Q: I have a set of 10 coffee cups designed by W.G. & Co. that belonged to my great-grandmother — I believe in the 1870s. As you can see in the photographs, some of the gold ring shows fading. There are no cracks on any of these pieces. Could you advise me of the value?
A: Thank goodness for photographs. From these we learned there is more to the set than 10 cups and saucers. Also included is a teapot and a sugar bowl, which means this is a partial tea set missing its matching creamer and perhaps two more cups and saucers.
When you mentioned the marks found on the pieces, you left out one piece of vital information — namely that the word "France" appears in bold letters below the company insignia. This dates the manufacture of the pieces between 1891 and 1900, a good 20 years to 25 later than you hoped.
This partial set was manufactured in Limoges, France. In medieval times, the town was known for its production of enamel on copper wares, but today the name is most frequently associated with porcelain dinnerware (at least in the American marketplace). This is because in 1768, deposits of the clay used for making porcelain were discovered near Limoges in the village of Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche.
In the late 19th century, a huge industry manufacturing dinnerware sprang up. William Guerin was the director of the Utzschneider factory until he became the owner in the early 1870s and changed the name to William Guerin and Co. The company did a large export business and sent large numbers of white blanks to the United States, where they were decorated by china painters.
Guerin produced table china and made some factory-decorated items as well. The partial tea set in today's question was possibly decorated in-house, but it may have had its rather spare gold bands added after it was shipped to the United States. Over time, the set was extensively used, and the touching and washing wore away a significant part of the gold trim.
The plainness of this partial set plus the damage to what little embellishment there is adversely affects the value in monetary terms, but as an heirloom, we are sure the grouping is treasured. Finely decorated Limoges wares are of interest to many dedicated collectors, but most would look at this partial set as being just too plain to generate much interest.
The set should be cherished as family keepsakes, but if the pieces were to come onto the market they would be overlooked by most and might (in fact) be downright invisible. Such a set if priced in a retail venue would probably be less than $100. Sad, but that is the reality of the current world of antiques.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques.