German porcelain first emerged in the early 1700s as alchemists across the region raced to discover the process behind the wondrous objects that, until this time, had only been available by import from China. As unique porcelain producers became established, their distinctive makers’ marks allowed them to set themselves apart from each other. Now, they allow us to uncover the details of each piece and dive into the history of these unique objects.
As with most of Western Europe, porcelain had been imported from China until the early 17th century. Then, where France developed a soft-paste product, Germany produced a hard-paste porcelain that had kaolin as one of its key ingredients. The alchemist, Johann Friedrich Bottger, is often credited with the invention of the process of porcelain creation (developed on top of the work of the physicist, mathematician, physician and philosopher, Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus. Both men had originally been tasked with finding a recipe for gold by King Augustus II, but Bottger instead discovered what was needed to bring Europe into the porcelain market.
Incredibly, even though the beginning of the 19th century saw many of the original houses close down, some German porcelain makers from this time are still producing to this day.
For those collectors hunting for that special lot, the value of early pieces that have remained intact despite the changing shape of Germany over the past three centuries, are the items to keep an eagle eye out for. While Germany’s status as a set of states until the founding of the German Empire in 1871 means that identification of porcelain can prove tricky, their backstamps or porcelain marks can help us understand the history. The keys to each producer’s history and the impact 0f changing trends in the stamps by each manufacturer can be found in their porcelain marks.
Meissen (1710 – present)
Founded in 1710 and financed by King Augustus II, Meissen porcelain is not only one of the oldest names in German Porcelain production but is one of the few historic producers that is still operating to this day. The style of Meissen has changed with the tastes of each period and throughout its history, Meissen porcelain was produced in a range of styles including Baroque, Neoclassical and Rococo. However, consistent strong overglaze colours using a broad palette are a defining feature of much Meissen porcelain. Of particular note is their Blue Onion pieces that are inspired by many of the early Chinese porcelain designs but with its own unique take and has been in production for nearly three centuries.
Meissen porcelain marks
The earliest markings of Meissen were AR, representing the king, Augustus Rex.
This changed to two crossed swords around the year 1720 and was the consistent basis for the markings of Meissen porcelain from around 1730, following a royal decree. However, there have been a few minor deviations from the swords, including the use of “KPM” along with the swords, and during a period in the 18th century when there was little backstamp regulation.
Frankethal was established in 1755 by the Hannong family, who had previously produced Strasbourg faience. While it was one of the most short lived of the German porcelain producers, Frankenthal was defined by high quality dishware and figurines. The French influence is evident in their designs, but their elaborate figurines depicting allegorical scenes appears to have been a German Frankenthal speciality.
Frankenthal porcelain marks
Frankenthal porcelain marks changed significantly given the short life of manufacturer. Initially a “PH”, it had developed into a lion emblem by 1755. The most well recognised mark of Frankenthal is the crown with “CT” beneath it (for Charles Theodor, Prince-elector and Count Palatine of Bavaria, 1724-1799, who owned the factory at the time). Yet for the final few years Frankenthal was operating, the manufacturer was represented by the initials “VRF”. The frequency of changes is likely due to the numerous changes of director.
Königliche Porzellan Manufaktur, better known as KPM (1763 – present)
Established by W G Wegeley but bought out by Frederick the Great, Königliche Porzellan Manufaktur was established properly in 1763. The purchase by the king built on his predecessors aims to make Germany the centre for fine porcelain. It is also another of the few producers that is still producing German porcelain to this day. Similarly to Meissen, the styles of pieces followed the styles of the times. Fredericks taste for Rococo drove much of the work produced in the early days of KPM and many of the moulds still in use today are relatively unchanged.
KPM porcelain marks
A cobalt blue sceptre is the key mark of the KPM pieces and has been consistent throughout much of its history albeit in various forms within the stamp. The double glazing and firing makes the mark difficult to counterfeit. KPM was added in around 1837 and it is often accompanied by other marks in particular the imperial orb which differs in colour depending on the type of decor. You will also likely find the painter’s signature alongside these marks which makes each piece unique.
Villeroy and Boch (1836 – present)
Unlike many of the antique German porcelain makers, Villeroy & Boch was established much later, in 1836, and symbolized the union of two former rivals, Jean-François Boch and Nicolas Villeroy. Unlike its counterparts, Villeroy and Boch not only produced tableware and decorative pieces; it was, and still is, a manufacturer of tiles. It’s this diverse range that ensured the company’s longevity across Europe to this day. It also means that much of their earlier tableware is more scarce, and therefore more valuable.
The Villeroy and Boch pieces are relatively consistent in their use of either VB or the full name throughout their history. However, there is significant variety in the crests and emblems around the name or letters.
While the discovery of large deposits of kaolin in the region led to the production of German porcelain for the wider population in the 1800s, the earlier pieces still hold value and even rare pieces by more recent producers such as Hummel figurines produced by Goebel can command thousands of dollars.
In more recent history the addition of the ‘Made in Germany’ porcelain mark helps us with the identification of work produced by these German porcelain markers. Introduced by the British government in 1887 to reduce imports into the country, it in fact added value to much of the German work as it became known as a mark for quality porcelain. This rich history behind the wealth of antique German porcelain has carried through to the present day and adds depth to the value of these distinguished pieces.
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