Old And Sold Antiques Auction & Marketplace
Antiques Digest Browse Auctions Appraisal Home

Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

History Of Pottery And Porcelain:
Pottery And Porcelain Defined
History Of Pottery
Romano-British Pottery
Asia Minor
Hispano-Moorish Pottery
Italian Pottery
Majolica Ware
Forms Employed By The Italians
French Pottery
German Pottery
Holland - Delft
English Pottery
Introduction To Porcelain
Oriental Porcelain China
European Porcelain
English Porcelain
Italian Porcelain
French Porcelain

Other Encyclopedias:
Pottery And Porcelain
Clocks And Watches

European Porcelain

( Originally Published Late 1800's )


The superior qualities of Oriental porcelain had long been the admiration of all Europe, yet the processes by which such perfection was obtained were wholly a mystery. Searchers in the Celestial Kingdom, anxious to obtain the secret, were put off with foolish details of its manufacture and complicity; they returned home no wiser than they went. In looking over the various methods proposed and attempted, one is struck with their similarity to the experiments of alchemy; such wild attempts can scarcely be found, save in the records of St. Dunstan, or the lives of his mysterious disciples who paved the way to the noble science of chemistry. In laboring for one result we are sometimes surprised in the accomplishment of another entirely foreign to our intent, though equally advantageous in its own province. Such was the manner in which the composition and production of true porcelain was discovered at Meissen.

During the Electorate of Augustus II. over Saxony (1694 to 1733) alchemy, followed by many pernicious results, was quite active ; its extent and harmfulness inspired the promulgation of a law throughout Germany pronouncing against it and those who practised it. John Frederick Bottcher, an apothecary's boy at Berlin, having heard that he was suspected of being an alchemist, fled precipitately to Saxony. It seems, however, that his name had preceded him, for immediately upon his arrival he was arrested and taken before Augustus II. who re manded him to the custody of_Tschirnhaus, an alchemist, who was trying to discover the elixir-vitoe.

Report said that Bottcher possessed the secret of making gold, and if this were fact, Augustus was doubtless ready to avail himself of the opportunity to replenish his treasury, which, though not empty, was, like all treasuries, not full enough. At the time of his incarceration, Bottcher was a boy only nineteen years of age, yet he set himself studiously at work trying to discover the Philosopher's stone. History does not say that he succeeded in his chimerical attempt, but it does record a success scarcely less important and satisfactory. Upon taking some crucibles from his furnace, during the progress of his experiments he found in them a substance very much resembling the Oriental porcelain. Tschirnhaus, at once appreciating the value of the discovery, joined his young companion in its investigation. How earnestly and patiently they labored can only be known by the length of time consumed before success crowned their efforts. Nearly six years fled and still they were working together, bent and determined upon one object. Days and nights were spent in ceaseless work and watching, yet Tschirnhaus was called to his rest just a day too soon to witness the complete triumph of his labors, leaving Bottcher to watch in front of the furnace, from which, after five days and nights without rest, the morning after Tschirnhaus's death he drew forth to the delight of the Elector, who was present, a porcelain tea-pot. This was the birth of porcelain in the civilized occident; the date of the event is 1708. This first production was, however, far from the perfection of the Oriental work; although of similar texture, it was red, or of light chocolate color, and without glazing, and incapable of resisting a high temperature.

Three years more elapsed- before Bottcher achieved the triumph of producing white porcelain, " but," says Mr. Marryatt, " it was thick and muddy, and the first pieces had no glaze." This piece, bearing the first decoration which was copied from the Oriental, is in the collection of the late Mrs. W. C. Prime; it is about six inches in height. When Butcher had arrived at a full knowledge of his work, Augustus established for him the great manufactory of Meissen, but in 1719, while yet young in years, the director and discoverer died, a victim of intemperance. No record exists regarding the material first employed by Bottcher in his porcelain work, but by a singular mishap, a discovery, which remedied all defects, took place at Aue, a territory near Schneeberg, in the Erzgebirge, Saxony.

A citizen of that place, one day while riding upon horseback, noticed that a peculiar clayey soil adhered to his horse's feet, considerably impeding his progress. The clay was white and soft, and hair-powder then being in fashion, the rider, John Schnorr, immediately conceived the idea that it might be put to good commercial use. Schnorr took some of the powder to a merchant in such commodities, and its use at once became general. Bottcher was among those who used the new powder, and observing its weight, commenced experimenting with it at the Meissen porcelain works. With it he produced white porcelain, and the clay was immediately employed in larger quantities, being brought to the manufactory by persons sworn to secrecy; it was then known as Schnorrische weisse Erde, -white Schnorrische earth; it is known in mineralogy as kaolin.

Bottcher's fame and works spread abroad, exciting the envy of every nation which had not yet attained to the science.

The workmen at Meissen were all prisoners, sworn to secrecy and laying themselves liable to close confinement for life, should they divulge the methods. In sight of every workman was posted the warning-" Be secret until Death."

The ware known as Meissen, Dresden or Saxe ware has long been celebrated. From the hands of such artists as Dietrich, Luch, Breicheisen, and the French sculptor Francois Acier, it received additional distinction. Bottcher attempted little in the decorative way ; his earlier productions are but copies of Oriental decoration, yet can be distinguished by their greater weight. Floral ornamentation succeeded this; the flowers were slightly in relief.

The marks upon the first specimens were copied from the Oriental ; after this, the pieces not intended for sale were marked with the royal monogram A. R., in blue; this was followed by the caduceus.

The porcelain of Dresden is noted not less for its modelling than its colors and decoration ; with no exception its groups, figures and delicate relief work stand preeminent among the porcelain productions of other nations. The artistic excellence of the Dresden porcelain is another subject worthy of consideration. We have already noticed some of the artists employed, but they are only few among the many. Beside the bistre ornamental work, and the flowers and insects in peculiarly bright and excellent colors, they copied many pictures of the Flemish and Dutch schools, and some of the French, probably introduced by the French artists employed at the Dresden works.

Figure painting, after Watteau, was another form of decoration very extensively employed ; in fact most of the decorated pieces met are of this character, often accompanied by flowers and vines in high and very delicate relief. After 1806 the general character of the Dresden porcelain commenced declining. The pieces produced at the present day are only repetitions of the old moulds and patterns, which, though well executed, want the full artistic perfection which characterizes the older ware.


VIENNA, like all the German porcelain-manufacturing towns, derived her art from Dresden. It was brought to her by an escaped foreman from the Dresden works. The principal mark employed upon the Imperial fabric was the shield crossed by two bars, in blue. No mark was employed before 1744.

HOCHST (Mayence). FRANKENTHAL (Palatinate). NYMPHENBURG (Bavaria).-These manufactories were the offspring of Dresden, and consequently similar in character; they are readily distinguished by various features and by their marks.

BERLIN.-Frederick the Great, during the Seven Years' War, transferred many of the Dresden workmen from that city to Berlin. Berlin afterward became a com petitive manufactory. Its rose and pink colors the Dresden factory was never able to equal. In Carlyle's Life of Frederick the Great, the author states the mark of the Berlin ware to be a sceptre, in blue.

At FULDA (Hesse) and in THURINGIA, porcelain was also produced.

Bookmark and Share