THE ANTIQUE DETECTIVE
How to Date, Identify Old English Porcelain
By Anne Gilbert
Beginning collectors of 18th and early 19th century English porcelain have a lot to learn. It begins with knowing if a piece is porcelain, stoneware or earthenware. If the object shows the characteristics of porcelain, next question is what type is it ? Is it bone china, soft-paste, hard-paste or a hybrid material. Then there is the way it is decorated. Is it hand carved, molded, impressed or incised ? How was the painting done ? What looks like a painting may actually be a transfer print. Is it even English, or as old as it is supposed to be?
The earliest English porcelain began production in the 1740s, with Chelsea china c.1745-1749. Highly prized by collectors, a teabowl and cup can sell for over a thousand dollars at auction. It can be dated by its various marks and by the patterns that followed fashions of the times. For instance, in the mid-18th century botanical painting became popular as did Japanese Imari. Other mid-18th century porcelain houses were Bow, Worcester and Derby. Of the three Worcester is the most eagerly sought.
Dr. John Wall and 14 partners opened the Worcester factory in 1751. It was known for it's almost translucent quality. It often has a crescent mark.
Pieces are also unmarked. Collectors refer to the early pieces as "Dr. Wall" .
After Wall's death in 1776 the factory went through a series of name changes.
In 1862 it became known as "Royal Worcester".
The first Derby factory opened in 1756. It closed in 1848 but was reopened shortly afterwards and produced mostly bisque figurines. When it changed management in 1877 it became Crown Derby Porcelain Company. In 1889 it was allowed to add "Royal" to it's name. At that time many earlier pieces were reproduced. They became known for their use of raised gold trim and Imari patterns.
CLUES: Identify fine porcelain by twanging it with your fingers. It will have a bell-like tone. English porcelain (and other types of ceramics) made from 1842 on will have a lozenge shape Registry mark. It will have various numbers and letters showing the type of ceramic, the day, month and year made. Books on the subject contain marks and their numbers. One excellent book is "A Collector's History of British Porcelain" by John and Margaret Cushion. Published by The Antique Collector's Club, Market St. Industrial Park, Wappingers' Falls, NY 12590. Also in Museum book stores.
Since many pieces are sold as 18th century, that aren't, knowing when Registry marks came into being can keep you from overpaying. Many unmarked pieces are misrepresented as Dr. Wall. Hold the piece up to the light. It should be translucent with a greenish tinge. At the turn-of-the-century 18th century Worcester was heavily reproduced by many continental factories.
Prices for all makers varies according to quality of design and rarity of form.
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