Visiting Kensington for Early Chelsea Porcelain

Aug 28 10:21 2015 Lisa Jeeves Print This Article

If you’re visiting Kensington and want to find out more about Chelsea Porcelain, you might need to think laterally. Here are some tips.

Some people visiting Kensington go there specifically to learn more about the famous Chelsea porcelain and hope to find out more. Unfortunately,Guest Posting they’re likely to be disappointed in terms of ‘historic tours’, but the good news is that antique shops in the area often have some beautiful genuine pieces for sale.

What is Chelsea Porcelain?

It’s hard to imagine today just how much Europe was in awe when the first Chinese porcelain products arrived. In China, porcelain had been made for thousands of years, though techniques and quality had improved over time. To begin with, European manufacturers had little idea how to produce their own, as the Chinese techniques were a closely guarded secret. As a result, the prices of genuine porcelain, as opposed to some very poor quality European copies, were exceptionally high.

Inevitably, partly through trial and error and partly through subterfuge (that today we would call industrial espionage), the Chinese processes started to become better understood in several European countries. In fact, it was in Germany that the first successful European porcelain was produced when the famous Meissen and Dresden products arrived earlier in the 18th century.

Several other countries weren’t far behind though and a porcelain factory was opened in Chelsea in 1743. Some academics say that the Bow factory actually began a year or two before that, but the earliest known pieces of the period have the Chelsea mark so it is generally accepted to be the earliest English porcelain. Sadly, 20 or so years later, the factory was sold to another porcelain producer, the almost equally famous Derby factory. That was the end of a distractive and independent Chelsea style and from then on it becomes almost indistinguishable from the porcelain of Derby. Just another decade or so after that, the Chelsea factory not only closed but was also demolished and production moved entirely to Derby. However, in terms of its prestigious ‘first’ place in the English league, and in terms of the quality and charm of its products, Chelsea porcelain remains appealing to this day.

The Chelsea trail

If you’re visiting Kensington - more correctly the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea - then sadly, there’s nothing left to see of the factory. Incredibly, the records of the time are so sketchy that the exact location isn’t really known and is the subject of some historic and academic dispute. On the plus side though, visiting Kensington does have some attractions for Chelsea porcelain lovers. That’s because the area, particularly Kensington Church Street, is famous for its antiques shops, and you may well find some examples of genuine 18th century Chelsea porcelain for sale.

Buying antique porcelain

It’s worth remembering that this is a specialist area but here are a few quick guidelines.

Antique Chelsea porcelain is divided into four periods covering the time from the factory’s foundation to its eventual acquisition by Derby in 1769. The first four periods are distinguished, amongst other things, by their marks and are highly collectible.

Genuine Chelsea porcelain is typically expensive, though smaller and less rare pieces may not be prohibitively so. However, if a piece is on offer at a very modest price it might be prudent to be very cautious. It could be restored or a reproduction of, say, the 19th century.

Remember that condition is important. Very badly damaged or heavily restored items may have a much-reduced commercial value.

So, if you’re visiting Kensington specifically on an antiques hunt for Chelsea porcelain, remember to keep your critical evaluation wits about you.

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Lisa Jeeves
Lisa Jeeves

Matthew Zelinski works for the London Regency Hotel, one of the top hotels in Kensington. If you’re visiting Kensington, this wonderful hotel embodies the true flavour of the area, with its traditional regency-style façade and superb facilities. Whether you're looking for accommodation in London for business or leisure, the Regency offers an effortlessly elegant experience.

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