Meissen red stoneware coffeepot

Meissen red stoneware coffeepot

Usage conditions apply
PURCHASED FROM: Hans E. Backer, London, 1947.
This coffeepot 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 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.
The coffeepot was made in red stoneware, a very hard and dense type of ceramic similar in appearance to the Chinese Yixing ceramics which inspired their imitation at Meissen. The serpent’s head, part of the spout and the finial on the cover are later pewter restorations. Red stoneware, enriched with iron oxides, preceded porcelain in the Dresden laboratory where physicist, mathematician, and philosopher, Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus (1651-1708) and alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger (1682-1719) experimented with raw materials fused by solar energy amplified through a burning glass. Success in red stoneware was an important step towards development of white porcelain.
The quadrangular pear-shaped pot, adapted from contemporary silverware, was probably designed by the Dresden court goldsmith Johann Jakob Irminger (1635-1724). The spout emerging from a fish’s mouth and the foliate bridge from pot to spout follow Chinese conventions in the making of tea and wine pots. The handle on the pot follows European conventions in baroque style making this piece a hybrid of far eastern and European styles. Thirty-five of these pots were recorded in the 1770 inventory of the royal collection in the Japanese Palace.
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 accessible 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 less expensive 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 sold, was a major center for trade and commerce with several coffee houses of cultural and commercial importance to the city.
On Yixing stonewares see Lo, K.S., 1986, The Stonewares of Yixing from the Ming Period to the Present Day.
On coffee see The World of Caffeine:The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug, and on coffee houses see Ellis, M., 2011, The Coffee House: A Cultural History.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 16-17.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
monochrome, rust (overall surface decoration color name)
ceramic, stoneware, refined (overall material)
metal (overall material)
overall: 7 7/8 in; 20.0025 cm
ID Number
catalog number
collector/donor number
accession number
Credit Line
Hans C. Syz Collection
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
Domestic Furnishings
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Nominate this object for photography.   

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.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.


Add a comment about this object