At a recent Nichols Hills estate sale we conducted,
we found a beautiful parian bust of the 19th century English author Charles Dickens.
“What is parian?” you might ask.
Well, parian is a hard, white, ceramic medium that was used extensively throughout the mid-nineteenth century.
It was made to replicate marble, and it did a very good job of doing so.
Its ingredients included kaolin (like porcelain) and feldspar. (Feldspar was often used in ironstone recipes of the era.)
Marble itself was expensive, and had to be imported from Italy and other destinations.
Parian, on the other hand, was affordable and relatively easily produced.
It was also a superb way to imitate the sharp, crisp details which carving marble produced.
(But, obviously, at a fraction of the price!)
It was marketed primarily for the middle and upper middle classes throughout the United Kingdom,
Canada, Australia, and the United States. (It was, of course, also marketed to both the Continent and South America.)
Its name derived from the Greek island of Páros — a long cherished source of high quality marble.
Busts were commonly produced, as were groupings of all sizes.
Medallions were popular, as well, as were boxes, trinket boxes, and other decorative household items.
The English factories excelled in the production of parian, and even dominated its production.
Some notable U.K. makers of note: Minton, Goss, Leadbetter and Royal Worcester.
(Even the Irish firm of Belleek tried its hand at parian production, and even continues it today!)
Americans, too, made parian wares — most notably, the Bennington firm of Vermont.
(American parian, though, tends to be of somewhat lower quality than British parian.
It’s also usually thinner, and more brittle, and less expensive.)
Parian ware was at its height of popularity from 1840 or so until about 1890.
Thereafter, its popularity waned considerably due to a) changing tastes and b) an over-abundance of production —
much of it of relatively low quality.
Antique parian is not as collectible as it once was, and it’s never been particularly collectible in Oklahoma and Texas.
(As a result, it’s quite literally a buyer’s market out there right now!)
Large Minton pieces might run several thousand dollars on today’s market,
but most parian wares can be had in the $75.00 to $500.00 range.
Collectible, affordable, handsome, and terribly Victorian — that’s parian!