Royal Vienna Porcelain or 20th Century Knockoffs: Deciphering the ‘Bee Hive Mark’


Old Vienna cups clearly marked with the beehive marking

One of the first rules one learns about buying, selling and collecting is “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Appraisers and dealers are very aware that things are not always as they appear. This knowledge, gained from years of making sometimes costly mistakes, is why many tend to specialize in a few areas of expertise and rely on other experts to identify items outside their specialty.

The market that is most specialized is decorative arts, particularly with pottery and porcelain items. Confusion mainly occurs with copies “in the style of” well-known and established makers, such as Sevres and Meissen, that are still in production. These items often carry markings that resemble their originals. Trading on the popularity of famous potteries and their marks has occurred with many European porcelain works that did not survive into the Victorian era as well. Then, as now, there was a ready market for lower priced knock-offs that could fool casual inspection and pass for the genuine article.

The bee hive mark is actually a shield that looks like a bee hive if inverted.

The bee hive mark is actually a shield that looks like a bee hive if inverted.

Such is the case of this marking, a blue “bee hive” mark of Miessen, which is probably the most copied of all. The “bee hive” marking is a generic one, now referred to in the antique business as the “Royal Vienna” mark. The reason this marking has been used is because it was originally created for use by the “Imperial & Royal Porcelain Manufactory,” famous for its fine porcelain since it was established in Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The original company was founded in 1718 by Claudius du Paquier, who, with the help of former Miessen employees, perfected his own porcelain formula in 1718. But the company could not shake its financial difficulties and Paquier sold the factory to the state in 1744. Like many porcelain makers of that period, the company survived mainly by the support of a royal family, in this case the Hapsburgs of Austria.

These original post-1744 pieces were often marked with the Royal Shield from the coat of arms of the Hapsburg royal family.  The mark came to be described as the “bee hive mark” because it resembles a beehive when turned upside down. Original pieces, like this 18th-century pair of musicians below are very rare and highly sought after.

This pair of 18th-century porcelain musicians are very makred with the royal shield mark and are highly sought after.

This pair of 18th-century porcelain musicians are marked with the royal shield mark and are highly sought after.

The company went into decline again in the 1820s and, when the original factory closed circa 1864, other German and Austrian companies were quick to copy the mark or variations of it, often using the marking “Royal Vienna” in combination with the bee hive marking. The quality of some of these “Royal Vienna” pieces was very good; the best of them date from the 1880s through to 1900, with hand-painted portrait plates being especially fine. Through the simple passage of time, these late Victorian pieces are now legitimate antiques and are quite collectible. The same can’t be said for later pieces carrying the bee hive marking, though, as it can also be found on post-Second World War Japanese porcelain and, most recently, on porcelain imported from China during the 1980s to early 1990s.

It is estimated that the original Imperial & Royal Porcelain Manufactory used more than 40 markings during its history, thus it often requires the services of an expert in European porcelain to properly identify them. There a few guidelines that will eliminate the late Victorian “Royal Vienna” and Japanese/Chinese 20th-century types from the originals:

• Originals were never marked with a country of origin, such as Germany, Austria or with the words “Royal Vienna”;
• Originals were never signed with the portrait artist’s name;
• Gold lettering was never used for original company marks;
• The original marks are rarely perfectly symmetrical;
• The original mark is never found with a crown or descriptive titles.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement. He can be reached through his website.

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