By Anne Gilbert
Fitzhugh may be an English name, but it is also a pattern name for Chinese Export porcelain. Among the pattern's claims to fame is its cost; it's one of the most expensive examples of porcelain exported from China (1775-1850). Among status-conscious collectors, Fitzhugh is a name-dropper.
But don't drop any Fitzhugh-pattern plates - unless you don't mind dishing out a couple thousand dollars to replace them.
There are several theories as to how the name Fitzhugh became a name for porcelain made in China. One theory is that it was ordered by an American sea captain who liked the design. Another is that it was made first for the English Fitzhugh family. Or, that it was the mispronunciation of the Chinese city of Foochow.
Further proof that old legends die hard is the fact that for years Chinese Export porcelain was referred to as "Oriental Lowestoft." Blame it on William Chaffers, an English authority on ceramics and porcelain. In his first edition of Marks and Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain, published in 1876, he stated that this type of porcelain was made in a small factory in Lowestoft, England. While the error was eliminated in later editions, the legend lingered into the 20th century.
Another fallacy is that this porcelain was made in England, then sent to China to be decorated.
Known for border
The Fitzhugh pattern can be recognized by a border and a central medallion, surrounded by four panel decorations. These represent Chinese symbols for the philosophy of life and the arts. The designs are usually one color.
The borders were in the various colors used in the pattern; blue (the most common), orange, green, sepia, mulberry, yellow, black and gold. Borders of butterflies dating from 1785 are among the rarest.
Other motifs included pomegranates and Buddha.
It is difficult to date Chinese porcelain because so few documented pieces exist. Nevertheless, near the end of the 18th century the American Eagle and shield in red, white and blue as a central medallion was popular.
You will find Chinese Export pieces in everything from complete dinner services to coffeepots, mugs and candlesticks.
Pieces left unsigned
Fitzhugh, like other Chinese Export patterns, was never signed. If you are offered a piece having a square, pseudo-Chinese mark in red, with a running "S" beside it, you've found a very desirable fake. It was made in France in the 19th century by Emile Samson, a famous copyist. Today, it has collectors and a value all its own.
The "S" pattern also was adapted by Caughley and Coalport.
Before you start bragging about the Fitzhugh piece you discovered on an antiques shop shelf, remember it has never stopped being reproduced. During the American bicentennial, bowls decorated in the green, orange and blue Fitzhugh designs - along with some American Eagle medallions - were hot-selling repros.
Originally, pieces would have had the proper import sticker (made in Hong Kong), but these stickers are long gone. And while it is difficult to tell the old from the new, Hong Kong copies are whiter than they should be.
Best advice is to buy from a reputable dealer specializing in Chinese Export porcelain.