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Among the brands of ancient ceramics, we find the Badonviller manufacture, which was founded by Théophile Fenal in 1897 following his decision to create an independent factory from that of his family located in Pexonne.

The factory was founded in his hometown, much to the satisfaction of the population. The municipal council unanimously approved this initiative, which brought a series of great benefits to the town, such as increasing the value of real estate and land.

This choice was certainly driven by a strong need for renovation and modernization of facilities and production procedures; however, the greatest drive for Théophile Fenal was his vision of the necessity to improve the welfare of workers through profound social reforms. This vision guided his entrepreneurial adventure and that of the two generations that followed him, deeply influencing and shaping the territory and social life of the population around the factory.

But who was Théophile Fenal? He was not just a financier who wanted to invest capital in a business he knew nothing about; he was a true “ceramics entrepreneur.” Born in Badonviller in 1851, he was 46 years old when he founded the factory. During his youth, he trained in another factory located in Pexonne, which had been owned by his family for two generations. The Fenal family had been involved in the ceramic world since 1828, so we need to take a step back to talk about how this activity originated.

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PEXONNE manufacture

The Pexonne factory ceased its activity in 1953. It had been a very ancient establishment, whose history reflected the industrial development in the Lorraine region.

During the second half of the 17th century, Lorraine was a battleground for foreign troops who periodically subjected it to looting. Entire villages were destroyed, and their populations were almost completely dispersed.

In the early 18th century, the people of Lorraine desired peace and the ability to live and prosper in their territories. They were encouraged in this by the ruling Prince Leopold, Duke of Lorraine and Bar. Under his protection, the region was granted several privileges regarding the exploitation of quarries and forests. Positioned on the edge of the Vosges forest, Pexonne thus had the opportunity to supply itself with wood, which was essential at the time for fueling the furnaces.

Furthermore, there were clay and limestone quarries nearby. Therefore, Pexonne obtained a privilege to exploit these resources, essential production elements at that time for establishing a ceramic factory.

The driving force was of animal origin (oxen or horses), and the grinding of materials took place through hydraulic mills.

The production consisted of colored clay ceramics with a matte white glaze.

At that time, the operation of a ceramic factory was based on a series of activities involving unsafe procedures that carried various risks, resulting in frequent setbacks. Therefore, it was subject to frequent interruptions.

The Pexonne factory faced several difficulties in the early years after its foundation and underwent changes in ownership precisely because those managing it were unable to generate significant profits. From 1739 to 1828, there were several owners. In 1828, Nicolas Fenal entered with half of the shares, and by 1836, he managed to acquire all the shares of the factory, becoming its sole definitive owner.

In the absence of written documentation, oral tradition tells us that Nicolas Fenal was originally a pawnbroker who, taking advantage of the advent of industry, opted for a new branch to invest his capital.

Nicolas Fenal involved his numerous children in the business (among whom another Nicolas would be Théophile’s father), who would take on different tasks within the organization of the factory, remaining in an undivided situation that was in line with their interests at the time.

Under the impetus of Nicolas Fenal initially and his sons later, the Pexonne factory gained strong momentum. It manufactured a wide range of products, from piggy banks shaped like animals and fruits to molds for sweets, from elegant tableware to ceramic stoves.


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Piatti parlanti Badonviller

Piatti parlanti Pexonne


Piatti parlanti Pexonne

Piatto parlanti - Marchio BadonvillerPiatti parlanti - Marchio Badonviller

Contrary to his predecessors, he knew how to surround himself with skilled workers, whom he recruited mainly from Luneville and Saint-Clément.

Also, read these posts to delve into the history of ancient ceramic brands:

  • Gien Manufacture
  • Choisy Le Roi Manufacture
  • Vieillard Bordeaux Manufacture
  • Creil Montereau Manufacture
  • Luneville Manufacture

Following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, a part of Lorraine was annexed to Germany. The Sarreguemines factory, which produced English-style ceramics with hard paste covered in a transparent glaze, was annexed. In 1880, a large group of its workers, led by one of its engineers, chose to relocate to France and found asylum in Pexonne.

Tazza antica Badonviller

Tazza antica Badonviller

Tazza antica Badonviller

All the items featured in this post are available for purchase on my online shop. Click to view the complete collection of available items.



With the creation of the railway line in 1881, the purpose of the factory changed. New facilities were built, and new furnaces with more modern designs were installed. The old colored clay ceramics were abandoned in favor of white clay ceramics with transparent glazing.

Théophile Fenal, despite being in a situation of undivided ownership (the brand at that time was Fenal Frères), held a prominent position in the management of the factory.

Fenal was a man of generous and humanitarian spirit, devoid of selfishness, altruistic, and a committed philanthropist. He desired to promote social reforms and provide greater well-being to his workers. He had the idea of somehow involving them in the profits of the factory. However, these ideas put him at odds with other family members who were running the business.

Therefore, in 1897, he decided to liquidate his shares in the Pexonne factory to create a new one in Badonviller, where he intended to implement the social reforms he had in mind.

