Like Gouda, a region in Holland, Quimper (pronounced "kem-pair") doesn't refer to simply one factory or maker producing faience (tin-glazed) wares. It’s actually a French town where this particular style of hand glazed pottery, sometimes referred to as Quimperware, was made by a number of different potters.
Quimper's Colorful Wares
This colorful pottery is known for its hand decorated designs reflecting the culture of the Brittany region of France.
In fact, it has the overall look and feel of folk art rather than finely crafted pottery. These pieces are often used in the French country style of decorating.
The Breton peasant designs so often associated with Quimper were first made in the 1860s. Other popular themes feature floral and geometric artwork on everything from cheese dishes to mustard pots and everyday serving dishes.
Some particular features show up in many Quimper designs. For instance, collectors often use the term Breton Broderie to reference the blue and gold pattern inspired by embroidery decorating costumes of this region. When the term Decor Riche is used, it refers to acanthus leaves in two colors. Criss-cross patterns and the French fleur de lys are also woven liberally into the hand painting decorating many of these collectible pieces.
History of This Tin-Glazed Pottery
The product now most often referenced as Quimper was first developed by a potter from Provence, Jean-Baptiste Bousquet, according to an online article by collector Patricia Harrison.
"He established the pottery works in 1690, thus launching a family enterprise that passed to his sons in 1708 and then to descendants until the family died out – as so many families did – in 1917."
Warman's Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide, edited by Ellen T.Schroy, notes that several mergers of early potteries resulted in the emergence of two major houses: Jules Henriot and Hubaudiere-Bousquet.
These are usually referenced by collectors, especially when referring to marks (more information on marks detailed below), as "Henriot" and "HB."
Those remaining two houses eventually merged in 1968. In the 1980s an American holding company known as Quimper Faience, LLC stepped in to provide financing so the factory could remain open in France. Old Quimper now reports online: "That venture lasted until February of 2011 when HB-Henriot experienced financial difficulties and entered into receivership. With court approval, a new owner was selected in July of 2011: Jean-Pierre Le Goff. He changed the name of the firm to Henriot-Quimper."
Understanding Quimper Marks
Warman's notes that the "HR" and "HR Quimper" marks were used on Henriot pieces made before 1922. After that time the "Henriot Quimper" mark was used in several different iterations.
The "HB" mark was first used by Hubaudiere-Bousquet in the mid-1800s and has had many incarnations. Subtle differences in these marks can lend to dating pieces, according to information provided on the Old Quimper website. For instance, the "HB Quimper" mark with dashes and dots beneath was employed from the late 1800s up to 1942.
The most recent HB mark is "HB Quimper" with form and decoration numbers beneath, which was used from 1968-1983.
Later pieces were made with marks that appeared on original factory pieces when they were reissued through 2004. It’s wise to take care and study carefully when identifying and dating Quimper to avoid attributing these pieces to a certain factory or time period incorrectly.
Other potters producing similar wares in the area of Quimper included Porquier, Fouillen, and Kéraluc, with the Porquier "AR" and "PB" marks being the most well-known of these. The AR mark references the time when the factory was under the direction of Arthur Porquier, and pieces with this mark were not decorated by the respected Quimper artist Alfred Beau. Pieces marked PB were decorated by Beau, and these usually sell for good sums today.
There are also a number of other artist's marks that were used in addition to factory marks, and some pieces show the design name as well.
An interesting side note is that Quimper items ordered for stores such as Macy's or Carson Pirie Scott during the 20th century also carry the store mark in addition to the factory mark. These store marks make these pieces less desirable to collectors, according to Warman's.
For more information on Quimper marks and dating, try locating a copy of the out of print book Quimper Pottery: A French Folk Art Faience by Sandra V. Bondhus. Kovels’ New Dictonary of Marks also contains a helpful Quimper timeline featuring a number of mark examples in its back-of-the-book reference materials.