I started going to antique auctions and scouring estate and garage sales about 30 years ago … long before antiques and collecting became the “hot” or “in thing” that it is today. Even at that tender young age, i.e., way before the AARP notices started showing up in my mailbox, I always felt like an old soul gravitating towards anything that had age or, as I would like to call it “character”. My love of things from the past also extended to so many other facets of my life.
Around this time I began to explore the possibilities of home ownership. While my better half at the time preferred new construction, I was drawn to the big Victorian houses with crown molding, fireplaces, window seats and grand staircases. These houses spoke to me; and I immediately felt a history and connection as I walked through them. Accordingly, new construction was not an option for me and I was not at all receptive to his arguments about what it would cost to renovate these houses or the cost inherent in their upkeep. Fast forward 30 years. I live in an old colonial house that was designed by a Captain in the war. I can not tell you how excited I was when my husband found the original blueprints in the attic that contained the Captain’s hand written notes detailing his instructions for the copper roofed porch and the cherry mahogany dining room ceiling.
I apologize for digressing away from how I began collecting and eventually selling hand painted china. But, I thought a little peak into my formative years would help you understand me a tad better and appreciate how natural it was for me to walk the path to this where I am today. So, back to the task at hand.
My first few years of collecting were spent amassing a myriad of different items including, but not limited to: furniture, unique silver overlay pieces and perfume bottles, depression glass and costume jewelry. Then, one day, I came across what I believed to be the most incredible piece of hand painted china I had ever seen. It was a huge Limoges vase with incredible hand painted pink, white, and red roses. Being a budding gardener who had just planted over two dozen rose bushes, I was smitten by the execution of these gorgeous blossoms on porcelain and thought the vase would go lovely in my sunroom which overlooked my newly created rose garden.
I purchased that vase at an estate sale in a huge Victorian house on the Navesink River which was a deep winding road that ran steeply down the hill in an exclusive area of New Jersey. From that moment on, as I walked out of that Victorian home with my new found treasure, I was forever hooked on the exquisite beauty of what has become a long lost art form… hand painted china. I now have nearly 500 pieces of hand painted Limoges, Belleek and Pickard.
Over the years, this hobby/business has basically taken over every room in the house. So, I have been fortunate that my husband has not only developed his own passion and appreciation of these hand painted treasures, but has also become my expert packer/shipper. While I dread the thought of it, he considers the latter task a form of therapeutic relaxation. And, he is as fiercely proud of his talent in expertly packing these items as I am in finding them after hours of scouring estates and auctions.
As I look back on my journey through collecting and then eventually selling these cherished items, I see how my taste has grown and matured. In time, I came to realize that what I once thought to be master executions of the subject genre, especially roses and portrait pieces, were but very good amateur attempts. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a piece just because it was not done in a decorating studio by a listed artist. In fact, many amateur pieces were done by highly skilled and master artists in the privacy of their own home/studio or as a freelancer. Still, I am always amazed when I compare one of my first pieces of hand painted china with one of my more recent acquisitions. The techniques are sometimes worlds apart and the level of skill and artistry of my newer pieces are hands down so much more exquisite. With those higher end pieces, however, comes a much larger price tag .. .no different than buying a luxury car as opposed to an economy class automobile; or, what one would expect to pay for a designer handbag or pair of shoes in comparison with mass produced articles.
It took me many years to refine my taste and come to the realization that I would prefer one incredible piece as opposed to three or four exceptional pieces. But, we all start somewhere … in whatever price range fits our pocketbook at the time.
If I can impart one rule of thumb in collecting hand painted porcelain, whether it be Limoges, Pickard or Belleek, or one of the other Bavaria/Austria/German pieces, it would be to look for those which are signed by the artist, have decorating marks (or back stamps), and, of course, those that truly tug at your heart strings. My passion is for those pieces with hand painted roses. Accordingly, a vast majority of items in my shop, All Things Love-lee, are comprised of those with gorgeous roses in one shade or another.
Your love may be like mine, floral; or, perhaps portraits pieces or those with scenic décor are your particular fancy. Whatever it is, take your time and examine the little details. Research other pieces in that genre. Invest in several of the reference books on your selected area of interest and read .. and then read some more. Soon you will feel knowledgeable and comfortable in trusting your judgment on selecting and valuing your acquisitions. Your taste will grow and become refined. And, soon, you too, like most collectors, will begin the journey from casual collector to seasoned collector, and then to seller, in order to afford more exquisite pieces.
Good luck on your journey. You will meet many wonderful sellers and buyers along the way. And, sadly, you may meet some not so reputable ones, as well. Hopefully they will be few and far in between. Learn from all of them. Pick their brains. Question them. And, if they resent the questions then move rapidly on and do not do business with them. Any true collector or dealer of Limoges and other high quality hand painted porcelain will love to smooze for hours about this passion of ours. Most reputable ones will love to take you under their wings and share their knowledge and stories about this wonderful passion and hobby. Seek them out and best of luck on your journey.