Dinnerware – Meissen

While Asian cultures have produced fine quality porcelain since the eighth or ninth century A.D., the exact processes and ingredients for its manufacture remained a mystery to Europeans until the early years of the 1700’s.  It was during this time that two alchemists, under the patronage of King Augustus the Strong in Dresden, discovered the secret of hard paste porcelain.  Combining a very white clay, often called kaolin, with alabaster powder, two scientists by the name of Bottger and Tschirnaus, produced the very first piece of hard white porcelain in 1708.  This discovery laid the foundation for the Meissen Royal Manufactory, which opened in 1710.  While the secret was eventually disseminated throughout Europe, despite earnest attempts at protectionism, Meissen china to this day continues to produce the finest quality European porcelain in the world. To view Meissen porcelain marks, click here.

It is difficult to encapsulate the history of a company that is literally older than the state in which it currently operates.  When the manufactory first opened, the word “Germany” did not exist in theory or reality, and Dresden and Meissen were cities in the smaller, autonomous state of Saxony.  Since then, the Meissen Royal Manufactory has survived several wars, massive political unification, bifurcation and reunification, devastating economic sanctions and world depressions, a fascist regime and communist rule. When added to the usual tumult and trials that accompany the year-to-year functioning of any business striving to make a profit, it becomes obvious that the invention of this company is more than just a useful or beautiful product.  Meissen porcelain is a timeless treasure in the truest sense of the word.

Augustus the Strong’s early interest in porcelain was not solely economic, although the high cost of importing Asian porcelain was certainly an incentive to his investment.  His primary interest lay in its artistic value, and the potential to create a line of porcelain figurines with a distinctive European feel.  This would take time, however, and some of the earliest Meissen pieces, modeled by the famous sculptor Georg Fritzsche, demonstrated a traditionally Oriental style.  Soon however, the Meissen modelers ventured out, producing many court scenes as well as satirical pieces such as the famous Monkey Band modeled by J.J. Kändler in 1747.  These elaborate pieces with light-hearted themes, often associated with the “Rococco” artistic movement, continued to influence Meissen figurines and dinnerware for many decades.  In fact, later Nazi administrators who took over the factory in the 1930’s, and eventually the Soviets, learned the hard way that porcelain was not well suited to serious, propagandistic themes.  This was demonstrated not only by the resistance of the porcelain artists who held to a sense of pride and tradition, but also by the plummeting profits of the manufactory during those years.  Most of the better-known Meissen pieces, whether produced in the 18th or 20th century, tend to display playful scenes of music, celebration and love.  The pieces to be found in the Nacq Partners, Ltd. collection are a testament to this quality.

It was in Meissen that perhaps the most famous of all antique China dinnerware was produced by Europeans, the unmistakable blue-and-white “Onion” pattern.  While modeled as closely as possible after a pattern first produced by the Chinese (for European consumption) the plates and bowls styled in the Meissen factory in 1740 adopted a feel that was distinctly their own.  This was largely due to the fact that the flowers and fruits pictured on the original Chinese pattern were unknown to the Meissen painters, and thus they created hybrids that more closely resembled ones more familiar to Europeans.  The so-called “onions” are not onions at all, but according to historians, are most likely mutations of the peaches and pomegranates modeled on the original Chinese pattern.  The “Onion” pattern that resulted has become one of the most replicated in the world, with versions produced by hundreds of porcelain factories throughout Europe and Asia since that time.  Many original pieces of Meissen Blue Onion dinnerware can be found in the Rarest Treasure collection.   

While there have been literally thousands of symbols used to designate porcelain produced in the Meissen Royal Manufactory, the most common and recognizable is the crossed-swords mark, used as early as 1728.  From the earliest years of Meissen china, however, imitators used similar or nearly indistinguishable marks on their own porcelain, making positive identification of “true Meissen” a sometimes-perplexing task.  The Meissen Royal Manufactory has undergone literally hundreds of legal battles in order to protect its trademark.  Great care has been taken to ensure that the pieces in the Nacq Partners, Ltd. collection are genuine Meissen, in our attempts to honor the proud tradition the name represents.