Dating Faience Pottery

A late 19thC polychrome Faience Plate from the Rouen region of France
A typical late-19thC Faience Vase made in the Quimper region of France
An elaborately decorated Faience Porcelain Box, usually called a Bombonniere or Vides-Poches, from Desvres, France, ca 1860s.
An unusual mid-19thC Tankard from Cantagalli, Italy, with a mix of Faience and Majolica decorative elements

Faience pottery, also known as Fayence in France, is often used as a synonym to Majolica because of their similar appearance and use of tin glaze. Yet, most collectors distinguish Faience pottery by their characteristic polychrome (multi-colored) designs and mostly white background, whereas Majolica tends to have decoration all over along with pronounced raised decorative details (relief).

Although the earliest specimens date all the way back to 1200 BC in Greece, most Faience items found in the antiques market or many museums today are made circa 16th century onwards, and primarily in Italy, France, Holland and England. The most desired of Faience pottery originates from France, such as the Quimper, Ruen, Luneville regions, or from Italy near Turin or Savona and Florence. Of course, as with most other popular pottery or porcelain, some Faience pieces now also come from China and other Asian economies, and in spite of their decorative appeal, these are not antique.

Most antique Faience pottery was of a quasi-utilitarian nature, like jugs or plates, but with a distinct aesthetic flair. Vases and other decorative ware were also made in those older days, but many tend to be of rather regular shapes. Designs tend to be floral or geometric in nature, and some have simple depictions of pastoral scenes with one or two persons carrying farm duties.

The vast majority of antique Faience was made in small studios or by individual artists. These early pieces were signed with the artist’s initials or monogram, along with a symbol or the full name of their location. Hence, QUIMPER or other names of regions where Faience pottery was made do not reflect any actual manufacturer or maker, but rather a number of art studios or artists that worked in the area. Much later, around very-late-18th century onwards, some studios were much larger or became collectives, and some marks and signatures from that period are linked to a specific company, as in the case of the HENRIOT factory in Quimper, France.

Old Faience is very popular nowadays and can fetch high prices at auction. Because early examples were made of earthenware and, as noted above, were of utilitarian nature, many show clear signs of distress and wear such chips or cracks. However, this is to be expected and in most cases it does not detract from their value. In fact, some collectors believe it adds character to a Faience piece. This is unlike what you would expect on a Meissen porcelain figurine or a pair of Sevres urns that are usually more valuable if in perfect condition, even though they date from a similar period, since the latter were meant to be used for display only.

Please see “My Collections” for some examples. The above is by no means an exhaustive account on Faience pottery, but rather a starting point for an interesting discussion. Please feel free to contribute your own experiences with Faience to this blog.

Alex and Elizabeth are WorthPoint Worthologists.

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