01 January 2016

Expensive and princely travelling tea-coffee services: Meissen 1720s

Johann Friedrich Böttger was employed by Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and later King of Poland. Bottger worked hard at Dresden and Meissen where by 1709, he had produced the first European porcelain.

Tea, coffee and chocolate were expensive drinks back then, popularly drunk across Cultivated Europe from porcelain cups or bowls. It was easy to combine these cups with tea caddies, sugar bowls and rinsing bowls. When undertaking a journey, these objects became even more important. C18th aristocrats usually took to the road kitted out with services for the luxury beverages - coffee, tea and chocolate - in ­velvet or silk-lined leather cases. They could thus assure their wives that they would not have to do without the comforts they were used to enjoying at court.

Thus some of these luxurious ensembles were particularly magnificent and thus very suitable for use as ­diplomatic gifts of the kind frequently made by the Saxon-Polish court, given to to fellow monarchs and princes eg to the Danish King in 1716. As early as 1724/25, the Polish King and Saxon Elector Augustus the Strong com­missioned just such a travelling service for King Vittorio Amadeo II of Sardinia. A comparable Meissen service decorated with gilt hunting scenes, is recorded in a 1733 inventory of the Durlach Residence, seat of the Margraves of Baden-Durlach. It was not unknown for the donor royal to ask for gold and silver on the porcelain objects, perhaps decorated with diamonds and ivory figures.

Meissen travelling service
with chinoiserie figures

Robbig Munich described two of these travelling services in detail. The first service contained six drinking bowls with saucers and a coffee pot, teapot, rinsing bowl, tea caddy, sugar box and six silver spoons. The dark brown leather case, only 50 cm across, was lined inside with dark brown velvet with gold trimmings.

The coffee pot resembled a long slender pear, had a foliate scroll handle, a low curved beak spout and a stepped lid topped with a disk finial. The teapot resembled a short fat pear, had a C-handle with applied flowers, a curved tubular spout and a bell-shaped lid topped with a disk finial. The bulbous six-sided tea caddy with its short cylindrical neck and cap cover displayed a typically Böttger form which could be traced back to a silver model. As could the bombé-sided sugar box.

On the sugar box, teapot and coffee pot, both rim and cover bore silver-gilt mounts ornamented with a fine stylised foliate frieze. These mounts bear the Augsburg inspection mark for 1722–6, the hallmark of silversmith Elias Adam and the two marks of Meissen (K.P.M/Königliche Porzellan Manufaktur and the crossed swords).

Johann Gregorius Horoldt (1696-1775) was not the only artist working on porcelain, but once he began to work in the newly opened Meissen centre in 1720, it became possible to decorate the pieces with enamel colours. As Director of the painting workshop, Höroldt had developed a compendium of graphic sources in the form of chinoiserie figures by 1724/25. This volume is now in the Museum für Kunsthand­werk in Leipzig. The painted decoration on this 1724 travelling service clearly displayed great unity, based on Höroldt’s décor­ative scheme.

Meissen travelling service
peonies, chrysanthemums and asters on celadon

The second travelling service was also from Meissen c1737 and consisted of a pear-shaped coffee pot with domed cover, spherical teapot with flat cover and quatrefoil stand, six tea or coffee bowls with saucers, rectangular tea caddy, one broth bowl with a cover, sugar box, rinsing bowl and six silver spoons. 

The celadon glaze, familiar from Chinese porcelain, was chosen by Augustus the Strong for a large number of Meissen porcelain pieces. These were usually the ones intended for special presentation in his porcelain palace, the Japanese Palace in Dresden.

The flowers were in enamel colours that stand out radiantly against their white glaze ground - peonies, chrysanthemums and asters were inspired by décors on the porcelain pieces from Japan’s Kakiemon Sakaida manufactory that Augustus the Strong had loved. The fine gold lines surrounding the decorative surfaces, the gold mounts by the Augsburg goldsmith Elias Adam and the gilded coffee spoons gave this cased service a splendid, princely finish.

I would love to know how much the travelling services cost those royal patrons, back in the 1720s and 30s. Sotheby's argues that since early Meissen porcelain was so precious and expensive, these early travelling sets were rarely intended for normal use. Rather it seems sensible to assume that fearfully expensive cased travelling services were destined for princely display cabinets, where they were shown together with silver, ivories and other precious objects.

Röbbig Munich displays and sells gorgeous Meissen porcelain, as seen in both these travelling serv­ic­es. The objects stemmed from the days of the manufactory’s prime, mostly before 1750. And visitors can also see very rare porcelain wares from the Viennese manufactory set up by Claudius Innocentius Du Paquier, plus Germany’s Frankenthal, Fürstenberg, Höchst, Ludwigs­burg, Nymphenburg and KPM Berlin manufactories.

Visitors to Munich can also see the Nymphenburg Porcelain Factory; the Wittelsbachs’ Residenz Museum; the Lustheim Palace and the Bavarian National Museum.


Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, These traveling sets certainly are magnificent. I have seen a number of elaborate picnic and traveling sets of dishes that were apparently meant to be used, but am intrigued by the hypothesis that sets of this fine quality were more for show. On indicator would be the number of missing or worn pieces, and these sets do appear complete.

The Palace Museum in Taipei has a large number of elaborate boxed sets of various sorts, many of which look pristine after hundreds of years. further enhancing the idea of such objects as royal gifts or patronage.

Deb said...

Imagine being the recipient of such a princely gift. How would you replay the generosity?

Andrew said...

It seems for centuries people have put away and not used their best china. I really prefer the fist set. I know it is here somewhere but it must be two decades since I have seen our beautiful Turkish coffee set.

Hels said...


you mentioned the elaborate boxed sets containing various objects in the Palace Museum of Taipai. This is interesting to me because I had seen many very expensive boxed objects sent to royal and aristocratic families, even before I had heard of the _porcelain_ tea and coffee service. An absolutely stunning silver-gilt toilet service in a leather box made in London in 1777–78 for the Swedish royal family, for example.

Hels said...


Repaying generosity was easy, as long as the family had enough money and enough imagination to buy the very best. Imagine a royal family that wanted to display its power and wealth, and sent a couple of elephants or white bears to another royal family. Or perhaps a diamond and ruby encrusted tiara.

Hels said...


That is so true. Silver, gold and diamonds were just as valuable, but they were not fragile materials. Porcelain was also a valuable art form, AND it was utterly fragile. Imagine the family's valets lugging the heavy boxes around on horse-drawn carriages while the owner is having a constant heart attack about the porcelain being damaged.

By the way, on New Year's Eve I had afternoon tea at a Lebanese coffee place, served in the most beautiful and unusually shaped porcelain demitasse. Find that beautiful Turkish coffee set of yours!!

columnist said...

I tend to think that Sotheby's comment is correct - that these were made for display, otherwise it is doubtful they would have survived the rigours of travel in a coach without suspension.

My mother was presented with a set of gilded demitasses from Limoges when she launched a (very small) ship. She never used it as far as I know, but gave it to me, knowing my love of china. I have used them about two times in the fifteen year period I have owned them. Still in the original box.

I am now at a stage in my life when all these treasures should be used; I must now move away from the "custodian" concept, which in practice means one never uses items in case they are damaged.

Hels said...


I do that with silver art as well. My passion was for silver objects made by Huguenot goldsmiths in Britain (after the expulsion from France) or by British goldsmiths who were forced to copy the Huguenots in order to appeal to local aristocratic patronage. I have never used a single silver art object for the reason you mention (in case they are damaged), but also for security. The objects are locked up in a vault!

I also think this custodian concept has reached the end of its useful life.