TITLE: Meissen fork handle
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: L. 3¼" 8.3cm
OBJECT NAME: Fork
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1740
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1984.1140.25
COLLECTOR/ DONOR: 706
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
PURCHASED FROM: H. Bachrach, London, 1947.
This fork with a Meissen porcelain handle is from the Smithsonian’s Hans Syz Collection of Meissen 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 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 the German States, 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.
The fork handle is painted with an animal on each side, a fox-like creature of invention, of which there are many in Japanese mythology and folklore.
While the knife has an ancient history as a tool for butchering and cutting food, the table fork is a much later invention. Large two-pronged forks existed in antiquity to assist in the handling of large cuts of meat, but the custom of using a small fork for dining appeared in the cultures of the Middle East and Byzantium in the seventh century AD. When introduced to Venice in the tenth century by a Byzantine bride at her wedding feast to the Doge’s son, the Venetian court considered the implement a decadent affectation. Nevertheless, forks were adopted slowly in Italy and spread to other parts of Europe reaching England with the traveler Thomas Coryote in the early seventeenth century. Forks arrived with European settlers at a later date in the American colonies, but their use was not wholeheartedly accepted even in the early 1800s.
The tines on this fork are in the early style and best used as an aid in cutting meat. Forks with two shorter tines (suckett forks) were used for eating sugary and sticky sweetmeats or foods like mulberries that would stain the fingers. Three or four tines formed into a curve made eating other foods (peas for example) very much easier.
For histories of the fork see http://leitesculinaria.com/1157/writings-the-uncommon-origins-of-the-common-fork.html
Hans Syz, Jefferson Miller II, J., Rainer Rückert., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 218-219.
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