The year 1768 saw the discovery of Kaolin, a special white clay, at St. Yrieix La Perche in France. This discovery formed the foundation of the porcelain industry. Turgot, who was the Intendant of the Limousin area at that time, recognized it's economic potential in that rather poor region, where all other elements necessary for the output were readily available. Underground deposits around Limoges also included metals which since the Middle Ages had been in use to provide metallic oxides for coloring enamel and Faïence. In 1771, the faïence manufacture was converted into a porcelain manufacture, and the region's first hard-paste porcelain went into production.
In 1774, the factory was placed under the protection of the Count d'Artois, and became a subsidiary of the royal factory in Sèvres ten years later. In the wake of the French Revolution, only private concerns continued in Limoges. In the early 19th century, the factories began making the most perfect white porcelain in existence at that time, proving the superiority of Limoges kaolin. By the 1830s, there were as many as thirty porcelain factories in Limoges. The second half of the 19th century was the golden age of Limoges porcelain. Their international reputation of excellence grew with the development of exports, as well as with the triumph of Limoges porcelain at universal expositions around the world in and after 1855.
Limoges became famous for its undecorated white porcelain artifacts created by the most talented artisans in Limoges and often shown at the trade shows in Paris.
White porcelain was very much a novelty and was left undecorated with enamels to that people could see the high quality of this unblemished new material called porcelain. In addition, the French porcelain became famous for certain types of enamel colors such as cobalt blue.
Throughout the 20th century, the greatest names in decorative arts continued to help design Limoges porcelain. The 1925 Paris International Exposition of Decorative Arts and Modern Industries, which launched the Art Déco movement, transformed Limoges into the international porcelain capital. Fruitful collaboration with the greatest designers of our age has enabled Limoges porcelain to remain a potent force, successfully preserving its world-wide renown.
Today, Limoges porcelain and the Limoges porcelain industry is primarily known for the trinket boxes. These boxes have been created in France for hundreds of years. Today’s whimsical and decorative boxes are very similar to the original models which first appeared in France as snuffboxes in the early 18th century. The early snuffboxes were carried on one’s person and were often coordinated with a person’s wardrobe. Snuff was considered a social pastime and the ability to produce an elegant snuffbox at social gatherings was essential in royal and aristocratic circles.
Snuffboxes came in all different shapes and sizes. They were usually very whimsical and came in the shape of animals, fruits, shells, people, baskets, furniture, etc. Eventually snuffboxes came to be manufactured in Limoges, after the discovery of kaolin there.
However, after the French Revolution 1789, many aristocrats were either killed or fled the country, and the art of the snuffbox was lost for many years. Snuff-taking never really regained its former popularity although there was a brief resurgence during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. Limoges porcelain boxes were not manufactured in any significant quantities. It wasn’t until the late 20th century when the snuffbox made an enormous return to popularity as the “Limoges box”. Today’s boxes no longer function as snuffboxes, but are mostly acquired as collectibles or given as gifts. They decorate homes all across the world and are more popular than ever.
Though Limoges boxes are the most well known product from Limoges, any thing that can be made out of porcelain has been made from Limoges porcelain. There are plenty of varied products, from vases to ashtrays to dolls and everything else in between. Today there are roughly 20 - 30 porcelain factories in Limoges and most are specialized in certain types of porcelain such as dinnerware, giftware, and industrial porcelain.
The story of Limoges porcelain continues today, with new products constantly coming to market. There are more collectors buying boxes because of the new licensed character pieces being released, such as the Disney or Peanuts Limoges boxes based on classic characters. There are new boxes brought about by political causes, such as the endangered species or patriotic Limoges boxes, where a portion of the proceeds of each sale go to wildlife preservation groups and the September 11th Fund respectively. New pieces that have never been thought of before are gaining popularity, like the Limoges flower candlesticks or Poupee Dolls with arms, legs, and head made from Limoges porcelain. New and famous designers are creating pieces. Paula Crevoshay, the famous jewelry designer, designed the Goddess Perfume Bottles with jewel encrusted headdresses and Lynn Haney, the world renowned Santa designer, has created some of the most amazing Santa Claus pieces ever seen. The history of Limoges porcelain is being written right now, with more and more people getting involved and discovering the beauty of this fine porcelain. The past few hundred years have proven incredibly interesting for these boxes, and Limoges.com is always working to ensure that the next few hundred will be just as good.