This post shares information about collecting vintage French cafe au lait bowls. These are fun to collect and add character to your decor.
I have been collecting vintage French cafe au lait bowls for a number of years and I also sell them at Stone Soup Antiques in Ballston Spa, New York. They are getting more difficult to find and the prices of these bowls continue to rise. I am not able to make trips to France to buy these vintage bowls, but rather rely on finding them in local antique stores or buying them online from sites like Ebay and Etsy.
These cheerful little bowls were made so people could drink coffee, tea or hot chocolate out of them. The European tradition is to serve your morning coffee in a bowl as opposed to a mug with a handle. According to this article by Martha Stewart Living, drinking hot beverages from bowls was introduced in Europe around 1644 and was based on similar bowls used in Turkish and Chinese societies.
The term “Cafe Au Lait” refers to a drink that is half coffee and half milk. The term “cafe” is equivalent to the english word “coffee” and the word “lait” is equivalent to the english word “milk”.
Collecting Vintage French Cafe Au Lait Bowls
I have always loved the colors and designs of these bowls and it’s so fun to collect them in different sizes. They are made in France and even in some neighboring European countries. So, today, I thought I would share with you all that I know about these bowls.
Identifying Vintage French Cafe Au Lait Bowls
Obviously, the first challenge we have is accurately identifying a vintage French cafe au lait bowl. There are a number of reproduction bowls available, so if you find a bowl, how do you know it’s authentic? In general, I am looking for bowls that were made prior to the 1960s.
First, these vintage bowls have a classic shape and will have a clearly defined “foot”. Meaning the base of a vintage french bowl will clearly flare out at the bottom. If a bowl is uniformly tapering all the way to the bottom, it is most likely a more modern production.
Second, authentic bowls are made out of a porcelain clay that is fairly thin around the edges. If the lip of the bowl is thick or rounded, then it is likely a more modern production.
Third, if you turn a bowl upside down, you may see a stamp on the bottom. If there is a stamp that says “Digoin” or “Sarreguemines” then it is an authentic find. Having said that, there are plenty of bowls that, while they are authentic, don’t have a stamp on the bottom. If this is the case, then you need to rely on understanding the design of the bowl, thickness of the porcelain, and patterns/colors. Read on to learn more about the colors and patterns.
It’s also important to note that these cafe au lait bowls were produced in a variety of sizes. The largest bowl I have seen is about 8 inches in diameter while the smallest bowl is 2.5 inches.
Patterns and Colors
These sweet bowls come in a whole array of patterns and colors.
These bowls were also produced with very simple designs in the early 1900s that consisted of a white bowl with gold stripes or simple gold patterns.
The most collectible forms of these bowls have art deco designs from the 1920s-1950s and often come in red, blue, yellow, or green. These are generally the bowls that are most sought after by collectors. The art deco shapes tend to be more geometrical. There are also imprints of floral designs using a single color. Both of these patterns were stenciled onto the bowls.
Similarly between 1940-1960s these bowls were produced in an array of solid colors that were in softer pastel colors such as lavender, pink, and light blue. Around this same time period, these bowls were produced with floral patterns such as small pink and green flowers or with images of children, people or animals.
On occasion you can find these bowls in a nesting set of 2 or 3 with the same pattern. This is a good deal more difficult to find but if you come across them, definitely snap them up!
Estimating the Age of a Bowl
Estimating the age of a bowl can be tricky. One of the easiest ways to determine the age is by looking for a back stamp on the bottom of the bowl. Typically, if there is a back stamp, you can be assured the bowl was made between 1920-1960.
Common back stamps on the bowls include “Digoin, France” or “Sarreguemines, France”. “Digoin, France” marks were common for bowls made between 1920-1950 in the Digoin region of France. The “Sarreguemines” mark is usually a shield with a crown above it and can indicate a piece was made between 1900 -1920. The website, Old Stuff.com has a good article and summary of French back stamps. The website Info Fiance also has a great catalog of French back stamps and lists their estimated age.
It is also worth noting that some of these bowls were also made in Belgium, Holland and Germany. In my personal collection, I have a small bowl made in Holland, likely in the 1930-1940s.
I also own a bowl that is stamped “Luneville, France”. While it is an authentic cafe au lait bowl, it was produced more recently, possibly in the 1960s.
If there is no back stamp, the bowl may have been produced prior to 1920. Again, you will have to rely on the thickness of the porcelain as well as the design and pattern on the bowl to estimate the age.
Another note, it is very common for the older bowls to have some hairline cracks or stress cracks that occur inside the bowl, near the lip. They tend to be vertical and can be a quarter of an inch to an inch long. Again, these little hairline cracks are a sign of authenticity. I don’t mind purchasing bowls with these little imperfections.
My advice is always to collect what you love. Although collectors tend to focus on authenticity and condition of bowls – my personal philosophy is that you should amass a collection that speaks to you. My personal collection of these bowls includes some bowls with minor flaws such as hairline cracks and the occasional chip. Having said that, I love these bowls for their character and design.
I use my bowls on a daily basis. Primarily for cooking or for holding dips, salsa or herbs. If I collect anything, I find that it needs to be used in my daily life. Although I do use these bowls daily, I only hand wash them. They never go into the dishwasher.
Below are some images you can pin to your Pinterest account if you would like to save this post for future reference.
The bowls above are examples of stenciled designs.
My favorite colors to collect are red and blue, although these vintage french bowls come in an array of other colors.
The bowls come in a variety of sizes as shown above. Also, the small green bowl was made in Holland.
The white bowl to the left side is also a French cafe au lait bowl and was made in the early 1900s.
Shop The Post
For those of you interested, I did some research and linked some vintage French cafe au lait bowls that I have found on Etsy.
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