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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Porcelain And Pottery (Part 1 Of 3)

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Continental porcelain differs essentially from English in that it was in nearly every instance, either at first or eventually, hardpaste. Even those factories that began with pseudo-glass softpaste turned in the end to true hard porcelain. Marks are much more frequent than on English pieces, but have to be treated with suspicion as they stayed in use over long periods and were copied freely. The supremacy of Dresden induced many makers, on the Continent as well as in England, to mark their wares with the crossed swords or with the AR monogram.

Just as in England there were `outside decorators', in Germany and Austria there were `Hausmalers' (literally, home painters), who bought unpainted ware and decorated it themselves in their own individual styles. Many of these men were excellent artists and did work of high quality, but they were not popular with the factories. At Dresden, all pieces sold in the white after about 1760 had one or more short lines cut through the crossed swords to indicate that they were imperfect. While many of the imperfections were only slight, they were sufficient to make the ware unfit for decorating by the factory painters.

It should be remembered that many Continental factories are still in production and re-use eighteenth-century moulds of their own and other makers' wares. Often they mark them appropriately, and it is far from easy for the novice to distinguish between old and new. Careful examination of genuine pieces and a comparison of them with modern copies, are the only ways to recognize and learn the difference. It may comfort the puzzled beginner to know that fifty years ago a director of the Sevres factory confessed he was completely unable to distinguish old from new when some doubtful pieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum were submitted for his opinion.


Dresden (Saxony), East Germany

In the year 1707, Johann Bottger, an alchemist, was investigating the possibility of making gold, when his services were enlisted to discover what seemed at the time an equally insoluble secret: how to make porcelain to rival the Oriental ware then being imported into Europe in quantity. As a result of his successful experiments in making a hard red ware, he was able to make a white one, and on 23rd January 1710 the Royal Saxon Manufactory was established. It was in an old fortress at Meissen, near Dresden in Saxony, and there it remained for nearly 150 years. The porcelain produced since 1710 is called Meissen in Germany and the United States, Dresden in England, and Saxe in France, and was the first to be made in Europe in the Oriental manner from a fused mixture of minerals.

From the start, both the red and the white wares were made in quantity, but examples of them are very rare today. The former were often decorated on the lapidary's wheel, the polished parts appearing as if glazed. A few figures were made, but the output was principally cups and bowls, and many of these in white porcelain had coloured decoration.

Bottger died in 1719, and from then onwards there were numerous changes in both personnel and output, culminating in the appointment of Johann Kandler as modeller in 1731. It was Kandler's creation of dozens of brilliant figures and groups that spread the fame of Meissen throughout Europe, and inspired modellers of every nation.

As well as figures, Dresden made tablewares, and initiated- a series of tureens and covered pots in the form of animals, fishes, birds, flowers, fruit and vegetables. Proof of the success of all these is the fact that so many factories, at one time or another, imitated not only the designs but also added a fake crossedswords mark. The latter often on wares far removed from anything likely to have come from Germany, but taking full advantage of the high reputation that country enjoyed for making fine china.

Design and workmanship reached their heights in the years between 1740 and 1750; the years during which most countries were managing to start their own soft-paste factories in attempts to rival the imported product. It was the decade that saw the fashion for porcelain as a dinner-table decoration; temples, fountains and palaces were made to stand in the centre of the board, surrounded by the inhabitants of a world of fantasy created by the potter. The banquets of Continental royalties stimulated the production of these pieces, but the custom does not seem to have been widespread in England.

The Seven Years War from 1756 to 1763 saw the end of the most important and prolific period of Dresden, and although new models were introduced continuously afterwards none capture the brilliance of the earlier years. Kandler died in 1775, when the factory was under the direction of Count Camillo Marcolini; whose name is given to the period 1774 to 1814, when he was the government minister responsible for the factory.

Dresden china was copied not only in the countries where it was imported but the factory re-issued the same models again and again. The composition of the body and glaze has changed little, but new colours have been introduced from time to time. It is these, together with the quality of painting and the finish of the porcelain, that distinguish old from new.

From the year 1713, when examples of Dresden white porcelain were exhibited at the Leipzig Easter Fair, a bid was made to capture markets throughout Europe. Saxony badly needed money, which was why Bottger had been endeavouring in the first place to make gold, and the export of porcelain was to be the means of providing it. The policy was successful until the Seven Years War upset progress, but by that date almost every country had its own manufactories, and once the German works had loosed its grip it was never regained.

It was due to the activities of a small number of Arcanists, men who knew or professed to know the secrets of porcelainmanufacture, that other factories came into being following the success of Dresden. These men offered their knowledge and services where they thought it would pay them best, and in spite of the strictest precautions to prevent their defection. The first to benefit was Vienna in Austria.

Other factories in Germany were founded about the middle of the eighteenth century and each produced hard-paste wares of varying quality and interest. They include:

Hochst, near Frankfort (West Germany)

The best-known figures are a series of children which are very carefully modelled and painted, and have been copied during the past hundred years in both porcelain and pottery. The factory mark, which has also been imitated, is a spoked wheel in blue or red.


A wool-merchant named Wilhelm Wegely started a factory in 1752 but it was unsuccessful and closed five years later. In 1761 a further factory was opened by a financier named Gotzkowsky. it was bought by the King of Prussia, Frederick the Great, in 1763. Wares similar to, and in imitation of, Dresden were made but the china is colder in appearance and the colourings tend to be more vivid. In the nineteenth century the factory made copies of oil paintings in miniature on flat slabs of the ware, and also made lithophanes. These are panels of biscuit-ware stamped in intaglio so that they appear in light and shade when held against a window or light. The mark commonly found is a sceptre in underglaze blue, with or without the letters `K.P.M.'.

Furstenburg, near Cassel (West Germany)

This factory was started in 1753, and after initial difficulties produced good quality wares of all types in the Dresden manner. Some outstanding figures were modelled by Simon Feilner, who had worked at Hochst, and a unique set of fifteen of these was sold in London in July 1960, for 15,000. The factory is still in operation. The mark is a script letter `F' in blue, on modern pieces it has a crown above.

Nymphenburg, near Munich (West Germany)

Although all types of wares were made at this Bavarian factory, its name is linked with that of the Swiss-born modeller, Franz Anton Bustelli, who created a number of superb figures. Of all porcelain figures, English or Continental in origin, these, possessing both grace and action and with their soft and careful colouring are surely the most exciting and satisfying made anywhere. Bustelli's figures were made in the first instance between 1754 and 1763, but the moulds were re-used by the factory at a later date. The Nymphenburg works is still in operation. The principal mark is an impressed shield with diamond-shaped checks.

Ludwigsburg, near Stuttgart

The porcelain made at Ludwigsburg from 1758 was not of a white colour, but tended to a smoky brown in tone. Figures were a large proportion( of the output, and these included a series of miniature groups, some of market-stalls with their wares and attendants, and some attractive figures of dancers. The factory closed in 1824. The mark comprises two letter `c's back to back, sometimesh a crown above, in blue.

There were a number of other factories of varying importance, each copying Dresden and one another, and occasionally producing original work of above-average quality. Some of them used their own marks, some used imitations of Dresden, but most of them marked only a few of their productions and there are large numbers of unmarked pieces which it is difficult or impossible to allocate to any particular factory.