Meissen knife handle

Meissen knife handle

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TITLE: Meissen knife and fork handles
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: L. 2½" 6.3cm
OBJECT NAME: Knife and fork
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1725-1730
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1984.1140.13 AB
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: None on porcelain; on knife blade “CGI” and “14” stamped in oval.
PURCHASED FROM: S. Berges, New York, 1944.
This knife and fork 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 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.
Painted with Indian flowers (indianische Blumen) and a lambrequin pattern the handles on the knife and fork follow the Japanese Imari style. The silver knife blade and fork tines are contemporary with the porcelain handles.
Japanese Imari wares came from kilns near the town of Arita in the north-western region of Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island, and were exported to Europe by the Dutch through the port of Imari. Decorated in the Aka-e-machi, the enameling center in Arita, Imari wares are generally distinguished from those made in the Kakiemon style by the darker palette of enamel colors and densely patterned surfaces, some of which are clearly derived from Japanese and South-East Asian textiles and known in Japan as brocade ware (nishiki-de), but there are considerable variations within this broad outline. Unlike the Kakiemon style a high proportion of Japanese Imari wares combined underglaze blue painting with overglaze enamel colors.
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 fifth to seventh century CE. 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, at first in elite society, and then 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 1800s.
For a detailed account of the Imari style and its European imitators see Ayers, J., Impey, O., Mallet, J.V.G., 1990, Porcelain for Palaces: the fashion for Japan in Europe 1650-1750.
Rotondo-McCord, L., 1997, Imari: Japanese Porcelain for European Palaces: The Freda and Ralph Lupin Collection.
For two examples of full sets of flatware with Meissen handles in the Imari style and with Augsburg metalwork see Weber, J., 2013, Meissener Porzellane mit Dekoren nach ostasiatischen Vorbildern: Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloss Lustheim, Band II, S. 50-51.
For histories of the fork see
Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection, pp. 206-207.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1725-1730
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
polychrome enamels and gold (overall color)
Imari (overall style)
silver (overall material)
handle: 2 1/2 in; 6.35 cm
overall: 5/8 in x 8 1/8 in x 3/4 in; 1.5875 cm x 20.6375 cm x 1.905 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
collector/donor number
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
Domestic Furnishings
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Meissen Porcelain: The Hans Syz Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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