Delicate, beautiful and highly collectable, Belleek has been identified with Ireland since 1863. This fine Parian porcelain began production in the village of Belleek in County Fermanagh when Ireland was one nation. Since that time, Ireland has been divided into two countries, but Belleek has never ceased production.
Parian is a type of clay slip porcelain that is so finely processed that it allows even the most delicate of details to be captured. The end product is a thin, translucent piece of pottery that is prized by collectors worldwide.
Established in 1857, Belleek did not begin producing Parian china until 1863. Prior to that, the Belleek Pottery Works Company produced earthenware products, from teapots to telegraph insulators. In 1863, it began producing porcelain on a limited basis, but as the popularity and demand for Belleek china spread throughout the world, porcelain replaced earthenware as Belleek's primary product.
Look at the bottom of your plate. Since 1863, Belleek has marked the bottom of each piece of earthenware and china with a unique mark. The mark has changed though the years and is the easiest way to narrow down the age of your piece.
Use a magnifying glass to inspect the mark and note the details, as well as the colour.
The mark on the bottom of your Belleek plate will identify a range of dates within which it was produced. To date, there have been 13 different marks, including the Belleek Collectors International Society special marks.
From the beginning, the Belleek mark has incorporated three distinct symbols of Ireland: the round tower, the Irish wolfhound and the Irish harp. While those three components have always been used, the actual design has changed and other elements have been added and subtracted.
From 1863 to 1946, the marks were made in black ink. During that time period, there were three different designs. The colour of the marks changed to green from 1946 to 1981, and there were three different designs during that era. The seventh mark, from 1981 to 1992, was stamped in gold ink. Blue was chosen for the marks from 1993 to 1999. The tenth mark was for the Millennium year 2000 and was the first time black ink was used since the original marks. The eleventh mark was used from 2001 to 2006 and was stamped in green. Number twelve was the mark for the 150th anniversary of Belleek and carries a banner stating "Celebrating 150 Years." The thirteenth mark was issued in 2008 and is called the Belleek Trademark. The fourteenth and most recent mark was issued in 2010 and carries the Belleek website address.
Go to the Belleek website, where you will find the entire range of marks, from 1863 to present day, in full colour to help pin down the age of your piece.
One thing to remember about Belleek--no matter how old or young your piece may be, it is a thing of beauty to be enjoyed and perhaps passed along as a family heirloom.
Beware of imitators. There is plenty fake Belleek on the market. The most familiar of Belleek patterns, the basket weave with shamrocks, can be found in catalogues and gift shops everywhere. The first telltale sign that it is not genuine Belleek is the heft and translucency. If a piece is heavy and opaque, it is most certainly not the real deal. The most certain way to identify the authenticity is the mark on the bottom. If you are thinking of collecting Belleek, be sure to familiarise yourself with genuine Belleek marks and don't be fooled by knock-offs.