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( Originally Published In 1924 )
The collector should always aim at the best. He may not secure what he wants at first, but perhaps he will in time; there is nothing like aiming high. In consequence, every collector of porcelain should try to obtain an example of Sevres.
Ruling out the so-called Henri II ware, of which there are said to be only sixty-five pieces in existence, Sevres is the next important. The factory made no attempt to cater for the ordinary person,the Sevres factory was a royal preserve, and kings and queens used Sevres porcelain, when they wanted to make presents to rival sovereigns, or to great people.
Almost all Sevres is marked with a double "L," and inside appear the letter which gives the year.The collector is sure to be offered what is called "biscuit de Sevres," especially white biscuit figures,and the double " L " may be pointed out upon these figures, as a mark of their genuine character.It may generally be said that it is the very opposite, as practically no biscuit figures ever bore the double "L" at all.
Then he must be careful that he does not buy what is called "Baldock Sevres." There was a Mr. Baldock, rather less than a hundred years ago, the big dealer of his day. He bought large quantities of white Sevres, either without decoration at all, or with very little, and he took off all the original decoration with powerful acids, and then employed an artist to repaint the Sevres porcelain in the glorious greens, blues and pinks which were in use at the factory. He did it very well, and even clever collectors have been taken in by his copies, because the original ware was genuine Sevres-but real Sevres must be not only made, but decorated, at the factory.
Then, again, beware of the artists' signs, because the great artists of Sevres painted their initials on their ware, and the date is known when each of them started work. I once saw a piece of Sevres, that was to be offered to Mr. Morgan: It bore the date letter of 1759, but the initial letter of an artist who did not start work at Sevres till 1763, and I was able to tell the person who was going to offer it that he had better get rid of it at once, as it was a forgery. Then I was shown a piece, marked with the double letters "HH," signifying 1785, and decorated by a painter who died in the seventeen-seventies-and that, I am rather afraid, entered into a small local museum, and is there still.
My first acquaintance with Sevres porcelain arose in a somewhat romantic way. In 1856, the eldest son of an English earl died quite unexpectedly, leaving only daughters, and the title in consequence would have to pass to a great-nephew, whose mother the existing earl very strenuously disliked. At the moment of the death of the eldest son, the old earl was building a great dowerhouse, with a long gallery, in which to exhibit the famous pictures and vases he had bought. When his son died, he sent word that the work was to be stopped, not a ladder was to be moved, not a hod of mortar disturbed, not a brick nor a piece of wood touched, but every man was to leave his work at once.
Moreover, he said that the family house was to be closed up, and the blinds drawn down, and he never resided there again, and he lived on and on till 1870, so that, when I first went into it, the blinds were glued to the window by the : dead flies, and the curtains fell to pieces when you touched them.
I also rambled all over the great unfinished house, to the imminent danger of my neck: The whole thing had steadily rotted away, but there was a small lodge, where the eldest son and his children had sometimes lived, and in that were stored pictures and treasures of enormous value.
The pictures were too big to be hung on its walls, and stood round on the floor, the vases of Sevres and the bronzes crowded the mantelpieces, and nothing was moved until the old nobleman died in 1870.
A faithful housekeeper was put in charge, the house was watched night and day, there were fierce dogs on the premises, no one save one or two specially favoured persons, of whom I was one, was allowed to enter, nothing was allowed to be moved.
The lady's work-basket and her needlework perished on the table on which she had left it. There were marks of all the objects on the floors and shelves. Everything was kept dusted but nothing was moved. All the blinds were drawn, and the beautiful blue curtains shrouded the windows, and gradually fell to pieces.
The lodge was kept in spotless order, and no one knew, save the old housekeeper and her two faithful servants, what amazing treasures there were in that tiny house.
There were great silver vases ; there were large pieces of sculpture ; there were splendid vases of Sevres of the very finest period; there was wonderful furniture ; everything of high importance; and the old man made a will to prevent any of the things ever going at any time to the man who would succeed him in the title.
He tied them up to his granddaughters, but even they were not allowed to use or sell them, and then the reversion went on to a great charity, but after he died in 1870, the Settled Estates Act permitted of some change being made, and in 1891, I had the privilege of looking with great care at all the things; and then it was that I acquired some knowledge of Sevres porcelain.
Later on, I watched the things sell at Christie's, and I delighted in the fact that the old man's offensive will was able to be partially set aside, and that the new earl regained many of the splendid things of which his great-uncle had tried to deprive him.
If only those pictures and that Sevres could have come into the market now, how different would have been their values! They fetched good prices then, about &,500, but nothing to what they would have fetched now.
There were Sevres vases eighteen inches high. There was a blue vase twenty inches high, and another wonderful one a little less. There were glorious Gros-bleu coffee-cups, and two superb Gros-bleu vases. The coffee-cups fetched about fifty pounds for the four.
I saw them later on in America, and I believe the owner gave six hundred pounds for them, and one pink vase, which then only sold for three or four pounds, afterwards fetched nearly three hundred. Sevres china is worth collecting.