Mention a Limoges porcelain box and almost everyone knows what you are talking about. But did you realize Limoges porcelain can encompass any number of manufacturers or artisans making a large assortment of items, not only Limoges porcelain boxes?
Many people think that Limoges (silent S) is the name of a company, this is not true. The name Limoges can be used on any porcelain piece that is made with the kaolin clay and made in the City of Limoges. In fact, this is the only French law there is regarding markings on the porcelain pieces, anything else can be put on a piece. Unfortunately, this can make it difficult for a collector to identify the different pieces or manufacturers.
Limoges porcelain boxes have become very popular over the past few years and who can blame collectors for flocking to them? The little detailed designs appeal to just about everyone. Art lovers, miniature lovers and lovers of whimsy all find these Limoge porcelain boxes just delightful to look at. The designs encompass everything -- food, animals, hearts, clothing, travel, etc. It would be hard to look at a collection and not find one that has some meaning to you.
But these are not a new collectible, porcelain boxes have been around since the 18th century. The discovery of Kaolin clay near Limoges France in the 1700's created a new industry in France -- hard paste Porcelain. (Which up to that time was a highly secret process in China.) Prior to this discovery it was soft paste porcelain which was extremely fragile and had no staying power.
The manufacture of the Limoges boxes started in the 18th century and continued strong until the late 19th century when the popularity eventually died out. The tiny detailed boxes were used for everything from pills, snuff, beauty patches, and even secret notes. When they were first made there were no other types of containers being used, so when you wanted to carry something around -- you needed a little box and the early Limoge box shapes were made to specifically accommodate the different items carried.
Although they were popular in France, the idea never really caught on here in the United States as there was no exporting done of them. At the time it took traveling to Europe to find and buy the pieces. Fast forward to the 1960's and we can credit porcelain importer Charles Martine for the popular Limoges boxes we see now. At the time, he was importing Limoges dishes and porcelain into the United States when he came up with the idea of having these boxes made again. The growth of this industry has been astounding.
Many U.S. companies have jumped on the bandwagon in the past few years and Dealer Elayne Troute emphasized that their products are well-made and appeal to many folks, but are not necessarily Limoges. A look around the Internet found Enesco, Dept 56, Cannon Falls and Midwest all producing tiny little porcelain boxes with very popular American themes. There is also a company on the Internet using a misspelling of the name Limoges, the boxes sell for around $5. and are a good case for "you get what you pay for".
If you are interested in investing a "genuine" Limoges, treat it as any fine art purchase. Look at the different companies, decide which one appeals to you with their artwork and designs. Look at the history of the company, is it a company producing the entire box, or is it a one-man operation purchasing the porcelain boxes and then painting them. According to Troute, although prices will always vary, you should expect to pay anywhere from $100 - $600 for a Limoges box made by a respected company.
Source: Limoges dealer and Porcelain expert Elayne Troute
Elayne Troute's web site and resource pages: