Made in Ireland and highly prized for the delicacy of its unique designs, Belleek tableware has delighted collectors of fine china since 1857. That year is when Belleek China first appeared from a small pottery on the banks of the River Erne, in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland.
In fact, Belleek Pottery is named for the village of Belleek, where it was established. The name comes from the Gaelic for “flagstone ford” or “mouth of the flagstones,” describing its location on the River Erne.
From the very beginning, Belleek was all about quality. The company founder, John Caldwell Bloomfield, is said to have made it a firm rule that any piece must be destroyed and never see the light of day, if the slightest flaw was found in it. This proud tradition of rigorous attention to quality has remained a hallmark of the Irish parian china manufacturers in the century and a half that has passed since then.
Hallmark with Irish Symbols
The well-known Belleek mark brings together the images of the Irish Wolfhound dog, a traditionally Irish round tower, and celtic harp, all on a base of shamrocks.
The round tower is generally believed to represent the well-preserved 12th-century structure at Devenish Island monastic site, not far from the village of Belleek in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland.
The distinctive maker’s mark, or a close variation on it, appears on every genuine piece of Belleek Pottery as it has since the first pieces were brought from the kiln. The hallmark has been through a number of slight variations since it was first stamped in 1863.
The original mark was predominantly black, as were the next two, but the third version was in green, for example. More recent versions of the maker’s mark have gone to other colors and slightly different designs. This helps new collectors to date their Belleek pieces with comparative ease. (Not all pottery manufacturers have been so cooperative as to change their marks at regular intervals.)
Mind you, you’d be luck indeed to find an antique Belleek for sale at a price most of us could afford – the china is very much treasured by collectors and they tend to hang onto it, rather than offering it for sale. But who knows what you may find in Granny’s attic or a house-clearing sale!
The Distinctive White Irish China
I was originally attracted to Belleek china because I love white tableware of all kinds (in fact, my everyday dinner ware is a set of white Wedgwood dishes inherited from my godmother) but I hadn’t realized until very recently that Belleek is now the parent company of, among other brands, Aynsley, one of my all-time favourites especially for beautiful teacups and commemorative pieces.
The white of Belleek tableware is not a harsh blue-tinted white but a rich creamy color closer to pale ivory. Of course the tableware and gift ware in the Shamrocks theme has a touch of leafy-green and earthy brown tones here and there, to accent the white, and some of the other specialty lines also carry an accent color.
The majority of the tableware is produced in the solid white/ivory glaze, however.
This elegant simplicity in color shows off the decorative detail for which Belleek is best known – notably the basket weave pattern that is a distinctive feature of their novelty Shamrock China line.
Together with the beauty and quality of Belleek pieces, the ease of identifying your precious porcelain by date means the famous brand is a great beginning for anyone just getting into the fascinating hobby of collecting fine china. And because the old-time quality of the original parian has been zealously maintained down to the present day, today’s Belleek fine tableware and decorative china are highly collectible as well as a pleasure to give and to live with.
Have a look at some of the lovely Belleek china available at Amazon, including the whimsical Shamrock pattern that is a delightful homage to its Irish origins.
Photo credits: Belleek Shamrock tea cup by redazadi [CC BY 2.0] on Flickr; Belleek Pottery, County Fermanagh and Belleek Mark by Kenneth Allen [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons; Ireland Trip – Belleek Factory Showroom by Erin Costa [CC BY 2.0] on Flickr.