The advent of the railway was the most significant event that allowed Théophile Fenal to realize his ambition, as it made it possible to transport clays, coal, and other materials necessary for ceramic manufacturing to Badonviller.

In 1897, the situation of the Fenal family was as follows:

  • In Pexonne: undivided factory, directed by Engineer Comte de Vitry d’Avancourt, husband of Marie-Catherine Fenal.
  • In Badonviller: owner-director Théophile Fenal.

For the town of Badonviller, the establishment of the new factory was a significant advancement. It allowed local labor to avoid long and inconvenient journeys to the factory in Pexonne. Many volunteers agreed to collaborate in building the new factory, which they felt was crucial for their community.

The Badonviller factory

The Badonviller factory was built with a much more modern conception compared to that of Pexonne. The establishment was organized in a “linear” manner, where one could see the preparation of clays and glazes at one end and the selection and packaging of finished ceramics at the other end without ever leaving the premises.

Walking through the factory from the entrance, one would encounter the various workshops that composed it in succession. First, there were the mills, which housed all the machines responsible for grinding and mixing the raw materials needed to produce the clay mixture and glazes. Then came the forges, where various machines such as lathes, drills, and blacksmith stations were located.

The heart of the factory was a massive steam engine that transmitted motion through transmission shafts to all the other secondary machines, including the hundred ceramic lathes. This steam engine was active until 1919.

Adjacent to the large steam engine were the boiler rooms, housing a huge tank where cubic meters of steam were produced to power the drying kilns where the raw ceramics were placed to dry before firing. The steam also heated concave metal plates where colors were kept in a liquid state suitable for use in decorations.

The sanctuary of the factory was the modeling department, where the ceramists’ lathes and molds were located.

The next phase was that of the heated drying kilns and then the first firing at 1200°C, which resulted in the creation of the “biscuit” stage.

The pieces then passed to a department exclusively for women, where they were carefully brushed.

Decoration and glazing

Finally, the pieces were sent for decoration. Initially, there were only two decoration departments: hand-painted decoration and stamped decoration. Later on, decoration with molds and vaporization would also be introduced.

The next phase was glazing. The pieces were individually dipped into glaze baths and then immediately placed in stacked trays inside kilns at a temperature of 1100°C for 24 hours, to achieve glaze vitrification.

At this point, the pieces were sent to the “selection” department, where they were examined and classified into different grades, then packaged and transported to railway wagons for delivery to the final buyer.

The first pieces with the Badonviller mark left the factory in 1898. Production was now underway, and Théophile Fenal could finally embark on the great social project he had dreamed of for many years. According to his vision, workers and employees would no longer separate their interests from those of the owner. They would give the best of their working abilities to the enterprise. In this way, the social issue would naturally be resolved. The struggle between labor and ownership would cease to exist, and the unity of interests would lead to a unity of minds and hearts, like in a large family, the working-class family.

Ciotola Badonviller terre de ferre policromo

Ciotola Badonviller terre de ferre policromo

Ciotola Badonviller terre de ferre Marchi di ceramiche antiche - Marchio Badonviller


Théophile Fenal’s Innovative Vision

In 1900, he endeavored to realize this grand project based on mutual trust. According to his idea, the employer had the duty to rid himself of his selfishness contrary to the principles of humanity and fraternity. The association of interests was supposed to involve the participation of workers in the benefits of the enterprise, creating a fruitful bond leading to the unity of forces to pursue a common goal. The employer must treat his workers and employees not as occasional assistants to exploit, but as the most valuable part of his staff, caring about their needs, their families, their homes, their entire existence, and ensuring them a pension for their old age.

Bol con fiori Badonviller

Bol con fiori Badonviller

Bol con fiori Badonviller - Dettaglio

It is necessary to consider the general situation of workers at that time to understand the great innovative scope of Théophile Fenal’s vision. Unfortunately, he was only able to realize his ideals within his own factory.

The era of Edouard Fenal and Social Works

Théophile Fenal passed away in 1905, but his work was continued by his son, Edouard Fenal, who was brought up by his parents with principles of respect for the workers, cooperation, and care in the face of the misfortunes that could befall the workers’ families. He continued his father’s work until 1914. During those years, there was a continuous rise in production, variety of decorations, and progression in social work carried out towards the personnel, the factory, and their families.

Examples of social initiatives that were implemented include:

  • Establishment of a dowry for young girls who had worked at the factory for at least three years.
  • Rent allowances for large families to ensure they had adequate housing for the number of children.
  • Allowances for young men of conscription age who had worked at the factory continuously since leaving school.
  • Allowances for the birth of each child.

The new coloring method of Badonviller

Around 1908-1910, a new method of decoration using molds and color projection through compressed air with a vaporizer was added to the already existing methods of hand-painted and stamped decoration.

