This month we feature a group of spectacular porcelain pieces by Meissen of Germany. We actually happened to be taking an audit of our current museum selection, saw these pieces, and knew we had to feature them. Although each of the pieces in the collection beautifully complement one another, they are actually from different patterns. The footed cup and saucer sets have been identified by our research staff as pattern “ 011099.” The salad plates are from pattern “ 011098” and the showplate (more on that shortly!) is from pattern number “ 3329.” Each piece is highly ornate in a combination of late Baroque (lots of ornamentation and complexity of line) and early Rococo (whimsical lines, flowing design, pastel colors) design styles. Each gorgeous piece features sophisticated floral designs, bold cobalt accents, and copious gold trim. While researching these pieces, we actually discovered a new piece type that had not previously been listed in our system! Research material for Meissen dinnerware identified the ornate round plate as a “showplate.” The showplate was designed circa 1850 and was produced until the 1930’s or 40’s. The exact age of the Meissen showplate we are featuring here is not known. Each of these pieces feature the genius of craftsmanship for which Meissen dinnerware has come to be known.
Some interesting background here – Meissen is a small town located in Saxony, Germany just northwest of Dresden, in one of the most culturally rich areas in Germany. In 929, King Henry I built a fortress in the Elbe Valley. A small village developed around the fortress which was nestled between the river Elbe and the outlying mountainous region. During the Middle Ages, Meissen was controlled by the Germanic princes in league with the Bishopric of the Catholic Church. A cathedral, one of the tallest in Europe, was soon commissioned. A Kirche or church was built and connected to the bishop’s castle, town fortress, and city hall. Today, this cathedral is one of the most visited in Europe. The manufacture of porcelain in this area began in 1710. At the behest of King Friedrich Augustus II (or as he liked to be called “Augustus the Strong”), a porcelain factory was created in Meissen. The original kilns were part of the building complex described above, and which came to be known as Albrechtsburg.
Ironically, the factory was not originally created for the production of mere porcelain. Augustus the Strong felt that porcelain might hold the secret to creating the “philosopher’s stone.” This stone was supposed to grant the ambitious king eternal life and provide answers to all his questions. Unfortunately, his ambitions brought him to financial ruin. With his coffers empty, Augustus the Strong was forced to look for help from some of the local princes. In recompense, he pledged to help the surrounding area in developing economically. One of Augustus’ scientists, Boettger, reached a breakthrough. Boettger was an alchemist, which at the time typically was someone who was working to try to create synthetic gold and silver. In 1709, while engaged in this task, Boettger created a beautiful white porcelain biscuit, then glazed it in ruby red. Thus started porcelain production in Meissen.
While much of this history is fragmented, and has been pieced together over a period of 1,000 years, what is known is that since its mysterious beginnings, Meissen has earned a reputation for producing some of the world’s best quality porcelain figurines and dinnerware. In fact, Meissen’s reputation is so strong that our recent visitor (mentioned earlier in this newsletter) Mr. Kozo Kato, President of Noritake USA, makes a visit to Meissen whenever he travels through Europe. If you have pieces that you think might be Meissen, look on the back for the distinctive crossed blue swords that are used as the manufacturer’s backstamp. Even this backstamp has an interesting history. In 1722, the Electorate of Saxony decided to use the crossed swords that appeared on the Saxon coat of arms the Electorate’s identifying mark. An inspector of wares at the Meissen factory, Johann Melchior Steinbrueck, made the suggestion in a letter. In his letter, Steinbrueck said, “I would prefer a mark related to the Saxon Electoral coat of arms, for instance, the Electoral swords, so that other nations might recognize that the wares so signed were manufactured in the Electorate of Saxony.” This letter has become known as the birth certificate of Meissen’s famous trademark. Throughout the city, the crossed swords are seen almost everywhere.
The collection of Meissen ware is truly stunning. Viewing these outstanding pieces is reminiscent of standing in the Ottobeuren Basilica, the world’s greatest representation of rococo art. Quite a pedigree for Meissen dinnerware, yet one that befits its quality. While these Meissen museum pieces being featured are not for sale, we do carry nearly 200 patterns by Meissen, all beautiful, and all available for purchase. Come visit us at our Greensboro facilities to see these beautiful pieces and pick out Meissen pieces to take home! Our Showroom and Museum are open from 9am to 7pm ET, 7 days a week (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00am to 6:00pm ET, 7 days a week. The Showroom and Museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40.