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By Sharon Stajda
Extremely light and eggshell thin, the hard parian ware of Belleek became very well known due to its surface which displayed an iridescence likeness to mother of pearl. The Belleek Pottery was established in Ireland in the late in 1857, by Robert William Armstrong, a London architect whose interest in ceramics had been peeked when his professional duties brought him in contact with Kerr and Co., Royal Porcelain Works, Worcester.
Owner of the Castle Caldwell estates John Caldwell Bloomfield which resided in County Fermanagh, below the Donegal highlands, had long been aware that his lands contained deposits of felspar and china-clay. With his good success at the Exhibition of 1851 prompted him to contact the Worcester establishment. Test consignments of Irish felspar sent to W. H. Kerr for experimental purposes proved to be of a good high quality, and very pure.Much purer than any known English deposits.
The delicate porcelain known as parian, was used for statuary, contained a large amount of felspar. The results were a notably improvement,due to the uses of Castle Caldwell felspar. Kerr and Co. advertised, `Irish Statuary Porcelain.' For the Dublin Exhibition of that year they produced and displayed a magnificent dessert service in parian and glazed bone china, with a large amount of relief and gilded decoration, painted medallions and freestanding figures of characters from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. After this grand display,Many china makers increased their orders, and demands for statuary parian. Irish felspar and Bloomfield was soon shipping consignments to the Mersey for dispatch by canal to the Staffordshire potteries.
Armstrong, taking note of the the huge demand for parian statuary. Establish a parian pottery in County Fermanagh, where the raw materials and also fuel were available in large quantities, And without costly transport problems. He sought to dominate, and to undersell Staffordshire in the far off American marketplace. After locating possible financiers in London, Armstrong proposed his project to David M'Berney of Carlisle Bridge, Dublin, proprietor of a well-known store that was one of the the Largest Victorian Pottery and Porcelain businesses the Three Kingdoms. M'Berney agreed to help find the all the money that the venture would require.
A factory was built at Belleek on a small island in the River Erne.This factory had the two kilns, with two ovens needed to increase production. A 100-horse-power waterwheel made by Fairbairn of Manchester provided power for grinding, mixing and other mechanized processes.
In 1857 the partners,under the name M'Berney and Armstrong, later as D. M'Berney and Co., began production. The factory manufactured what would have been termed ordinary useful goods'. It did not take long for the factory to began to produce statuary parian.The quality was superb, this most likely due to the artist that had been employed from England.
Belleek statuary had a wonderful luster, with a find crisp nature to its porcelain. This was due to the parian, and the Lead glaze. The Belleek firm found that by glazing their hard parian with a white luster then newly invented by a Frenchman, Jules Brianchon, they achieved a flawless smooth surface impervious to dirt and dust.This made the pieces easy to clean, they kept the factory luster for decades to come.
Belleek porcelain is well collected, and can still be found in Antique Shops. Although it is becoming harder to find a real antique piece of Belleek. A word to the wise be careful when buying pieces on-line, without the benefit of seeing the actual piece. Unfortunately, Belleek is one of the most popular counterfeited porcelains. It is also wise to know your dealers, on or off line.