Tazza in ceramica con coperchio con decoro di lamponi

Tazza in ceramica con coperchio con decoro di lamponi

Marchi di ceramiche antiche - Marchio Badonviller

The traditional methods continue to be employed, but the speed of execution of this new technique is such that it will be necessary to build two new additional kilns: the factory enriches its repertoire with beautiful new sumptuous decorations.

Zuppiera ceramica Badonviller con decori

Zuppiera ceramica Badonviller con decori

Zuppiera ceramica Badonviller con decori - Dettagli Zuppiera con coperchio in ceramica Badonviller con decori

Unfortunately, the First World War brought tragic consequences to the factory: around a hundred workers aged between 15 and 60 died, the factory was 75% destroyed, and the houses built for the workers were systematically set on fire. 23 years of work were annihilated.

The Post-War Reconstruction of Badonviller

Edouard Fenal’s main concern in 1919 was to rebuild the factory as quickly as possible, especially to counter the competition from inland factories that had not been destroyed by the war and were trying to establish themselves commercially everywhere.

From the early months of 1919, the families of the workers began to return from their shelters, and the men and boys started to clear away the rubble. In one year, under the impetus of Edouard Fenal, the factory was able to resume production.

At the same time, he worked tirelessly to rebuild the villages and the workers’ housing that had been destroyed. Initially, he had temporary wooden housing built, which was later replaced by more comfortable quarters along Edouard Fenal Street.

Bol in ceramica Badonviller

Bol in ceramica Badonviller

Marchi di ceramiche antiche - Marchio Badonviller

Marchi di ceramiche antiche – Marchio Badonviller

Tazza antica in ceramica Badonviller Tazza antica in ceramica Badonviller Francia Tazze antiche in ceramica Badonviller

From 1920 onwards, the factory experienced continuous growth. Around fifty new decorations and shapes were added to the repertoire. The decorative technique using vaporization and molds was highly successful. Thirty workstations were created in 1920, followed by another thirty in 1921. Hand painting was highly successful, as was the transfer printing technique with the “Champagne” and “Mures” decorations.

Piatti antichi di valore Badonviller

Piatti antichi Badonviller

Piatti antichi di valore Badonviller -Dettagli del decoro Piatti antichi di valore Badonviller -Dettagli della lavorazioone

Following the intensity of production, expansions of the facilities and an increase in personnel became necessary, surpassing the figure of 400 workers. Concurrently, Edouard Fenal continued his social action work, maintaining the mutual funds that provided free medical care to workers and their families, along with a series of other initiatives, including profit-sharing distributions to the workers.

In 1925, the factories of Luneville and Saint Clément came under the authority of Edouard Fenal, although they did not merge with the Badonviller factory.

This closeness in the management of the three factories was beneficial for all three because it led to changes in personnel, manufacturing procedures, and decoration. In Badonviller, a electroplating workshop was established, allowing for the on-site production of plates needed for impression decorations through electrolysis. This new system enabled the production of copper molds that had much longer durability compared to the tin molds used previously, which had to be individually cut and handmade, while an electroplating bath could produce 15 to 20 molds of each model. This assembly-line production allowed for the creation of 30 additional vaporizer decoration stations, bringing the total number of decorators for this technique to 90.

The years from 1925 to 1936 were thus years of continuous success and progress for the factory.

Scatola Allumettes Badonviller

Scatola Allumettes Badonviller

Marchi di ceramiche antiche - Badonviller Francia

Marchi di ceramiche antiche – Badonviller Francia

The Death of Edouard Fenal and World War II

In 1936, social unrest led to strikes, factory occupations, and the suspension of activities due to the disparity between the social project carried out in the Badonviller factory compared to the situation in Luneville and Saint Clément. This deeply affected Edouard Fenal, who, two years later, in 1938, weakened in health, passed away. In 1940, his son Bernard Fenal also died in the war, depriving the three factories of their leadership. During the occupation, the factory was managed by the widow of Bernard Fenal and his younger brother Gilbert Fenal, managing to maintain reduced production largely requisitioned by the Germans. After the war, the factory gradually recovered, slowly returning to sustained production rates.

In the following years, Gilbert Fenal brought about many changes to the factory. Due to declining profitability, he was forced to make significant investments in new types of machinery and reduce the workforce.

Famous artists like the Mougin brothers and Géo Condé created artistic objects for the company.

In 1963, the factories of Badonviller, Lunéville, and St. Clément were merged into a single company. In the 1980s, the Fenal group joined Sarreguemines (the FSDV group: Faïencerie Sarreguemines Digoin Vitry-le-François). Production continued in collaboration with contemporary artists such as Pierre Cazenove, Régis Dho, and Paul Flickinger. The Badonviller factories closed in 1990, and production was transferred to a single site: St. Clément.

In December 2006, the Fenal group embarked on a new venture with the “Faïence et Cristal de France” group. This group consists of former factories of Saint-Clément, Niderviller, Vallerysthal, and Portieux, all companies founded in the 18th century with an impressive history.

The new group, “Terre d’Est,” continues its production in the 21st century.

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