While Price guides published on this website contain hundreds of entries, one thing a price guide can never do is explain why exactly some KPM plaques are more valuable than others. What makes a particular plaque command a higher price in today’s market? This article will provide some guidance on the matter by going thru various parameters that effect the price.
ARTIST. This is a curious factor, or rather non-factor. If you look at any other "Victorian" antique category such as Royal Worcester, Satsuma, Pate-Sur-Pate or Parian statuary, the artist's name is always the most important factor effecting the value. Whether it's a miniature painting by Yabu Meizan on Japanese ceramics, or exquisite pate-sur-pate vase by Louis Solon, or a beautiful Minton porcelain figure modelled by Albert Carrier-Belleuse, there is a huge premium to be paid by buyer. There could very well be a similar piece with the same high quality of decoration, but if it's not signed by a famous artist, its value is dramatically lower.
Not so with KPM. Most of the good plaques are signed. Some are not. Signatures hardly matter. One could argue that plaques signed by Wagner might be worth more. I would disagree. Yes, pieces painted by Wagners (there was a whole family of artists doing work for KPM and other German porcelain makers) tend to be very high quality, especially portraits. But the truth is a similar painting by another artist, as long as it presents the same quality and detail as Wagner's, is worth no less.
NUDE GIRLS RULE! Yes, the subject matters greatly, of course. A nude or semi-nude painting is always worth several times more than any other. Female portraits in general are very popular, and command much higher prices than male portraits.
QUALITY. Quality of painting is by far the most important factor when it comes to defining the value of a particular KPM plaque. The common misconception is that all plaques marked KPM are high quality. While most of them indeed are, there are also some pieces that are quite poorly painted. Certain artists were simply more talented than others, and if you have a good eye, you can tell that right away. Besides the quality of painting, glazing is also important. Good deep glaze brights up the colors and protects the surface.
MARK. While many plaque collectors look for quality first, and mark second, the majority collects KPM only. There is only one genuine KPM mark - impressed word "K.P.M" over a scepter. It's usually accompanied by "H" or another letter which is probably date related. Watch out for fake marks. There is a further article on Fakes posted on this website.
COMPLEXITY. More complex paintings command a higher price. For example, The Dance Lesson fetched $48,000 at a recent Sotheby's sale, and not for the first time.
RARITY. This factor gets often overlooked, especially by beginner collectors. Some of the most beautiful and popular KPM plaques such as Vestal Virgin after Kauffmann or Beatrice Cenci in role of Cumean Sybil after Guido Reni, are also the most common ones. They were reproduced over and over by various artists during many years. 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 paintings were reproduced in very small quantities. Good rare subjects are the most desirable.
SIZE MATTERS! The bigger, the better. A good 9" by 6 1/2" female portrait could be worth about $4,000 - $5,000. The same portrait, but 10 1/2" by 8 1/2", would be $6,000 - 8,000. 12" by 10" - up to $10,000. The largest KPM plaques are about 21" by 18". They usually bring at least $20,000 at the auction.
CONDITION. Porcelain plaques are low maintenance compared to canvas paintings. That's one of the reasons for their popularity both back when they were produced and nowdays. Most of them still look brand new. Any dust or dirt gets easily removed with warm sopy water. Since plaques usually hang framed on a wall, they rarely experience any wear or scratches typically found on other types of antique porcelain. Even when there is an accident and a plaque falls, because of the frame and the fact that the porcelain is pretty thick, it rarely gets damaged. As a result, a vast majority of KPM plaques has survived in their perfect original condition to the present day. Since damage is rare, when it does appear, it considerably affects the value. Any cracks, repairs, large scratches, chipping of the paint, dramatically reduce the price, while major damage can make a plaque simply worthless.