This area of the antiques market has fascinated scholars, academics and collectors alike since the mid 19th century. The finest wares from the great 18th century factories of Meissen, Sevres, Chelsea, Worcester, and Derby to name just a few have been in such demand that as early as 1845 Edme Samson opened his Paris factory to produce replicas of the great wares taking advantage of the rapidly expanding market for collecting porcelains from preceding century. Auction catalogues from the famous London salerooms at the beginning of the 20th century show that enthusiasm for this field had not died down and the market has been on the steady rise throughout the 20th century and into the present century.
The fun of collecting 18th century porcelain lies largely in the attribution of a piece to a factory or time period through detailed study of its attributes for this is not always obvious from marks alone (which can often be deeply misleading) The value of a piece of porcelain varies significantly on the factory which produced it, as well as the era it was made or the pattern placed upon it. Whilst some collectors study a single factory, others specimen hunt for representative examples of all the factories, others will collect a certain pattern which can be recurrent on wares of many different factories. Collecting 18th century porcelain can be so gripping that collectors can be found queuing up outside selling exhibitions in the early hours of the morning in order to secure a prized piece for their collections.
The infancy of porcelain production in Europe sees Kings and Queens, the aristocracy and entrepreneurs racing to produce porcelain and capitalise on the massive demand for porcelain which at the time was shipped in on tea clippers travelling back from the east. The problem that faced most early factories was finding a workable porcelain recipe. Many lacked Kaolin, the essential ingredient in true ‘hard paste’ porcelain which was abundant in China where it was mined from the Kao-ling hill.
The early porcelain producers often had to find a replacement for Kaolin which could be glass, animal bones, or Cornish soaprock and from these replacement ingredients, unique types of porcelain body were produced giving the wares unique and charming characteristics which are today the clues to attribution. In the guide below we list some of the many 18th century factories that we encounter and a brief analysis of the clues that can aid attribution.