Discovering how much your antique ceramics are worth can often be accomplished by analysing the materials, colour, finish and maker’s mark. This antique porcelain valuation guide will help you to establish the possible maker and era of treasured porcelain figurines, dishes and tea sets.
Porcelain will be slightly translucent when held up to the light, whilst pottery will remain opaque. There are two styles of porcelain, hard paste and soft paste. Soft paste porcelain is not as strong as hard paste, you may be able to tell the difference between the two by its strength and the glaze appearing to sit on the surface. It may feel warmer to the touch and duller in appearance than hard paste. When soft paste porcelain is chipped, it may appear dusty and crumble a little, whilst hard paste porcelain will have a texture of chipped glass.
Above: examples of soft paste porcelain figurines from makers including Capodimonte, Saint James, Bow and Mennecy
Factories using soft paste porcelain include Chelsea, Sevres, St. Cloud, Chantilly, Vincennes, and Capodimonte. Hard paste porcelain was first created in China in the 9th century, it was developed in Europe by Meissen in the early 18th century (click here to read more about Meissen porcelain).
Above: examples of hard paste porcelain, including items from Fulda, Ludwigsburg, Meissen and Nymphenburg
Bone china is a type of English porcelain developed in the late 18th century, so will never be earlier than 1794. This is a combination of hard paste porcelain and ground animal bone. Factories famous for fine bone china include Spode, Derby, Coalport, Rockingham, Flight & Barr, and Minton.
Above: examples of fine bone china from Minton, Worcester, Spode and Crown Derby
Whilst maker’s marks can be helpful indicators of the manufacturer, many may have been copied or forged over the centuries, double check by looking for other signifiers of an era, material or style if you are uncertain of the marking. Below are various maker’s marks you may come across.
Above are typical English maker’s marks from Bow, Royal Crown Derby, Royal Worcester, Chelsea and Coalport. Older styles of Chelsea porcelain may feature just a triangle. Below are maker’s marks found on German and Prussian porcelain, including Hochst, Frankenthal, Nymphenburg, Erdmann Suhl, Erdmann Reinhold, Reinold Tillowitz and Oscar Langewiessen.
Below are examples of the many marks found on Dresden porcelain such as Meissen – typically crossed swords. Though like many maker’s marks, this may have been forged or become obscured as the mark bleeds into the ceramic.
Below are maker’s marks from French manufacturer Sevres and Italian manufacturer Capodimonte.
19th and 20th century porcelain trademarks may help to detemine age as certain terminology was not used before certain decades.
Royal: after 1850
Limited or Ltd: after 1860
Trade Mark: after 1870
England: after 1890
Bone China: 20th century
Made in England: 20th century
Above: a selection of maker’s marks found on Meissen porcelain
Certain colours are associated with different porcelain factories and eras, for example Vienna figurines usually have a combination of green, pale mauve, puce and yellow. Below are colours associated with each manufacturer:
Bottger Green: Meissen early work
Grey turquoise: Meissen around 1770
Egg yolk yellow: Meissen 1730-40
Lilac: Meissen 1740-55
Lemon yellow: Meissen 1730-50
Bleu Celeste: Sèvres
Rose Pompadour: Sèvres
Apple Green: Sèvres
Dark Brown: German factories
Puce: German factories in the mid 18th century
Tan: German and swiss factories
Red: all factories
Russet: Furstenberg and Ludwigsburg factories
Typical pieces of Bow porcelain have an almost green glass-like glaze. If you hold up a piece against light and see a green tinge throughout it may be Worcester porcelain.
Porcelain figurines of the 18th century, especially those from major manufacturers, often focused on popular topics such as the Commedia Dell’ Arte – Italian comedy characters that came in a variety of poses. This was closely linked to the rococo era’s focus on pastoral pleasures and Watteau’s fête galante style. Typical characters include peasant men and women as well as the Commedia Dell’ Arte characters of Scaramouche, Columbine, L’Avvocato and Harlequin.
Above: a selection of figurines with Commedia Dell’ Arte characters such as Harlequin and Columbine from Derby, Capodimonte, Meissen and Höchst
Features of Meissen figurines include a base with floral or leafy details, a well-modelled face with subtle colouration, detailed drapery with bold or pastel tones, and a fine white base. Frankenthal figurines often have doll-like features, tufts of green moss, arched bases, and large hands.
Above: a selection of 18th century porcelain figurines from manufacturers such as Nymphenburg, Vienna, Bow, Capodimonte and Chelsea
English made figurines such as Derby, Bow and Worcester tend to have lower value at auction as they were often copied from original, continental designs and therefore are usually not as refined. Bow porcelain specialised in copies of Chinese and Japanese designs.
Above: a selection of 18th century porcelain figurines from manufacturers such as Meissen, Derby, Frankenthal and Höchst
Chelsea porcelain from the 18th century may feature large botanical illustrations, including a trompe l’oeil effect on small insects and details (copied from Meissen). Popular Chelsea porcelain plates featuring botanical designs are called ‘Hans Sloane wares’ due to their inspiration from Hans Sloane’s physic garden in Chelsea.
Copies of famous porcelain designs are common and popular pieces from the 18th century may have been copied in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, some of the original copycat designers may be collectible in their own right, such as Edme Samson who worked in Paris during the 19th century.
Does restoration affect the cost?
Whilst a breakage of any kind may affect the value of antique artworks, restoration conducted to a professional standard will allow the piece to gain a higher value at auction when compared to results for a figurine or tableware item that has missing parts or visual disturbances.
Our ceramics conservator has seen her work reach respectable outcomes at auction following the recreation of missing and broken pieces. Likewise, we often have broken items received post-auction that have been purchased with the intention of restoration. Conservators in our studio all carry Masters degrees or an equivalent qualification and have been trained to museum-level standards.
How can we help?
If you have a piece of antique or modern porcelain in need of sensitive restoration work, please speak to our helpful ceramics restoration team who will be happy to guide you through the process.
Email us via [email protected] or call 0207 112 7576