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posted: 8/28/2011 1:00 AM

Treasures in your attic: These plates are great, but there are only eight

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By Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson

Q. I have eight platters or large dinner plates by Wm. Guerin & Co., Limoges, France. They are red with encrusted gold decoration. Could you please advise me of their value and history?

A. The "platters" in today's question are generally called "service" plates, and their purpose was purely decorative. William Guerin opened his porcelain factory in Limoges, France, in 1872. This city is located about 200 miles south of Paris and is in the region known as the Haute Vienne.

In 1768, a Madame Darnet, the wife of the local doctor, discovered a deposit of kaolin clay near Limoges at the village of Saint Yrieix. This material is sometimes called "China clay," and when properly combined with fusible silicates of alumina (also called "Petuntse" or "China Stone"), Chinese-style hard-paste porcelain can be made.

Finding the kaolin was like finding deposits of gold, and soon a porcelain-making industry sprang up in and around Limoges. Guerin opened his porcelain factory there in 1872, just a little over 100 years after the initial discovery of the kaolin.

Guerin produced lots of "white ware," or "blanks," meaning that these pieces had no decoration. They were exported, primarily to the United States, where amateur china painters and professional decorating companies such as Pickard bought them to add their own hand-painted designs.

The pieces so embellished usually have only one Guerin mark plus (in many but not all cases) the initials of the amateur decorator or the back stamp of the professional decorating company.

On your pieces, however, there is the so-called "white ware" mark, plus another Guerin mark that is composed of three lines of script.

This is the mark that Guerin added when the decorating had been done inside the factory. This mark is found over glaze in red, blue, green, brown or gold. The ones on your plates are in gold.

Collectors like to find these in-house decoration marks, and will pay a rather large premium over the price they might pay for a similar amateur-painted piece. In this case, the factory decoration of swags, medallions and such is very elegant and helps us date these service plates to the early 20th century before the beginning of World War I. Guerin closed in 1932.

So exactly what is a "service" plate? These are oversized plates that were put down on the table before the meal began as a sort of decoration or under plate. They were never used for food service, and when the actual food was served, the maid or butler would whisk these away to be replaced by pieces of the regular dinner service.

Service plates should come in sets of 12, and the fact that you have only eight is a problem. Twelve William Guerin service plates of this quality should be valued for insurance purposes in the range of $1,400 to $1,600, but a set of eight is worth only about half that or even a bit less.

• Contact Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928.

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