Meissen Porcelain: History, Patterns & Price Guide

Meissen, The "Half-Figure Service" (detail), circa 1723-24. Sold for £541,250 via Bonhams (December 2012).

When a tiny yet tasteful tea service turned up at a Bonhams London auction in late 2012, porcelain collectors took notice. The excitement over that diminutive set – minus its teapot, no less – was owed to its rarity and maker: Meissen porcelain, the gold standard of porcelain producers that possesses a legacy stretching back hundreds of years. Thanks to Meissen’s rich heritage, the tea service that appeared in 2012 caused a fervor among devoted collectors. Known as the “Half-Figure Service,” it was crafted in the 1720s and featured central cartouches of imaginative decoration surrounded by colorful scroll work. At the final gavel, this service sold for a whopping £541,250 ($760,223).

A Brief History of Meissen Porcelain

The story of Meissen porcelain began in 1708, when Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus developed his own method for making hard-paste porcelain in his castle workshop in Meissen, Germany. An innovative addition to the European ceramics market, hard-paste porcelain is typically blended from kaolin and petuntse to allow for a purer white finish after firing. The technique, which originated from Asia, made for an even better substrate for richly painted and gilded decorations. Its introduction in Europe changed the market for elegant ceramic services, and Meissen was primed to lead the charge.

Johann Friedrich Böttger, Tschirnhaus’ early collaborator and eventual successor, began producing their “white gold” hard-paste wares in 1710. By the following decade, the Meissen trademark was a renowned symbol of exceptional production. When Böttger died in 1719, King Augustus II of Poland, who had been an early patron of the company, introduced a group of managing directors to inspire new designs and developments. This allowed Meissen to stay consistent in its remarkable quality of craftsmanship while changing its motifs for contemporary tastes. The rise of Sèvres‘ neoclassical themes in the late 18th century led Meissen’s makers to respond with similar designs.

A blend of quality and design fueled Meissen’s popularity throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although war efforts resulted in changes in management and production, the Meissen brand continued to be associated with high quality. From the iconic Scwhanenservice (Swan Service) designed for the company’s director in the late 1730s to the chocolate pot gifted to Queen Elizabeth II at the time of her wedding, Meissen porcelain has proven to be a perennial favorite.

Antique Meissen has grown exponentially in price in recent years, but collectors who have a keen eye for the beauty and craftsmanship of Meissen wares can still search out a relative bargain. Read on to see some examples from the most popular Meissen collecting categories.

Meissen Swan Service

Considered one of the most spectacular porcelain dinner services ever created, the Meissen “Swan Service” was conjured by designer Johann Joachim Kändler for Count Heinrich von Brühl, who became the director of Meissen in 1739. The full service was created between 1737 and 1742 and included more than 2,000 pieces. It featured motifs from nature inset into the profile of a scalloped shell rendered in low relief. This flora and fauna, which fittingly included images of swans, was developed in part to play on the Count’s name: “brühl” translates roughly to “marshland.” The service was partially lost in World War II, and the remaining pieces divided and channeled into various collections. Quality pieces from this historic service are considered museum quality, making those that appear at public auction all the more valuable.

Image 1: A Meissen Porcelain Armorial Tureen and Cover from the ‘Swan Service’
Christie’s New York, New York (20 May 2014)
Estimated Price: $80,000-$120,000
Realized Price: $149,000

Image 2: A Meissen large oval tray from the Swan Service
Bonhams London, United Kingdom (18 June 2014)
Estimated Price: not provided
Realized Price: £64,900

Image 3: A Meissen Two-Handled Oval Dish from the ‘Swan Service’
Christie’s London, United Kingdom (12 May 2010)
Estimated Price: £15,000-£25,000
Realized Price: £55,250

Image 4: A Very Rare Meissen Gilt-Metal-Mounted Mustard Post Cover from the Swan Service, circa 1739
Bonhams London, United Kingdom (12 June 2015)
Estimated Price: not provided
Realized Price: £8,125

Meissen Blue Onion

The Meissen “Blue Onion,” or Zwiebelmuster, pattern was first produced in the early  1740s and was modeled after the imported blue and white porcelain produced in China. A close look at pieces from this line reveal that no onions actually appear in the design. Rather, to give the pattern its own Saxon style, Meissen’s designers refined the cobalt blue decorative motifs to include flora more characteristic of the European landscape, such as peony and aster blooms. Despite this misnomer, Meissen’s Blue Onion pattern rapidly became one of its most popular and copied. Even the famed Wedgwood studios launched their own variation, aptly called “Meissen,” in the late 19th century.

