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History

A Brief History of Limoges and Artistry of Limoges Boxes:  Although today Limoges, France is most famous for its fine porcelain, the art-related history of Limoges began with champleve enamel work in the 12th century, during which time boxes and other decorative items were exquisitely crafted in intricate designs in enamel.  This art form in Limoges developed into painted enamel and later into painted porcelain. 

The earliest examples of decorated porcelain were created in China in the second century B.C.  In 1520, finished porcelain products were first imported to Europe and by 1712 the manufacturing process was begun in Europe.  But, due to the shortage of the key ingredient for fine porcelain - "Kaolin" (white clay) - fine production of pure white porcelain was not yet possible in the west.

In 1768, a very large deposit of the finest Kaolin in Europe was discovered near the town of Limoges, France. Limoges was an established trading and manufacturing center in the region.  The abundant forests provided wood for the porcelain firing kilns and the Vienne river supplied plentiful water and transportation.  These key factors as well as the availability of skilled local artisans, attracted designers and entrepreneurs from throughout Europe who established their individual manufacturing workshops "ateliers" in Limoges.  Some of these ateliers became world famous trademarks which are revered to this day.  Today, Limoges porcelain boxes are manufactured in the same manner in small workshops and ateliers in the Limoges region.  

To the modern collector, Limoges boxes are enjoyed as beautiful objects of exquisite craftsmanship.  Originally, however, they were used as snuffboxes, and considered almost an integral part of ones wardrobe, to be carried in ones pocket like a fancy cigarette case.  When snuff-taking lost its popularity, the boxes lost their original purpose.  In the early twentieth century, they were commonly used as pillboxes.  They may still be used for such purposes.  Today, Limoges boxes are cherished by collectors for their fabulous detail, creative designs and sophistication.  The artistry of Limoges boxes evoke the same type of popular interest today as when they were first created in the 1700s.

Limoges Insignia, Marks & Backstamps:  The authenticity of the Limoges box is in its backstamp markings.  The backstamps is normally found at the base or inside the Limoges box.  Limoges artisans use various styles in marking their Limoges creations.  Some inscribe the Limoges by hand at the base or inside, where space allows.  Others, use a form stamp which is applied to the Limoges under the glaze.  

The designation "Limoges, France" on the backstamp is the guarantee of the origin of manufacture.  The words "Peint Main" indicate that the Limoges box is painted by hand.  Some artists include their initials or name in the markings.  If the Limoges box is created in a limited edition, the number will also be included in the backstamp.  

Below are some examples of Limoges insignia marks and backstamps by some of Limoges outstanding Limoges manufacturers.



The key ingredients for fine Limoges porcelain are:  Kaolin (the basic white clay), feldspar (which is necessary for translucency) and quartz (for hardness and durability).  These ingredients are mixed with water to make a soft paste and then sculpted or cast in molds.  When partially dried, the form is removed from the mold and fired at a relatively low temperature to dry and partially harden.  The Limoges is then glazed and fired again at a temperature so high that the stone particles actually become fused together and the surface coating dissolves into a permanent bond.  During the firing process, the objects shrink about 15%, which is the reason for the slight variation in size and shape of each piece.  The porcelain is now ready to be hand-painted, which is a lengthy and multi-level process.  The artist applies the design to the Limoges, one color at-a-time.  The porcelain receives a firing when each color is added and has to cool for hours before it receives the next coat of paint.  After the decoration and firing treatment of the porcelain is completed, the boxes are ready to be hinged.  The hinging process is in itself an art and the multi-level process is performed by expert craftsmen.  The brass or copper mounting is cut by hand, measured for size around each piece of porcelain, brazed in very high temperature to form the exact shape of the piece.  The hinges are then placed on a ring (to retain their fitting order) and immersed into acid for a few hours to develop a patina.  The hinges are then fitted by hand around the edge of each piece (exactly in order - as each piece has a unique shape) for a perfect fit and the two sides of the box are attached with a hinge.  A decorative clasp is then brazed to the front of the Limoges box.  The exquisite work of art is now ready for your enjoyment!


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