Meissen Boettger porcelain coffeepot and cover

MARKS: Crossed swords with curved guards in underglaze blue.
PURCHASED FROM: H. Bachrach, London, England, 1947.
This coffeepot is from the Smithsonian’s Hans Syz Collection of European Porcelain. Dr. Syz (1894-1991) began his collection in the early years of World War II, when he purchased eighteenth-century Meissen table wares from the Art Exchange run by the New York collector and dealer Adolf Beckhardt (1889-1962). Dr. Syz, a Swiss immigrant to the United States, collected Meissen porcelain while engaged in a professional career in psychiatry and the research of human behavior. He believed that cultural artifacts have an important role to play in enhancing our awareness and understanding of human creativity and its communication among peoples. His collection grew to represent this conviction.
The invention of Meissen porcelain, declared over three hundred years ago early in 1709, was a collective achievement that represents an early modern precursor to industrial chemistry and materials science. The porcelains we see in our museum collections, made in the small town of Meissen in Germany, were the result of an intense period of empirical research. Generally associated with artistic achievement of a high order, Meissen porcelain was also a technological achievement in the development of inorganic, non-metallic materials.
January 15, 1708, is the date for the earliest known recipe for white hard-paste porcelain, but it took five more years of experiments and trials to develop a product for the market. So-called Böttger porcelain denotes the early years of production from 1713 until Böttger’s death in 1719, but versions of his hard-paste porcelain continued in use until the 1730s.
The coffeepot, based on a silver prototype, has a band of acanthus leaves applied to its lower part, probably designed by the court silversmith Johann Jacob Irminger. A delicate scrollwork pattern circles the pot and cover painted in gold. Unlike polychrome enamel colors, the technique of painting in gold on porcelain was achieved early in Meissen’s history. The Dresden goldsmith Johann Georg Funcke the Elder (dates unknown) was employed to work for Meissen in 1713, and continued to do so until 1726. After the gold was painted onto the glazed porcelain it was fired at a low temperature (1382°F - 750°C) that turned the gold black and it then had to be polished to recover its shine. Böttger porcelains intended for decoration in gold and enamel were shipped from Meissen to Funke’s workshop in Dresden on the river Elbe. Considerable quantities of early Meissen wares were sent to Augsburg for enameling and gilding in the workshops of Hausmaler (home painter) families like the Auffenwerth and Seuter enterprises.
Tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar were luxury products for early eighteenth-century consumers, and the equipage for these hot beverages, made in silver and new ceramic materials like Meissen’s red stoneware and porcelain, was affordable only to the elite of European society. For the growing numbers of people who could afford to purchase tea and coffee, but not the costly vessels for storage, preparation, and the drinking of these beverages, less expensive versions of equipage became available made in earthenware pottery in imitation of Chinese blue and white porcelain, the so-called Delftwares or tin-glaze pottery, and also the tea bowls and saucers imported from China through the European East India Companies. By the middle of the eighteenth century European pottery and porcelain manufacturers provided consumers with less costly choices for the polite social practice of drinking tea and coffee.
This piece was painted after 1723 because it has a crossed swords mark in underglaze blue introduced in that year.
For a tea bowl and saucer with the same design see den Blaauwen, A. L., 2000, Meissen Porcelain in the Rijksmuseum, pp. 34-35.
On the history of the introduction of tea, coffee, and chocolate to Europe see Bowman, P.B., 1995, In Praise of Hot Liquors: The Study of Chocolate, Coffee and Tea-drinking 1600-1850.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection, pp. 54-55.
Currently not on view
Object Name
coffee pot and cover
date made
Meissen Manufactory
Physical Description
hard-paste Boettger porcelain (overall material)
painted in onglaze gold (overall color)
Place Made
Deutschland: Sachsen, Meissen
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
collector/donor number
Domestic Furnishings
The Hans C. Syz Collection
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Hans C. Syz Collection

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