Image 5: An Extensive Meissen ‘Onion Pattern’ Composite Part Table-Service 20th Century
Christie’s London, United Kingdom (12 April 2017)
Estimated Price: £5,000-£8,000
Realized Price: £27,500

Image 6: An Extensive Assembled Meissen Porcelain Dinnerware Service
Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Chicago (30 April 2012)
Estimated Price: $10,000-$20,000
Realized Price: $19,520

Image 7:  Assembled Group of Meissen ‘Blue Onion” Pattern Porcelain Dinnerwares
Freeman’s, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (7 October 2010)
Estimated Price: $800-$1,200
Realized Price: $11,875

Image 8:  Extensive Meissen Blue Onion Pattern Porcelain DInner Service, Germany, c. 1900
Skinner, Boston, Massachusetts (5 April 2014)
Estimated Price: $7,000-$9,000
Realized Price: $10,455

Meissen Figurines

Meissen figurines were one of the earliest creations in the history of the Meissen brand. They were first developed by sculptor Johann Jakob Kirchner but made popular during the tenure of Johann Joachim Kändler in the 1730s. Kändler would go on to be recognized as one of the most influential Meissen designers. His figurines, rendered in myriad styles and various colors, became one of the most iconic creations of the brand.

Image 9: A Meissen Group of Harlequin and Columbine circa 1740
Christie’s London, United Kingdom (2 June 2015)
Estimated Price: £20,000-£30,000
Realized Price: £146,500

Image 10: Pr Meissen Groupings of Neptune and Amphitrite
William Bunch Auctions & Appraisals, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania (20 September 2016)
Estimated Price: $20,000-$40,000
Realized Price: $43,000

Image 11: A Meissen Pagoda Figure
Lempertz, Cologne, Germany (10 May 2013)
Estimated Price: €19,000-€22,800
Realized Price: €24,400

Image 12: Fine and Rare Count Brühl Tailor
Cottone Auctions, Geneseo, New York (24 September 2016)
Estimated Price: $8,000-$12,000
Realized Price: $14,950

Meissen Vases, Urns, and Covered Vessels

Meissen added vases and urns to their repertoire in the early years of the company. In these forms collectors can find the best showcase of the brand’s innovative spirit. From Neoclassical precision to the creativity of the Schneeballen (“Snowball”) design (originally introduced by Kändler in 1739 and further elaborated in the 19th century) these vessels showcase both the dynamic of Meissen’s porcelain pieces and also the exquisite taste of the individual whose collections they grace.

Image 13: A Meissen Silver-Gilt-Mounted Chinoiserie Tankard and Cover circa 1725
Christie’s London, United Kingdom (25 November 2014)
Estimated Price: £50,000-£80,000
Realized Price: £206,500

Image 14: Pair of Monumental Meissen Armorial Covered Urns
Cottone Auctions, Geneseo, New York (5 October 2013)
Estimated Price: $10,000-$15,000
Realized Price: $175,000

Image 15: A Pair of Meissen Porcelain Covered Urns
Leslie Hindman, Chicago, Illinois (28 April 2014)
Estimated Price: $20,000-$40,000
Realized Price: $68,500

Image 16: Monumental Pair of Meissen Potpourri Urns
New Orleans Auction Galleries, New Orleans, Louisiana (20 May 2017)
Estimated Price: $5,000-$8,000
Realized Price: $50,000

Image 17: Pair of Meissen ‘Schneeballen’ Covered Urns
Weschler’s, Rockville, Maryland (18 March 2016)
Estimated Price: $10,000-$15,000
Realized Price: $38,000

Meissen Candelabra

An artful blend of aesthetic and functionality, Meissen candelabra sets pair the outstanding quality of their traditional painted porcelain with opulent gilded or ormolu mounts. Given the number of imitators of Meissen’s designs, collectors who wish to guarantee the authenticity of such candelabra need to look for the indelible Meissen makers mark of the two blue crossed swords.

Image 18: Fine Pair of Gilt-Bronze Mounted Meissen Porcelain Swan Candelabra, 18th century
Joseph DuMouchelle, Birmingham, Michigan (7 December 2008)
Estimated Price: $30,000-$50,000
Realized Price: $57,000

Image 19: Two Meissen Figures Mounted on Ormolu Candelabra Bases
Christie’s London, United Kingdom (17 November 2009)
Estimated Price: £8,000-£10,000
Realized Price: £21,250

Image 20: Meissen Figural Clock and Matching Candelabra
Kaminski Auctions, Beverly, Massachusetts (28 September 2014)
Estimated Price: $6,000-$10,000
Realized Price: $25,000

Image 21: Important Pair of Meissen Candelabras with Chinese Boys, 1750s
Auctionata Paddle8, Berlin, Germany (9 August 2013)
Estimated Price: €11,200-€14,000
Realized Price: €15,000

As these collecting categories showcase, Meissen’s exceptional quality and intricate craftsmanship endured throughout the various phases and styles of the centuries-old company. Thanks to this commitment to quality, antique Meissen pieces are as striking today as when they originally debuted, and those examples that remain in pristine condition are truly to be treasured. Accordingly, prices for these rare and remarkable pieces are sure to keep climbing; however, investing in Meissen means becoming part of a decorative art history that extends from the tables of royalty to today’s hallowed museum halls.

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