Perhaps the finest porcelain in history was produced in the factories of Dresden and nearby Meissen, Germany, from the early 18th century until World War II, when Allied carpet bombing destroyed the city's porcelain industry. The porcelain produced before the war in Dresden and Meissen can be identified by the blue marks on their bases, but care must be taken since many German manufacturers used similar marks.
Origins of Dresden Porcelain
The terms Dresden and Meissen are often used interchangeably to identify German porcelain produced in the Saxony region of southeast Germany, but the marks used on the bases are different. Dresden craftsmen used a blue crown mark, while Meissen porcelain factories used a stylised mark representing two crossed swords in blue. Meissen, which is still operating today, offers services to identify authentic Meissen pieces. One distinguishing feature is that the cobalt blue mark is always underneath the glaze. The crossed swords are used to honour the coat of arms of the industry's patron, Augustus II of Saxony, an admirer of Chinese porcelain. Augustus II supported the craftsmen in Meissen, who were searching for a technique to produce native hard-fired porcelain comparable to that of the Chinese. The technique was discovered in the early 1700s and perfected over the next two centuries.
Dresden and Meissen porcelain factories were also famous for using "Dresden lace" on their figurines, a process in which real lace was dipped in liquid porcelain and then attached to porcelain ball gowns or ballerinas. The result is an airy confection of frozen lace that is so fragile a touch can break it. For this reason, valuable pieces of Dresden porcelain should be protected under glass domes. Many lace pieces offered for sale have slight damage to the lace.
Dresden Porcelain Figurines
Dresden three-dimensional porcelain figurines produced at the height of the rococo revival in the late 19th century also can be distinguished by the craftsmanship and the elegance of the figures' expressions and attitudes. These Dresden figurines often portray aristocratic ladies and gentlemen engaged in the pursuits of the nobility, such as dancing or playing instruments. However, other pieces may portray more humble activities, such as a scene on the docks, or even stunningly lifelike individual birds and animals.
Dresden Porcelain Marks
Many craftsmen also worked in the city of Dresden in the 19th and 20th centuries in small shops where they often decorated figurines manufactured elsewhere. These Dresden craftsmen began to use the blue crown mark in various forms to identify their work in the second half of the 19th century. Dozens of famous craftsmen had small shops in the city by the 1930s. This small-scale industry disappeared virtually overnight after the Allied bombing in 1945. These craftsmen often used undecorated porcelain pieces, both tableware and figurines, from other factories, which they then decorated with their own designs and porcelain embellishments, such as shaped flowers or the famous Dresden lace. These craftsmen sometimes applied their marks over the glaze, even obscuring the mark of the original producer. However, these craftsmen usually used the cobalt blue crown in some form to indicate the Dresden origin of the piece.
Other German Porcelain Marks
Other areas of the 18th and 19th century German confederation used porcelain marks similar to those used in Meissen and Dresden. For example, the Thuringia town of Volkstedt had porcelain factories, some of which use a crown similar to that used in Dresden and others used crossed lines similar to the Meissen crossed swords. Take a questionable mark to an expert for identification.