Meissen red stoneware tea caddy

Meissen red stoneware tea caddy

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PURCHASED FROM: Hans E. Backer, London, England, 1947.
This tea caddy 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 tea caddy (the cover is missing) 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. 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 molded relief decoration on this hexagonal red-brown stoneware tea caddy in Far Eastern style is of birds perched in, or flying around, flowering trees. The frames that border the panels have a decorative design incised by hand with a tool cut for the purpose. The same model was produced in Böttger porcelain, but it is smaller in size due to greater shrinkage in the white porcelain body (ID number 1979.0120.01 a,b).
Japanese prototypes influenced the hexagonal form of this caddy and the Meissen Manufactory produced several models of these baluster-shaped tea caddies during the early Böttger period. Sources for the motifs on this group of objects came from prints and pattern books like Paul Decker’s (1677-1713) Muster für Lackierer and the 1688 publication by John Stalker and George Parker A Treatise for Japanning and Varnishing.
Tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar were luxury products for early eighteenth-century consumers, and the equipage for these hot beverages, made in silver and new ceramic materials like Meissen’s red stoneware and porcelain, was affordable only to the elite of European society. Less expensive versions for storing these products were made from various kinds of wood, tin, and earthenware pottery in imitation of Chinese porcelain.
On red stoneware see Pietsch, U., 2-11, Early Meissen Porcelain: The Wark Collection at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, pp.15-19.
On Yixing stonewares see Lo, K.S. 1986, The Stonewares of Yixing from the Ming Period to the Present Day; Fang Lili, 2011, Chinese Ceramics, Cambridge University Press, p. 115 Zisha-the Taste of Tea.
On the European exposure to Far Eastern porcelains see Emerson, J., Chen, J., Gardner Gates, M., 2000, Porcelain Stories: From China to Europe.
On the introduciton of tea see Ukers, W. H., 1935, All About Tea.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 18-19.
Currently not on view
Object Name
caddy, tea
date made
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
monochrome, rust (overall surface decoration color name)
ceramic, stoneware, refined (overall material)
overall: 5 in; 12.7 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
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