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Articles: The Evolution of Porcelain  

As a third generation antiques dealer, I have been fortunate to have been raised in a family that appreciates good antique glassware and furniture. Although I appreciate the craftsmanship that went into the design and building of period furniture, my primary interest lies in good Victorian glass. I am especially intrigued by Victorian porcelains and art glass. The 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries saw many companies produce a variety of quality glassware. Most of the earlier companies were located in Europe, notably Bavaria, Prussia, Bohemia, and France. Although I could not possibly discuss every type of antique glass, I will discuss several that possess high standards of quality and collectibility.

First of all, the secret of making hard paste porcelain was not known in Europe until around 1700 when a chemist in Meissen, Germany made its discovery. This discovery led to the establishment of a hard paste porcelain factory in the Meissen area just a few years later. This factory is credited with being the first of its kind in all of Europe. As the secret of making porcelain spread to nearby areas, resident pottery companies began their own production of hard paste porcelain items.

Royal Vienna porcelains were first produced in the mid 1700's near Vienna, Austria. Although only 1 of several companies to produce Royal Vienna wares, the leading producer was the Royal Porcelain Manufactory. The company employed many talented artists to decorate their wares and was in operation until 1864. Typical scenes depicted on their porcelains included portraits, landmarks, and mythological scenes. Many would be adorned with exquisite scrollwork and trimmed in gold. These pieces are prized by collectors today and demand prices into the thousands.

France was also known for quality porcelains. Sevres porcelain has been produced in Sevres, France since 1769 and production continues even today. Large vases, urns, and figurines were commonly produced. Today, the earlier pieces are most often encountered in museums. Most of the pieces seen outside museums were produced in the 19th century. Sevres pieces were not produced for the average home but rather for the wealthy. In today's market, if you are lucky enough to find an 18th century Sevres urn in mint condition expect the price to approach $30,000 or more. Limoges, a city about 200 miles south of Paris, has produced porcelains for over 200 years. Why? Because the soil around Limoges is rich in deposits of kaolin and feldspar, the essential ingredients for making hard paste porcelain. Also, when porcelain was first produced in the Limoges area, the region had plentiful forests to supply the necessary fuel for the kilns and sufficient rivers to provide easy transport of the wood.

Another porcelain produced in the Victorian era was Nippon. The word Nippon is simply the Japanese word for "Japan". Nippon porcelain has been produced for hundreds of years, however, most Nippon seen today was made in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Prices for these pieces continue to soar. Pieces that would have sold for $2.29 in 1908 now demand as much as $400 or more.

Late in the 19th century, several American companies began producing quality glass. One such company that produced glass of the highest standard was the Mount Washington Glass Co. The company started in 1837 in South Boston, but moved in 1869 to New Bedford, Massachusetts. Here they produced and decorated countless items for the Victorian household. Items such as vases, biscuit jars, lamps, shakers, etc. were sold the country over. The silver-plated fittings and hardware for many of these pieces were produced by Pairpoint. Later, Pairpoint was acquired by Mount Washington to supply all of their silver-plating needs.

Additionally, the C.F. Monroe Co. of Meriden, Connecticut was instrumental in establishing America as a quality producer of Victorian glassware. As the 1892 Meriden Daily Journal reported "…the C.F. Monroe Co. manufactures innumerable beautiful fancy articles in glass and porcelain, unique in design and suitable for holiday and wedding gifts." The paper further stated "…the company gives employment to a large number of artists, all of whom are of the highest skill and of a superior intelligence." No doubt the C. F. Monroe Co. made a lasting impression on the Victorian glassware market for their wares are highly sought by today's collectors.

Finally, today's collectors of Victorian glassware should strive to be informed. Read everything you can about the subject you are collecting. Attend antiques shows, frequently visit shops, and ask many questions. Also, get to know a reputable dealer that you can trust. Work with them to constantly upgrade your collection. Your collection will be much more impressive with 10 rare pieces that are each in mint condition than 25 common or damaged pieces. And remember this, your collection of quality pieces will ALWAYS appreciate in value!

Written by Oran Adams

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