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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

About Porcelain Marks

( Original Published 1913 )

"If you need some mark to distinguish the truth before you accept it, why not also require a second mark to verify that the first mark is genuine ? And so on, to infinity." So Renan wrote, though of other things than keramics, by the by. And he denounced what he called " the horrible mania for certitude." Temperament, habit, and instinct formed by observation and experience are surer guides for a collector than any trade-mark can be. Marks on keramic articles and signatures on pictures are the chief agents of fraud in such things. Now and again one hears of a bit of porcelain, a painting, or a piece of furniture being ejected from a museum or gallery because it has been found out as false. If that were to go on at all regularly there are museums and galleries which would soon present great gaps. Indeed, in the vestibule of every gallery and museum there ought to be a sphinx-an emblem of the perpetual question," Is it true ? "Not every keeper of a museum is a Franks, or of a picturegallery a Holroyd. A collector must so study as to know for himself, without marks or museum-labels, whether a piece is genuine or not; himself he must answer the question," Is it true ? "

The Use of a Mark. The easiest part of a counterfeit is to imitate a mark; therefore a mark is the last of the things a collector should go by. Regard a mark as the confirmation of other proofs, not as itself the only necessary evidence. Look, touch, quality of paste, quality of glaze, form, colour, decoration, general air, physical indications of age-these are the true criteria; the trade-mark should come in that catalogue last of all. A specimen should be judged by the presence or absence of the merits, and of the faults also, of the pieces which are generally accepted as having come from the pottery of which it bears the trade-mark. I say "trade-mark" in preference to "mark," the usual word, because a piece of old china or earthenware bears countless marks by which it can be judged; the trade-mark is only one of them. And a true piece without a trade-mark on it will be " marked all over" to knowing eyes and sensitive finger-tips.

Some Deceptive Marks. Scores of pounds per piece have been paid, by outwitted collectors, for pieces of porcelain bearing the double L mark of Sevres, with the letter C in between. The Sevres system of marking was to date the issue of a piece by the dateletter placed within the interlacing L's. The dateletter C in genuine old Sevres stands for the year 1755, the third year of the fabrique; but upon the spurious pieces the letter C stands for the surname initial of a certain Monsieur Caille, who painted porcelain made in Paris about forty years ago. The mark of LL with a C is therefore, in itself, a worthless index; the fingertip, the cheek, the finger-nail, the ground colour, the finish of the painting, are guides a thousand times more reliable than the letter C between the double L. For Sevres porcelain made in the year 1755 was soft porcelain ; the Caille counterfeit is hard.

I am rather tired of having people, into whose houses I go as a friend or acquaintance, bring to me what they call "a pretty bit of old Dresden," and triumphantly show me the word "DRESDEN" in blue on the base, with a cross-tipped crown above the word. That is the misleading mark adopted by a firm of makers when, about thirty years ago, the Government of Saxony took action and caused them to disuse a still more misleading mark. In the case of the ware marked with "DRESDEN" and a crown, the test of "hard" or "soft" cannot be applied, for the ware is hard, and real old Meissen (commonly called Dresden) also was hard. But so poor is the "Dresden and crown" marked porcelain in design, shape, colour, and painting (though the decoration on it is ambitious) that surely nobody who had ever seen a bit of old Meissen could mistake the one for the other.

Among my own earliest purchases were five figures of the Muses, part of a series which Meissen initiated, and Berlin and Rudolstadt and other German fabriques copied at the time. On the base of my five figures appeared a blue mark rather like a hay-fork, and this, as a beginner, I took to stand for Rudolstadt. I know now that the version of the hay-fork mark on the figures which I acquired is what is known as " a colourable imitation." I ought to have guessed that at the time, however, for the modelling and colours of the figures, compared with the real old things, are very poor. I am glad to remember that this experience cost me no more than five half-crowns. We all have to buy our experience, but let us purchase it as cheaply as we may.

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