Meissen Boettger porcelain tea caddy

MARKS: Letter ‘E” in red on unglazed base.
PURCHASED FROM: Hans E. Backer, London, England, 1947.
This tea caddy 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.
Several of these tea caddies exist with the raised Far Eastern style pattern of birds sitting in, and flying around, flowering shrubs, but not all are gilded like the caddy seen here. The same model was produced in Böttger red stoneware, but it is larger in size due to greater shrinkage in the white porcelain body. The difference between the two is a quarter inch of shrinkage overall (see ID number CE*68.168 with the cover missing). Gilding was introduced before color enameling but the work was carried out either in Dresden at the workshop of the goldsmith Johann Georg Funke the Elder or by Hausmaler (home painters) working in Augsburg.
Japanese prototypes influenced the hexagonal form of this caddy and the Meissen Manufactory produced several models of these baluster-shaped tea caddies during the early Böttger period. Sources for the motifs on this earlier group of objects came from prints and pattern books like Paul Decker’s (1677-1713) Muster für Lackierer and the 1688 publication by John Stalker and George Parker A Treatise for Japanning and Varnishing.
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, and tea caddies were also made in wood and tin as an alternative to porcelain or silver.
On the European exposure to Far Eastern porcelains see Emerson, J., Chen, J., Gardner Gates, M., 2000, Porcelain Stories: From China to Europe.
On the introduction of tea, coffee, and chocolate 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
caddy, tea
date made
Meissen Manufactory
Physical Description
hard-paste Boettger porcelain (overall material)
painted in onglaze gold (overall color)
overall: 4 7/8 in x 3 7/8 in x 3 7/16 in; 12.3825 cm x 9.8425 cm x 8.73125 cm
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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