Despite a slumping economy and soaring unemployment, Quimper collectors continue to find great buys and unbridled joy from hand-painted French faience.
Millicent S. Mali of East Greenwich, R.I., began collecting Quimper when she saw a breakfast setting in New York’s chic Bloomingdale’s in 1953.
“I simply loved it, and I grew so fond of it that I later traveled to France to buy more pieces,’’ said Mali, who penned the popular Old Quimper Review Newsletter until about two years ago.
Mali, a retired teacher, said demand for Quimper reached its zenith in the mid-1980s when French baby boomers began collecting the pottery their parents had so wisely used to adorn old country kitchens.
But for many collectors, the tin-glazed, hand-painted pottery has remained popular through a sea of economic turmoil.
“Quimper is a lot like a comfortable old pair of shoes or a warm cup of spiced tea,’’ said Marge Rhoades of Wheeling, W.Va. “I inherited my mom’s collection of dishes and bowls and I still remember the rural roadside sale where she purchased her pieces in the late 1950s,’’ said Rhoades, a nurse’s assistant.
Rhoades, who estimates the value of her mom’s collection at $500, recalls some of the Quimper collectors coming before dawn, toting tattered lawn chairs and pushing empty market carts and babies bundled against the cold wind that hit through their clothes like hundreds of needles.
“Then we all stood in line for hours, trying to get pieces of Quimper from the estate of a retired attorney from Elm Grove, W.Va.
Today, the lines are not as long but the wait can be just as dramatic. Gwen Chenoweth of Pittsburgh snared her latest Quimper piece from local dealers who just returned from a trek to Argentina. Chenoweth spent more than $1,000 for a 1920s figurine of peasant women. Quimper can range in price from $125 for plates and bowls to more than $2,500 for older, rarer pieces.
|Quimper Club International
The Quimper Club International is a not-for-profit organization and today has over 250 members in half-a-dozen countries and includes the leading authors, dealers, and collectors in the field among its members. The group publishes the biannual QCI Journal, which includes various articles by club members. Features include plenty of full-color photographs of a variety of pieces to illustrate the text.
“It is so popular that you can find it in the most unlikely places,’’ said Gladys Schmidt of Verona, Pa. The former TWA travel agent has collected Quimper from many remote European towns and villages.
Sandra Bondhus, author of “Quimper Pottery,’’ said she started collecting in college and has never stopped. The New England collector and dealer said Quimper has been popular for years.
“Everybody started collecting the plates, but now we are seeing increased interest in statues,’’ said Bondhus, who also restores damaged Quimper. “The more you see of it, the more you learn about it.”
A factory in Finistere, France, made peasant-type pottery painted in bright colors with figurines in Breton costume. Faience has been made there since the end of the 17th century, but little of note was produced until the arrival of Pierre-Paul Causey, who ran the factory from 1743 to 1782. In 1853, Antoine de la Hubaudiere took over the factory, and from this time, the Quimper wares were marked with the monogram, “HB.” Other factories in the area making similar wares included Eloury-Porquier and Dumaine-Tanqueray-Henroit, the later established in 1778.
By the beginning of the 19th century, faience production in France had nearly ceased and creamware had taken over. However, because of its isolated Breton position, Quimper survived.
Bob Simon of Royal York Auction Galleries in Pittsburgh reports that he occasionally sees Quimper; “When we get it, it sells very quickly,’’ he said.
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Jane Roesch of Merryvale Antiques of Shadyside, an upscale neighborhood in Pittsburgh, said many collectors are holding on to their pieces, making it more challenging for some novice collectors. “The color in the older pieces is exquisite,’’ she said.
Still, more than 250 Quimper collectors will meet in October 2010 in Savannah, Ga., to swap tales bout their favorite pieces and encourage a new generation of antique buffs to begin collecting.
David Kozloff, of Kozloff-Meaders in Pittsburgh, said the art deco Quimper of the 1920s remains extremely desirable for some of the newer collectors.
Bret Smarth of New York City has a six piece set of botanical, bird and branch plates valued at $2,300. “I was given this Quimper set when I got married in 1963,’’ said Smarth, a financial consultant. “I plan to leave it to my daughter when she gets married.’’
“Collectors really enjoy the folk art look of Quimper and most of the pieces are clearly marked, which makes it a lot more accessible for beginners to collect,’’ said Matthew Roper, a research analyst at Dargate Auction Galleries.
Chriss Swaney is a Pittsburgh-based freelance journalist for Reuters, The New York Times, Pittsburgh Engineer and Horse World, and an avid antique collector.
Dealer Joan Datesman of Annapolis, Md., has bought, sold and researched Quimper pottery across the United States and Europe for 30 years. Her book, Collecting Quimper uniquely focuses on real collections in the U.S. and France.
Antique Trader: What are the common Quimper eras?
Joan Datesman: Antique Quimper is 19th century, including the pieces from the Porquier Beau and de la Hubaudière faïenceries, the earlier Adolph Porquier and unsigned work, impossible to attribute specifically, but instantly recognizable to the advanced collector. Old Quimper is generally considered the production from World War I to World War II. A lot of wonderful and unusual things were created during those years. Art Deco Quimper is the early 20th century, highly stylized, work that came about after World War I.
AT: What remains the most popular Quimper decor?
JD: People first recognize the traditional Breton figures, which are available in quantity.
AT: What should one be mindful of when considering a start in collecting Quimper?
JD: You cannot tell the age of a piece simply or completely based on the pattern. At any given time the factories were producing many different kinds of designs. That’s why it is so important to buy from a reputable dealer who will stand behind what he or she sells.
AT: What effect does the Internet have on Quimper?
JD: It has opened bidding in auctions in France. It has helped the sub-specialty markets such as snuff bottles. It only takes two people who want to finish a collection to drive the market in certain areas. Now, people are downsizing and selling, but the market has become much more sophisticated. I recommend people monitor eBay for a week or so and the market will tell you what the piece is worth today.
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