Limoges Porcelain Boxes

The makers of Limoges Porcelain de France, have been owned by the same family for the past 46 years. They have, from their beginning, specialized in the making of hand painted boxes as collectibles but are relatively new to the American porcelain scene introducing their boxes there in 1996. Prior to that time they were sold exclusively in Europe and Great Britain.

The collection is quite varied but always has included a very large selection of classic boxes, exquisitely painted in the most traditional designs, often based on the original 18th century Sevres and Vincennes patterns. Unlike other makers who limit production on many of their boxes, they pride themselves on offering continuity in their classics. An example of this is their Premier Egg Box which they have been making for all of their 46 years and which continues to sell even now. It is made in 6 different colors which alone makes this piece unusual. We can offer a changing selection of figural boxes that are extremely imaginative and beautifully executed.  

Limoges porcelain has been made in Limoges, France since the latter part of the 18th century when kaolin, the pure white clay necessary for the production of hard paste porcelain, was discovered in nearby St. Yrieix. Previous to the discovery of kaolin in parts of Europe only China produced hard paste porcelain, (Chinese Export Porcelain). It was brought to Europe for the nobility and wealthy merchants. Soft paste porcelain had been made in Italy, France and Germany but in the production of soft paste porcelain there were many problems, not the least of which was its deterioration over time.

The manufacture of porcelain in France attracted the interest of Madame De Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV. Her influence over Louis resulted in The Royal Factory of Sevres, owned by Louis XV. (The name Sevres is world famous for the finest in porcelain manufacture even today and examples of it can be seen in museum collections the world over.) Louis’ ownership insured the success of the factory because Louis and Madame De Pompadour did much of the selling themselves. To say that it was difficult for the nobility of France to refuse to buy porcelain from Louis’ factory is an understatement. One suspects it was life threatening at worst and at the least would result in banishment from court. It appears that Louis and Madame P. applied just a bit of pressure to the members of the court in order to insure the success of the factory. (High pressure selling turns out to have been a “French Period Piece”. We didn’t invent it after all.) In any case, Sevres originated the manufacture of small items which included what we now know as “Limoges Boxes”. (Another small item produced at Sevres was false teeth.)

Originally used as snuff boxes, bonbonnieres, scent flacons, cane heads and etuis, (small carrying cases), in recent years Limoges boxes have come into vogue as charming, decorative and, sometimes, useful collectibles. Today there are more than 36 ateliers, (studios) that design and make these boxes ranging from one end of the quality spectrum to the other. They are all permitted to mark their boxes “Limoges” because they all are made in the city of Limoges and all are made with Limoges kaolin. However, that does not make the boxes equal. Just as the red wines of Burgundy are called Burgundy, no matter the quality of the wine, so all porcelain boxes made in Limoges may be called Limoges boxes no matter the quality of the box.

The boxes are always imaginatively designed, each of the better factories vying for the best boxes of the year with the lesser factories following along doing cheaper and cheaper copies of the previous boxes. Today, on the Internet, there is a company calling their product Lemoge, copying the boxes and selling them for five dollars. It doesn’t take much knowledge to know that they are not Limoges boxes no matter what they are called. True Limoges boxes are made by highly skilled artists who are trained for years before their work is considered exact enough for production. From the making of the mold, the painting of each individual box, the designing of the metal fittings and then fitting them to each box, from beginning to end, all of this is done by highly skilled artisans.

The boxes are all miniature, some as small as 1 inch by 1/2 inch though most are between 2 and three inches in size. Many are numbered limited editions and this is indicated on the base of the box, usually with the artists signature or initials. When they are numbered, the number 1 is the last box made. In the best factories the molds generally produce perhaps 300-400 boxes before they are discarded. If the edition is limited to a 1000, for example, that means more than 1 mold was used. In any case, there are few enough of any one style box made, considering world wide distribution, that in a sense they are all limited editions.

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