To tweak a phrase: I love a good porcelain mystery. 🙂 Recently a reader contacted me with a query about a pair of Wagner-signed Royal Vienna cabinet plates, and the ensuing investigation has become so intriguing and informative that I’d like to share it here. It’s still ongoing, and so perhaps other readers may be able to join the “detective force” as well!
As mentioned in my previous posts about Royal Vienna plaques, plates, and vases, such items are correctly termed Royal Vienna style although most people simply say “Royal Vienna”. Even that is technically a misnomer because the original wares, made from the early 1700s until 1864 by the Imperial and Royal Porcelain Manufactory, were never called “Royal Vienna” at the time. After the factory closed in 1864, the bindenschild mark (known colloquially today as the “beehive mark”) became available for any manufacturer to use… and boy, did they ever! Versions of that mark appear on pieces made in multiple European countries by a myriad of manufactories throughout the late 1800s and early to mid 1900s, now all generally referred to as Royal Vienna although this simply means its design genre rather than its origin.
The presence of a Wagner signature does not indicate a single artist but rather a family consortium of painters known for their notably high-quality work. They painted items for multiple manufacturers in various parts of Eastern Europe during the time period cited above.
The Mystery Plates
Both of the mystery plates are signed Wagner, have matching rim decorations, and are titled on the reverse side.
This lovely lady is “Astana“; the Wagner signature appears in its usual location (lower right) in the red portion of her dress.
There are a half dozen marks on the back of this plate, including the ubiquitous blue “beehive.”
Not every cabinet plate has a title/name but this one does. Below that we find Dec: 179 and Déposé , one of which marks poses our first challenge.
Although Déposé is French, its appearance doesn’t mean that the item was made in France. It translates as “registered”, and as such is similar in usage to the copyright symbol © in English. Dec: 179 clearly stands for “decoration # 179” but which decoration? The rim decoration, or the portrait of Astana? That’s one thing to puzzle out. The red painted notations 4094 and C:10 G pose a separate question. Two, actually, because we need to figure out what both mean.
The most important mark on this plate, for identification purposes, is this one: an apparent upside-down flower (cabbage rose?) or berry (persimmon??) along with “Silesia”. Who or what was Silesia?
The province of Silesia was taken over by Prussia in 1742 during the War of the Austrian Succession. The Prussian kingdom also included various parts of Germany, Poland, Russia, Czechoslovakia, as well as Silesia. This state of affairs continued until 1918, when Silesia was split into Lower and Upper regions after World War I. “Lower Silesia” remained part of Germany while “Upper Silesia” was mostly but not entirely controlled by Poland. And to make things even more confusing, a small part of the original Silesia remained with Austria, to eventually become Czechoslovakia! So you can see that a stamp simply saying “Silesia” isn’t much help as to location unless we also know when the item bearing it was made. But we’ll return to Silesia in a moment, after looking at the second Mystery Plate.
This sweet looking lady with the blue ribbon is titled “Garcia“. The Wagner signature is clear here because it is on a portion of her white dress.
The reverse of this plate corresponds to the marks on Astana in every respect except for the title, showing that 179 doesn’t refer to the portrait itself. There are only two elements that are identical on the front of both plates: the rim design, and the name Wagner. Perhaps 179 was assigned to the specific Wagner location at which these two plates were painted? Or the individual Wagner painter/employee? Or perhaps 179 is the rim design number?
We could posit the same for 4094 and for C: 10G as well. Let’s find some other Wagner-signed examples to see if any of these numbers also occur on those.
This plate has the same flower/persimmon/whatever mark over Silesia. Notice that the Silesia stamp is in a different, and lighter, color paint on both plates. That’s a bit odd if all the marks were applied at the same time.
The Elusive Silesian Mark
The reference website Porcelain Marks and More shows a Silesia stamp as having been used by the Hermann Ohme factory. In the postwar years their part of Silesia ended up in Poland, which means probably Upper Silesia. Much of the Ohme factory’s output was dinnerware; they were comparable to the Theodore Haviland factory in Limoges in type of wares. There is an interesting collectors’ site for Ohme (also known as “Old Ivory”) though sadly none of the examples there are of Royal Vienna cabinet plates – which seems strange, if they did make those.
Unfortunately the PM&M site shows no mark similar to the rose/berry one. A message to the site owner, along with a photo of the mark, brought the response that the original mark by Ohme was deliberately obscured by this floral mark applied by a later studio. However, that doesn’t seem to make sense because the two Ohme marks that included “Silesia” look like these:
These were used between 1900 and 1920. From 1920 to 1930 they used the same main mark (a crown over an O plus other elements) but with “Germany” instead of “Silesia”. Try as I might, I could not see how the rose/berry mark could have covered this mark so effectively that absolutely none of it remains visible! I decided to locate a copy of Robert Röntgen’s 1997 reference book Marks on German, Bohemian and Austrian Porcelain: 1710 to the Present and found it at a local library.
Sadly, there was nothing resembling the mysterious upside-down flower/berry mark there either. The only mark that came remotely close was this flower motif used by the Rosenthal factory in Selb, Bavaria, during the 1920s and very early 1930s.
