We recently brought into the shop to sell a rather wonderful collection of Meissen from the estate of a local collector. Her taste was impeccable as you will see in the following photos and discussion–and I almost made the same error she made! I was so intrigued and entranced by the rare form of the covered vegetable dishes, their 18th century date and their lovely decoration (some hiding little firing flaws) that I failed to consider the implication of the dry, unglazed bottoms. One does see such bottoms, but not really on table pieces. So it was time for a more careful look and a careful comparison among the pieces of the collection.
These are attention grabbers! From the finials of children scattering fruits down the covers to the Rococo-Neo-classical Transitional molded form to the sense that they float above the table–these are clearly great objects before one ever turns them over to look for markings. Add to that some sensational gilding and your heart is pounding when you walk into an estate setting and first see these pieces, as I did a few weeks ago. They scream major German factory.
With the covers off several aspects become important. The design is laid out asymmetrically–a hallmark of mid 18th century Rococo design and not associated with either classicism or Rococo Revival in the 19th century. Also there are minor firing flaws associated with early work, not with 19th and 20th century firings. Several little bugs and florets hide flaws–another 18th century characteristic. At this point I really really liked what I saw!
The softness of the glaze and decoration give sweet life to the finely molded children–typical of the 18th century there is no harshness in the sensitive rendering of these children. They are exquisitely detailed but not minutely painted in the manner of 19th and 20th century Meissen, KPM, Hoechst and other great German factories. (oe substitutes for the umlaut–sorry)
Time to turn them over and learn more–such as what great factory made them.
The mark which should be blue underglaze is correct for 1750-1775 (transitional period of Rococo to Neo-classical—crossed swords with a dot). The incised marks are also correct. What is very wrong is the lack of glaze across most of the base! While figures may be unglazed underneath, table pieces simply are not unglazed. WHY are these unglazed? And more to the point, they look like glaze has been scraped away!
So one begins to re-examine everything about these pieces. Is the decoration–especially the floral decoration–really good enough to be Meissen factory work? Unless one handles thousands of Meissen pieces and thinks daily about Meissen porcelain then the surest path to a solution is a comparison. Look at another piece from the same period and same factory and compare them. In this instance one was at hand from the very same collection.
It quickly becomes apparent that the floral decoration of this 18th century Meissen bowl is vastly superior to the vegetable dish decoration–and this decoration also hides minor firing flaws, that nifty technique that allowed many slightly defective pieces to be decorated and sold by the factory rather than losing the investment put into each piece by all 18th century factories. So we have a solid comparison–and we bring the puzzle into greater clarity. Spend a few minutes going back and forth between these flowers and the ones on the vegetable dishes; these bugs and those bugs. The flowers and bugs on this bowl are richly rendered with great depth–those on the vegetables are far less rich, far less lively.
These vegetable dishes originally had cancel marks–the unique method used by the Meissen factory’s quality control inspectors to indicate they found one or more serious flaws: a scratch was made over the blue swords that cut through the glaze and could never be hidden. One or two cancellation marks and the piece might still make it through the factory fully decorated–more and the piece would be sold blank to a small factory to decorate and sell, a profitable situation for both the great Meissen company and the little decorating shops. The only way to hide cancel marks is to remove all of the glaze–and this is just what was done to these pieces.
Curious additional questions arise. The faces of those children are truly reflective of 18th century Meissen work. Could it be these were finally “cancelled out” of the factory at a later inspection–after decorating had begun? The inspectors were constantly vigilant and pieces were inspected and reinspected at every stage of the production process. We will never know the full story of these pieces, but the speculation is great fun! What we can, I believe, state certainly is that the floral decoration is not original, not from the Meissen factory. They were probably decorated by an outside decorating shop shortly after they were made–the decoration is 18th century, just not Meissen decoration.
This collection has a variety of pieces, in form, decoration and age–I want to share them with you.
Let’s begin with the exquisite bowl used above for the comparison of floral decoration. The outside is equally beautiful.
The exterior of this 18th century bowl is exquisitely molded with a basket effect entwining the rococo reserves all accented with fine gilding. The reserves, so delicately proportioned, are painted to the same exacting standard as the center of the bowl–lush and rich and deep. And again let me remind you that several of the little bugs are disguising minor flaws caused by bits of ash floating through the firing kiln–no clean burning gas in the 18th century!
The base is wonderful as under it’s glazed finish we see both the mark of the late 18th century and the many granular flaws and creaminess associated with this early era.
No scraped away glaze here–this was very definitely made, painted and gilded in the Meissen factory by the greatest artisans of 18th century Germany.
Also in the collection are a charming pair of little highly molded and gloriously painted oval dishes. Only 6.25″ wide they have the mark of 1814 to 1860 but are almost certainly models created in the 18th century and still popular in this period of the Rococo Revival at its peak from 1835 to 1865–exactly the era of the mark. We always want to find a congruence of marks and style as we understand the evolution of style throughout the ages, thus a c. 1850 dating of these dishes would be totally appropriate (the other Meissen dating protocol would be to simply list the span of use of the mark).
The Meissen mark on these dishes:
Notice a major difference now–the glaze is even more glistening, purer white, and above all flawless–no bits of flotsam landing on these pieces during the firings!
Finally from this collection a pair of scallop form dishes!
Typical of much porcelain, this form is most often thought of as a silver form–used both for butter and for, in silver, baking seafood in butter–uhm uhm good! I personally love this form because I love the beach memories it evokes. Every antique speaks its own story to each of us based on the experiences and memories we bring to the piece. These do show a bit of rubbing on the high ridges of the molded shell–otherwise they are simply exquisite. These were also made between 1814 and 1860 and again the form was created first–and likely these very molds were created–in the 18th century.
It is fun to note that those delightful little bugs are still around–but now they are not hiding flaws, just providing another element of delight.
The mark is again clear underglaze blue, the bottoms shiny and flawless:
All of these pieces are currently available to touch, examine–even purchase–in our shop. Come in and delight in them! The prices are: $1,800.00 for the covered vegetable dishes; $1,200 for the bowl; $245.00 the pair of oval dishes; and $285.00 for the scallop dishes.