Until now no serious comprehensive study of the decorative ceramics manufactured in Germany, France and Austria during the late nineteenth century has been available in English; the publication of Godden's "Guide to European Porcelain" redresses the situation. Godden considers the subject from the viewpoint of the English market which, alongside the USA, was a focus for the huge quantities of porcelain originally imported from the Continent. He examines the links between the manufacturers, decorating workshops, and the retailers who promoted the products, and looks at factors such as trade tariffs which influenced the international market. One chapter is devoted to the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition, a prelude to the many international trade fairs and exhibitions of the second half of the nineteenth century which acted as conduits for the cross-fertilisation of ideas. Other chapters include short historical accounts, for the non-specialist, of the eighteenth-century Meissen, Sèvres and Vienna factories. The stylistic developments of the nineteenth century are described and comparisons made with similar wares manufactured by other factories, with detailed information given on the marks to look out for. The whole problem of fakes is examined, with new information on the Samson factory in Paris, the name of which has, incorrectly, become synonymous with porcelain fakes in general.
Godden writes with precision and the finely tuned eye of the experienced dealer, drawing on his wealth of knowledge to point out the subtle differences of paste and glaze, the pitfalls of genuine and imitation marks and the confusion bought about by the erroneous terminology in common circulation.
The market in the 1980s, continuing to a lesser extent in the 1990s, has seen unprecedentedly high prices for ceramics of this period, those for Berlin painted plaques reaching outstanding levels in 1989. New collectors have appeared from the USA, the Middle East and Japan, who are prepared to invest heavily in, for example, late Meissen vases in the Sèvres style, and painted and “jewelled” wares in the style of the Imperial and Royal Porcelain Manufactory, Vienna.
Some collectors are attracted to the later period as a decorative and more affordable alternative to the eighteenth-century pieces which are becoming less readily available and, consequently, more costly. These developments have emphasised the need for an informative reference book beyond the purely descriptive auction catalogues, price guides and encyclopaedias of marks.
Geoffrey Godden "Godden's Guide to European Porcelain" (Barrie and Jenkins, London, 1993) 352 pp.31 cot. 341 b/w ills. £50
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Useful dealers' survey responds to market interest'