarked piece at first glance can often bring more than one conclusion. This is especially true if the piece is similar to examples by “big name” makers such as Sevres, Chelsea, Worcester or Meissen. Among the potters of the early 19th century who often did not mark their wares, there were several small porcelain factories and decorating shops in France—by estimates some 30 or so that operated from the end of the Napoleonic era through to the Franco-Prussian War (1815-1871). Today, we generically refer to pieces made by these small potteries and decorating shops as “Old Paris Porcelain” or simply “Paris Porcelain.”

As the name suggests, most of these potteries were located in Paris and had to compete with the famous and well-established Royal Manufactory at Sevres. The Paris porcelain makers got around major competition from Sevres by being ahead of the curve, adapting to the latest styles and decorating trends quicker than Sevres and developing patrons among the lesser nobility and rising merchant classes. One would imagine that then, like today, their style-conscious customers enjoyed having Sevres styled porcelain, but at a price they could afford.

It’s estimated that 70 percent of Paris porcelain made during its peak of popularity had no company marks at all and were not recorded in a way we can use to identify pieces today. Many of the Old Paris artisans also worked with blanks—or “white wares” —that had originally been produced at Limoges (and even at Sevres), but were not marked as such until the late 19th century.

Pieces made by these lesser-known Paris potteries are generally of high quality, with some pieces as good as those of the famous Sevres factory they competed against. Today, Paris Porcelain is still a bargain, as comparable examples of Paris Porcelain plates like the one above currently sell at auction in the $180-$250 range.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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