PURCHASED FROM: Hans E. Backer, London, England, 1947.
This coffeepot 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 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 takes its form from contemporary silver vessels. Sprigs of roses in high relief (Rosen-Laub), rise from the base of the pot and decorate the cover. This type of floral decoration, inspired by Japanese Imari porcelain imported by Dutch merchants during the seventeenth century, was modeled and applied to the vessel before it was dried and fired. The Imari vessels were highly colored but the Meissen Manufactory had not yet found a way to produce durable enamels for application on porcelain. For examples of Japanese Imari vessels from the collection in Dresden see Ayers, J., Impey, O., Mallet, J.V.G., 1990, Porcelain for Palaces: the fashion for Japan in Europe 1650-1750, p.209.
Tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar were luxury products for early eighteenth-century consumers, and the equipage for these hot beverages, made in silver and the new ceramic materials like Meissen’s red stoneware and porcelain, was affordable only to the elite of European society. The coffee houses provided more egalitarian sites where men engaged in commerce and professional life drank these beverages poured from tin or copper vessels into cheap earthenware pottery, or in the better establishments from porcelain imported from the Far East. London had the liveliest and most diverse coffee house culture in Europe, but the German city of Leipzig, where Meissen products were first on public sale, was a major center for trade and commerce with several coffee houses of cultural and commercial importance to the city.
On the coffee house see Ellis, M., 2011, The Coffee House: A Cultural History. See also Weinberg, B.A., Bealer, B.K., 2002, The World of Caffeine:The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 48-49.
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