TITLE: Meissen chocolate pot and cover
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: H. 7⅛" 18.1cm
OBJECT NAME: Chocolate pot
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1775-1800
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1987.0896.06 ab
COLLECTOR/ DONOR: 450
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords and star in underglaze blue; “83” impressed.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1944.
This chocolate pot and cover 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 chocolate pot, based on contemporary metal pots of the period, has a wooden handle mounted in a side socket and a wooden finial on the cover; wooden handles protected hands from the hot surface of the pot when filled with liquid. The finial could be removed and a swizzle stick inserted to raise froth on the hot chocolate and mix it thoroughly. The spout has a scrolled molding.
Hot chocolate, one of the three hot liquors to transform European drinking and social rituals, was more expensive and laborious to prepare than coffee, but nevertheless very popular in affluent society. Usually, chocolate was taken as a breakfast drink for those who could afford such a luxury and the trembleuse cup and saucer was designed for those who took their breakfast in bed, and for invalids for whom chocolate was considered of medicinal value. Although not as numerous as coffee houses, chocolate houses began to appear in European cities in the late seventeenth century. The beverage was very different to the powdered cocoa drinks of today, and was closer to its origin in the cultures of Central and South America, but made more palatable for Europeans with the addition of sugar and cream.
In the late eighteenth century Meissen produced various items reminiscent of the early Meissen Böttger porcelains that were admired for their raised ornament designed originally by the Dresden court goldsmith Johann Jacob Irminger (1635-1724), the so-called Irmingersche Belege. The applied grapevine (Wein-Laub) design seen on this pot and cover was especially favored.
On the practice of drinking hot chocolate see Bowman, P.B., 1995, In Praise of Hot Liquors: The Study of Chocolate, Coffee and Tea-drinking 1600-1850; on the history of coffee houses see Ellis, M. 2011, The Coffee House: A Cultural History; for an exhaustive study of chocolate see Grivetti, L. E., Shapiro, H. Y., 2009, Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 274-275.
Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.