While Price guides published on this website are based on prices realized at recent auctions and there is plenty of photos and
other information included, one thing a price guide can never do is explain why exactly some Parian pieces are more valuable than
others. What makes a particular figure or figural group command a higher price in today’s market?
This article will provide some guidance on the matter by going thru various parameters that affect the price.
Number one factor is the name of the sculptor, with pieces modeled by Albert Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-1887) commanding
the highest prices. Nobody will ever know what exactly made Carrier-Belleuse leave
France and move to England in 1848, but every Parian collector should be quietly
thanking God that he did. During a seven year period of living in England before moving
back to his native France in 1855, Carrier-Belleuse have designed the most magnificent
Parian statuary ever produced. His primary client was Minton who he modeled more than
forty Parianware figures for, including such masterpieces as Theseus, Venus and Cupid,
Hebe and Eagle, Leda and Swan, Vestal Virgin and Pandora. He also did some work for
Wedgwood and Brownfield. Curiously Carrier-Belleuse never cooperated with Copeland,
perhaps because they were Minton's main rival at the time. Many Parian pieces modeled
by Carrier-Belleuse were incised with his signature, while many others were not. That's
really not a factor as far as prices are concerned. Each of Carrier's pieces is exquisitely
modeled, with much attention to every detail. Shown here is a large broad-based triangular composition titled Leda and Swan,
probably the most delicate and feminine Parian sculpture ever made.
Another example is John Rogers, an American sculptor, whose work, some legally and some perhaps not so legally, was
reproduced in Parian by a couple of British firms. There will be another article in this website’s library dedicated exclusively to John
Rogers. To say the least, his Fisher Girl by Copeland can fetch as much as $25,000 in today's market.
NUDE GIRLS RULE!
Yes, the subject matters greatly, of course. Parian statuary is very decorative. Nude figures are usually worth about twice as much
as “fully dressed” ones. Religious subjects are less desirable, and therefore less valuable.
There are a lot of factors that can effect quality of the piece and ultimately its value, starting with a model. Parian production was
first of all a business. In order for the business to be successful, a Parian
manufacturer had to pick or commission attractive high quality sculptures
for their reproduction in porcelain. Unfortunately, Parian versions are not
always as good as the originals. Often models were simplified to make
production easier and cheaper. Sometimes moving a hand or turning a
head slightly (not to mention eliminating some of the details from the
original marble design) made it possible to reduce a number of moulds
necessary to cast Parian copies, allowing a quite significant reduction in
production costs. As an example, shown here is the original marble
statue of Una and Lion by John Bell next to its Parian version produced
by Minton. There is a big difference, is not there? It must be noted however,
that despite being a far cry from the original, Minton’s Una and Lion was a very popular piece. Minton sold lots of copies of it over
In some cases, Parian manufacturers were bound by contract with the sculptor not to alter the original design in any way rather
than size reduction. Shown below is Copeland’s Ino and the Infant Bacchus by John
Henry Foley. In order to publish this magnificent sculpture in Parian, Copeland not only
had to pay a significant fee to Foley, but also obtain a permission of the Earl of
Ellesmere who owned the original, and explicitly guarantee to both that the design
would not be altered in any way. It must be noted however, that while Copeland received
tons of praise for this piece after displaying it at the Great Exhibition of 1851, its
production cost and resulting sale price was so high that very few copies were sold, and
its production stopped very quickly.
While a sculptor was usually more or less in control of the design, it was the figure
maker’s skills that effected the quality of a particular Parian piece the most. The figure
maker’s job was putting various parts of the Parian sculpture together once they came
out of their moulds, and cleaning off the junctions so no lines could be seen where parts joined each other. The job was easier
said than done. In the process of firing, the material contracted, with some parts shrinking more than others. Even the most skilled
figure maker often could not avoid distortions of the limbs and other parts. There are plenty of figures with disproportionately small
heads. Things like that are hard not to notice and the value should be adjusted accordingly.
One last aspect as far as the quality of Parian statuary is the quality of the material itself. Much is written about the invention of
Parian and its supremacy over bisque and other types of statuary ceramics. In my observation, earlier Parian pieces tend to be the
best as far as the material is concerned. Items produced in late 1840s thru 1850s usually have very dense, smooth marble-like
surface. The production techniques changed over the following 20 years, but while the manufacturing process became easier, the
body lost some of its lustrous transparency and became more bisque-like.
The main two Parian manufacturers are Minton and Copeland. The work they produced was, with very few exceptions, of a very
high quality, and always marked. Obviously, they’re more valuable than Parian produced by other English factories, both marked
There are many collectors who look exclusively for either Minton or Copeland Parian, and would not buy anything else. That
effects prices as well.
Figural groups are much more valuable than single figures. It was a very complicated, lengthy and expensive process of putting
them together – using dozens of different moulds (each for every major body part), repairing parts coming out of the moulds,
cleaning off junctions, careful firing of finished pieces to avoid distortion, etc. As a result, the cost to produce groups was
considerably higher, and a number of copies was usually very limited. Which leads us to another factor that greatly effects Parian
prices – rarity.
This factor gets often overlooked, especially by beginner collectors. Some of the most beautiful and popular Parian figures such
as Dorothea by Minton or Sabrina by Copeland, are also the most common ones. They were
reproduced in high quantities over many years. As a result, a relatively large number of them has
survived unharmed until present day. They come up for sale all of the time, and practically every
collector has them already. So the prices on them are relatively low.
On the other hand, some pieces were produced in very small quantities. Either because of their
high cost of production due to a large size or complexity of a sculpture, or cold reception by buying
public, some pieces were discontinued very soon after their initial introduction into the marketplace.
Almost all large figural groups are very rare. Some of them don’t come up for sale for decades.
When they finally do, there are a lot of collectors interested in acquiring them, and prices can go
extremely high. Shown here is Minton's Lady Godiva modeled by John Thomas. The subject is from
Tennyson's book. Godiva rode naked thru the streets of her town so that the people would not have
to pay a new tax to her husband, the Earl of Mercia. This figural group is extremely rare. When it came up for sale at an auction in
New York in 2003, it was sold for over $10,000.
The bigger, the better. After all, people are interested in Parian primarily as statuary. Back when Parian was produced, it was
being purchased by middle class who could not afford the original marble sculptures. The same remains true to this day. Bigger
simply means more impressive, more sculpture-like. Please note that Parian figures were often produced in more than one size. It
is especially true for Copeland. Of course, a larger version will always be more valuable than a smaller one.
Needless to say that any major damage or restoration significantly decrease the value. As far as minor chips and repairs, it all
depends on how rare the piece is. If it’s a common piece such as Minton’s Miranda, for example, a chipped finger can make it
practically worthless because there are many perfect copies of this figure on the market every year. On the other hand, if the
piece is very rare, a chipped finger will hardly affect its value at all. Please note that many Parian pieces have firing cracks. They
are not considered a big deal unless they significantly affect presentation (when a firing crack runs thru the figure’s neck, for
example). In most cases, however, firing cracks are located on or under the base.