We have all heard of the stone age and the bronze age, but such a thing as the “porcelain age” is something that is not always recognized. It is much more recent to the Western world than would be suspected. Porcelain: your grandma’s figurines, dolls, mugs, dishes, jewelry, tiles, and yes, toilets. The Western world cannot imagine life without porcelain, and the history behind its formula is one for the books. As with many things, the drive to create porcelain came out of an anger, a frustration, and a need to save money.
Necessity is the mother of invention, or, rather, in porcelain’s case, “Class is the mother of invention.” Since the 1200s, Europeans of great wealth and position were the only ones who owned porcelain. This was because Europe had no idea how porcelain was made, but China did – China knew exactly how to make the precious material, and used this knowledge and skillset as an opportunity to generate wealth. Thus, the expense to import porcelain from China was great. High class Europeans found themselves able to put up with this great cost for an overwhelming 500 years before they decided to try their hand at cracking the porcelain code for themselves.
Augustus “The Strong,” the King of Poland in the early 1700s, was the man who decided to put an end to the skyrocketing porcelain prices. He gathered together a group of men skilled in smelting (separating a metal from ore) and mining. These men were led by the famed Johann Friedrich Böttger, who, in 1708, would put Meissen, Germany on the map as the birthplace of Europe’s initial white porcelain. A mere two years later, one of the Western world’s most famed porcelain companies was open for business – the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory.
At MIR Appraisal Services, it is our keen interest to understand porcelain, as we have many Meissen pieces to study. So what exactly did Böttger discover? What was the “recipe” for this much-desired product? It turns out, porcelain has three main components: flint (or feldspar), clay, and silica. Porcelain revolutionized Europe, and eventually America, and is commonly used to this day, and it is certainly not disappearing in the near future. Why? Porcelain is more durable than pottery, is able to have a smooth texture with color added to it, and can easily be scrubbed clean. Porcelain is used for essentials, such as toilets and sinks. If we need a crown or cap at the dentist, porcelain is to thank for our treatment. As for our beloved mobile devices, porcelain resists conductivity, and as a result, is a great insulation material for electronics. Porcelain is even residing in the vary places we live – roof, kitchen, and floor tiles, and surfaces such as shelving units.
Famously known for their porcelain figurines, the original Meissen Porcelain Manufactory is still in business today, making detailed and delicate pieces of all shapes and sizes. The same convenience and easier lifestyle porcelain brought to 18th century Europe brings the same aesthetic pleasure to 21st century America.
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