Meissen and European Porcelain
As Europe’s first porcelain manufactory, Meissen is also often considered to be the finest and continues to be highly collectable today. Before Meissen unlocked the secret to producing porcelain in 1708, huge quantities were regularly arriving at the ports of Europe from China to satiate the fascination the nobility had with this sublime material. The formula for Meissen porcelain was closely guarded, but once it escaped, a plethora of manufactories sprung up in Germany, Austria and France during the mid-eighteenth century. Nonetheless, it was Meissen that continued to be the most innovative and sought after by royal courts and the aristocracy; it was called ‘white gold’, due to its huge expense to purchase.
With such an extensive history, selecting the right pieces can be overwhelming. First and foremost, always go for what appeals. To help decide, visit museum collections and dealers specialising in different periods and styles of Meissen. Handle pieces as much as possible as this will really help with deciding what feels right. Choose from the many good reference books with illustrations, a history of the factory up to modern day, the key modellers, the most recognisable models and patterns, and so on.
Concentrate on a Period
Whilst at the forefront, there are certain periods where Meissen really excelled. Pieces from the first four decades of its production attract those who want to build a collection of the earliest examples or modelled by Kaendler, Eberlein and Reinicke, names which are synonymous with Meissen, and where the modelling and colouring were cruder and more honest. In the second half of the nineteenth century, under the direction of Leuteritz, models were reworked and finessed, many new ones were added to the inventory and the enamels for decorating were softened for a more subtle and brighter look; Meissen had returned to its former opulence and popularity. In the early twentieth century, Meissen pioneered the Art Nouveau look in models with strong designs and new decorating techniques, which continued into the Art Deco period. Pieces from these periods are still extremely popular today, as they work well with modern interiors.
Look for Quality
Always look for crispness in the modelling, brightness in both the enamel decoration and glaze, and the condition of the piece. Almost every piece of Meissen produced over the last 250 years will carry the famous ‘blue crossed swords’ mark of Meissen, which will also give a clue of its quality; a score through the mark denotes a piece of secondary quality and may have been decorated outside the factory.
Budget and Buying
Be realistic about what a good piece of Meissen will cost and always buy the best you can afford. Be prepared to have to pay more for rarer, more intricate and more desirable examples. Buying from a reputable, specialist dealer will go a long way in helping with this checklist. It will also help with building an informed and coherent collection that can be enjoyed by generations to come.