PURCHASED FROM: Hans E. Backer, London, England, 1947.
This teapot 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 in the 1720s and carry his name.
The teapot is of a conventional shape familiar to us and one of several versions with variations in the handle and applied decoration (compare ID number CE*68.174 a,b). The teapot is unusual in its decoration however, with a single rose in relief applied on both sides. The metal finial on the cover of the teapot is a nineteenth-century restoration.
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. For the growing numbers of people who could afford to purchase tea and coffee, but not the costly vessels for storage, preparation and the drinking of these beverages, less expensive versions of equipage became available made in earthenware pottery in imitation of Chinese blue and white porcelain, the so-called Delftwares or tin-glaze pottery, and also the tea bowls and saucers imported from China through the European East India Companies. By the middle of the eighteenth century European pottery and porcelain manufacturers provided consumers with less costly choices for the polite social practice of drinking tea and coffee.
At the time this teapot was made Meissen had not yet developed durable enamel colors to ornament on white porcelain.
On the introduction of tea, coffee, and chocolate to Europe see Ukers, W.H.,1922,1935, All About Coffee and All About Tea; Weinberg, B.A., Bealer, B.K., 2002, The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug; Bowman, P.B., 1995, In Praise of Hot Liquors: The Study of Chocolate, Coffee and Tea-drinking 1600-1850. Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 44-45.