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Shall we say the luck of the Irish helped with the accidental discovery of Belleek China?
The opalescent shine characteristic of Irish Belleek China was discovered completely by accident. John Caldwell Bloomfield inherited his father’s estate outside Belleek, in the Fermanagh Lakelands on the shore of the Elbe River in Ireland. In the mid 1800s, he decided to whitewash his cottage using a flaky white powder that he dug up from his backyard. As the long ago story has it, a passer-by remarked upon the unique clearness and brightness that gave his home an almost pearl-like appearance. A geological study of the land uncovered all the ingredients necessary to make porcelain: feldspar, kaolin, flint, shale, and clay. Bloomfield grouped up with two partners, Robert Armstrong and David McBirney, to produce first earthenware and eventually porcelain. Then Belleek China was created, and soon became the most famous pottery-producing operation in all Ireland.
The earliest pieces of Belleek porcelain had a creamy color with a pearl-like luster. All of the pieces were hand painted, often displaying shamrock designs. The pieces themselves were poured from the mold rapidly, producing incredible eggshell-thin porcelain pieces sculpted into elaborate flowing designs. The earliest Belleek china back stamps contained multiple symbols of Irish culture into a single expression of pride. The final stamp agreed upon in 1863, displayed a castle tower in the middle with a wolfhound and harp on either side, seated upon a bed of shamrocks. This stamp continued to be used on Belleek china well into the 20th century.
Soon, the porcelain drew the attention of such famous people as Queen Victoria and other members of the royal families, who began special ordering pieces of Belleek China from England and throughout Europe. American and British companies like Lenox used the name with great success. Genuine Belleek China, continued to produce its famous lines of seashell designs, marine themes, and basket weaves long into the 20th century. It is still a favored tradition in Ireland to give a piece of Belleek China at weddings, giving definition to a now old Irish saying: "If a newly married couple receives a piece of Belleek, their marriage will be blessed with lasting happiness."
The following is other helpful information for dating Belleek China.
Belleek Marks (Irish)
Period: c. 1863-1890 Mark: First Black Mark – Irish wolfhound, castle, and harp with the word "Belleek" imprinted
Period: c. 1891-1926 Mark: Second Black Mark – "Co Fermangh Ireland" added to above
Period: c. 1926-1946 Mark: Third Black Mark – "Deanta in Eirinn" added to the above (shown in photo)
Period: c. 1946-1955 Mark: First Green Mark – same as above but in green
Period: c. 1955-1965 Mark: Second Green Mark – R added to above
Period: c. 1965-1980 Mark: Third Green Mark – "Co Fermangh" delete
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Article brought to you by:
Tammy Desiderio, shop owner