I am puzzled over the PM&M assertion that the Mystery Plates were
made by a certain Silesian producer and then (re)decorated by some (unidentifiable) decoration studio. The producer undoubtedly was Ohme. His original mark (which was often not applied correctly) was obscured further by covering it up with a flower. According to the laws back then decorators were not allowed to leave an original makers mark on an altered item – it had to be obscured, if not covered completely.
Röntgen’s book does indeed address this subject and includes several examples of such ‘obscuring’ marks and comments that they were often done in gold paint. Here is an example that I found relatively easily on a Royal Vienna plate listing. You can see that the original mark underneath is still visible through the design.
This one is solid but you can still see a bit of the original mark peeking out.
Here’s a solid covering mark that is similar to, but not exactly the same as, the one on the Mystery Plates. This one is noticeably more detailed and ‘professional looking’ with leaves, tendrils, and so on. So I remain unconvinced of PM&M’s Ohme attribution. I would love to hear about any other items that have the exact same upside-down flower/rose/berry mark as on the Mystery Plates to see if there are additional identifying marks elsewhere on the piece; there is a direct-contact form on the About the Chatsworth Lady page.
The obscuring-mark theory also begs the question of what, on these plates, the supposed later manufacturer would have “re-decorated”: Certainly not the central portrait!! The only other candidate for alteration is the rim decoration, which inspired me to try an alternate approach to identification.
Romancing the Rim
After coming up empty on the mystery mark, I decided to search for Royal Vienna examples that are signed Wagner and also have the same rim decoration pattern. After all, I still had those other ambiguous marks (Dec: 179, 4094, and C:10 G ) to assign “jobs” to, if possible! The first step was deceptively easy: Find another example of an Astana plate. Amazingly, I did.
This one is framed but we’re only interested in the plate here. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there was no other photo … nothing showing the back. It must have said “Astana” because that’s how the seller described it, and clearly it’s the same portrait design. Something is different though, because here the rim is gold and pink, rather than gold and blue. I really wish a photo of the back had been posted! Four non-Astana examples were also found.
This plate is titled May. This plate differs from the Mystery ones in that the Dec number is 171 rather than 179. As mentioned earlier, this three digit number might indicate the Wagner location or the individual Wagner painter, but at least we can eliminate the rim design as its meaning. There are no other marks except for a blue “beehive.”
This plate is titled Herbst which is German for “Autumn.” Signed Wagner and with the same rim in the same colors as the Mystery Plates.
The reverse contains the almost-obligatory “beehive” mark, origin location Germany, Ovington Bros. Co., Dec. 171, and a red stamp that appears to say Hand Decorated. Lots to unpack here! 🙂 Firstly, Ovington Brothers China and Glass was a retail store founded in the 1840s in Brooklyn, NY. The store had various locations in Brooklyn during the 1890s and early 1900s. They contracted with several well known European firms, including Limoges and Haviland, to supply exclusive designs to their store; this fact would be noted on the item by the inclusion of the Ovington store name. Thus it indicates the retailer, not the manufacturer.
“Hand Decorated” deserves a very brief digression. In correct usage there is a difference between “hand decorated” and “hand painted” (“painted” usually means the entire object was painted by hand; but “decorated” can also indicate that only part of it was, and the other part applied by mechanical means) but it’s a distinction more often honored in the breach….or by nerdy nitpickers such as myself! 🙂
A popular Royal Vienna motif was the Biblical character Ruth, here shown as a bust portrait. Notice here that the decoration number is 771. Again stamped “Hand Decorated.”
Here’s another Ruth version, in a three-quarter body view this time. Again it was for Ovington’s, and again it has Dec. #771. There is no “Hand Decorated” stamp on this one but it could simply be that someone forgot to apply it.
I then looked at numerous examples of Wagner plates that have rim decorations different from the ones shown above, to see if I could match up any of their markings. I was surprised to find that relatively few of the resulting examples included a “Dec. #” in the marks, although those always also had the plate title written in the same hand above it and “Depose” below. However, one also had an obscuring mark similar to, but noticeably more elaborate than, the flower on the Mystery Plates:
This plate was titled “Louise” and is the typical portrait of Queen Louise of Prussia. Here again one can see the original mark beneath the obscuring one, something that the Mystery Plates’ mark does not show. This makes me more confident that the Mystery Plates’ mark may be an actual maker’s mark rather than a later-added obscuring one.
None of the other “Dec.#” Wagner plates had the same red-paint rim information that the Mystery Plates do, nor were any marked Silesia. The relative lack of “Dec” notations on most other Wagner-painted plates makes me less certain that this number has anything to do with who or what location painted them…unless one particular manufacturer’s normal procedure was to acknowledge the painter in some way. When an origin country is indicated on most Wagner plates, it’s most often “Germany” but many do not indicate the country at all. “Silesia” on a Wagner cabinet plate definitely seems to be an outlier!
It would be very interesting to find this exact same mark, with or without Silesia added, on any other items… cabinet plate, plaque, vase, Wagner-painted or not… even dinnerware! Any aspiring “porcelain detectives” are most welcome to supply any tips, hints, or leads via comments below or through the direct-contact form on the About the Chatsworth Lady page. Perhaps together we will eventually solve the great Silesian Flower Mystery! 🙂
UPDATE, OCTOBER 2018: A set of six Wagner cabinet plates bearing this same rose mark has been brought to my attention; they are shown in their own post along with a discovery about the rose mark’s purpose!