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The Double-Louis Mark
( Originally Published 1913 )
It will come as a surprise to readers who have casually visited the great keramic collection near St. Cloud to learn that there is next to no old Sevres porcelain in the Musee de Sevres. In one respect that museum is another Hotel des Invalides, for even the few pieces of old Sevres which it does contain have all of them " been in the wars," and not one of them but has been mended. You can better study " old Sevres " at the Wallace Collection, or the Jones Collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum, than you can in France.
The Musee de Sevres did not begin to exist at all until the year 1805, and the making of soft Sevres porcelain at all ceased in the year 1804. Practically the making of soft-paste Sevres porcelain ceased in 1795, indeed; and the old Sevres mark-the double Louis, as I have called it, the two script letters L, interlacing and facing each other (the L standing for" Louis") died out of use soon after the sixteenth Louis died on the scaffold of the guillotine in the Place de la Concorde, near the spot where the sister obelisk to Cleopatra's Needle now stands.
The Fatal "Improvement "There comes a moment in the history of every applied art when somebody, thinking to amend, does in effect spoil and even destroy for the future the beautiful product which he thought to improve. That moment came in the history of English porcelain, when Spode, taking his cue from the efforts at Plymouth, Bristol, and New Hall, mixed felspar into his china-paste and thereby destroyed the production of the beautiful, frail, " soft " porcelain manufactured in England until then.
A similarly fatal moment came at the Gobelins Tapestry Works, when M. Chevreul, the director, exulted in having discovered how to increase the number of tints which could be dyed into the yarn. The three main colours which till then had served to make Gobelins tapestry beautiful-the green, the blue,and the amber-brown gave place to all the tints of the rainbow, and the simplicity, the severe beauty, and the noble austerity of " old Gobelins " became for ever lost.
And so in the year 1804, when Brongniart, the director at Sevres, finally adopted hard paste for Sevres porcelain wholly, he was so certain that he had made a grand improvement, that he burned the formula; by which the soft paste used to be mixed, and buried in the park of Versailles all the material for soft-paste porcelain that was left in stock. He rejoiced; but what he had done was to kill for ever the production of Sevres porcelain at its best.
I do not know that we collectors and students of the old arts need lament over these fatal improvements, perhaps. Those unhappy moments of change may be considered by us as appointed to make the old productions treasures, by preventing their continuance afterwards. But it shows how blind the most enlightened art directors can be." Vieux Sevres" and the Marks." What is vieux Sevres, pate tendre ? " It is the old Sevres, made of soft paste. What is the Sevres porcelain which is priceless ?It is the old soft-paste Sevres.What is the Sevres porcelain marked by the " double-Louis " ? It is old soft-paste Sevres.And that was just the kind of soft porcelain which the Revolution and Brongniart brought to an end in France.
Under the term vieux Sevres, connoisseurs comprehend all soft-paste porcelain made at the French Royal manufactory, the Manufacture Royale de Porcelaine de France-from the day of its foundation up to about the year 1804. The use of the double-Louis mark ended somewhat earlier. The " double-Louis " began in 1745 ; in 1753 it had the date marking letter added to it. In the year 1753 a letter A was placed within the space enclosed by the double L ; in the year 1754 a letter B, and so on, down the alphabet (omitting W) till the year 1776, marked by the inner letter Z. Then the double Louis began to contain double letters ; the year 1777 was marked by AA; the year 1778 by BB, and so on, down the alphabet again, till RR marked the year 1794.
But in every collection of vieux Severs it will be found that the finest pieces have date-letters ranging within a few years of the date 1760-a few years earlier, and a few years later than that, so that the most desirable old Sevres of all bears the double-Louis mark, enclosing letters D to N.
After the first fall of Napoleon the double-Louis mark was renewed, during the reign of Louis XVIII ; it did not enclose a date-letter, but a fleur-de-lis instead.
From the year 1745 to the year 1753, the Royal china-works were at Vincennes, and the mark was a double-Louis without any date-letter, a full-stop being placed within the space where the date-letters later appeared.
The double-Louis mark is in blue.
Other L Marks. Colourable imitations of the Sevres mark were used many years ago. A double LL was used at Lille.An early Minton mark closely suggested the double-Louis. The honest modern " Derby " mark is rather like the Royal monogram used at Sevres. Angouleme porcelain bore a deceptive mark of the kind. And there have been endless fraudulent productions of what purports to be vieux Sevres.
It is hazardous to venture on Sevres, therefore. I own one little bit of it only, bought for 4s. 6d. in Hammersmith Broadway, years ago, but the daintiest pin-tray that ever a Marquise used.