Meissen porcelain, featured with the mark of the blue crossed swords, is famous for its highest quality, the best craftsmanship, and of course the ever-popular Blue Onion design. Because of the rarity and popularity of the antique porcelain, the price soars dramatically in recent years. The price of new products is very high due to the traditional production method.
The porcelain workshop tour takes place on the Meissen factory premise. Since Meissen was on my Dresden trip itinerary, I combined the tour with Meissen city trip.
A brief history of Meissen porcelain
Being the first European porcelain, Meissen Porcelain was developed in early 1800 by Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus. Supported by Augustus the Strong, Europe’s first porcelain manufactory started production in the Alberechtburg Castle.
Johann Friedrich Böttger, the successor of von Tschirnhaus, managed to produce a refined and extremely hard red stoneware. After many experiments, Böttger quickly reached good quality. A few years later, Johann Gregorius Höroldt introduced overglaze painting technique. The signature underglaze “Meissen Blue” was also introduced by Friedrich August Köttig. It was until 1740 the German flowers replaced the Asian decorative style. Since then, the famous Blue Onion design came to the market and became the bestseller style.
Despite World War II, production could be maintained until April 1945. On August 1st, 1946, a Soviet company took over the factory. But on 1st, July 1950, Soviet returned the possession. Since June 26, 1991, the factory has become the State Porcelain Manufactory Meissen GmbH, whose sole shareholder is the Free State of Saxony.
The crossed swords mark of the Meissen Porcelain
In the early period, the sign AR, Augustus Rex, referring to the Saxon Elector Friedrich August I, was frequently seen on the products.
Later, the blue crossed swords marked the breakthrough. In addition to the blue crossed swords, handwritten characters were also common, such as K.P.M. (Royal Porcelain Manufactory). However, based on a written order from the electoral court in Dresden in 1731, the sword mark gained popularity.
The mark of crossed swords represents Meissen Porcelain. But initially, the swords looked very different. The manufacturer made subtle changes to the mark over the years. The registration of the trademarks “Böttgersteinzeug” and “Meissner Porzellan” took place in 1919 and 1985.
The imitation of the trademark usually has a vaguely similar mark. However, the density and weight of the porcelain matter as well because they represent the quality.
Experience the Meissen Workshop Tour
The workshop tour demonstrated how the famous Meissen porcelain takes shape in front of our eyes. In the first room, the potter showed how round-piece porcelain took shape on the spinning wheels under his fingers. All Meissen plates, cups, and vases are still thrown by hand today. The porcelain paste is turned until it is formed to the appropriate shape and gently pressed into a plaster mould.
The embosser in the next room showed us how to turn a large component into a figurine or statue. Smaller decorative elements such as leaves, flowers, and scallops are formed by hand using a wooden mould and then attached to the figurine.
After the first firing, the porcelain is hard enough to apply underglaze painting. In the third room, the painter applied the cobalt blue colour to a plate. The glaze and all underglaze paints are made in-house at the Meissen manufactory.
In the last room, an artisan demonstrated the on-glaze painting. Colours were applied by hand to the glaze of the porcelain. She mixed the coloured powder with turpentine to create the paint, and then applied it to the porcelain. The artisan must have expert skills to paint the motifs. Otherwise, one small error will result in a useless porcelain piece.
Admire the Museum of the Meissen Porcelain Foundation
Built in 1916 in the style of a Neoclassical banquet hall, the porcelain museum presents the 300 years of porcelain history. From 1710 to the present arranged chronologically, the permanent exhibition contains a variety of porcelain collection pieces. The display includes porcelains made in different years with different materials and techniques.
Some of the porcelain pieces on display are remarkable, such as the porcelain pipes. In 1950, the porcelain designer Ludwig Zepner discovered in the loft of the manufactory some relics of dismissed experiments from Kaendler in 1730 and Boemer in 1920. Both tried to build porcelain pipes. After a serial of challenging experiments, Zepner developed techniques to prevent any deformation of the pipes. Thus, he created a unique invention worldwide.
On one wall, I discovered the globally unique scope of Meissen’s overglaze colour palette, the Meissen’s myriad colours. QR codes on many displays offer visitors additional information on historical backgrounds, and all information is available in English as well. Meanwhile, children are invited to explore the museum on a treasure hunt rally. The prize is a small round piece of porcelain marked with the authentic crossed swords, a nice souvenir for the kids.
Saxon Statue of Liberty (Die Sächisische Freiheisstatue)
In front of the museum, the Saxon Statue of Liberty is on display. Created on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of German reunification, it is the largest freestanding porcelain sculpture in the world currently. Titled Saxonia, a life-size elegant female is in a dress made from 8,000 single handmade Meissen porcelain blossoms. The sculpture bears witness to the craftsmanship and artistry of the porcelain production at Meissen.
Recent art from the middle east
The temporary exhibition was the recent arts from the middle east. It demonstrates the porcelain style between modernity and tradition. Interest in the art from the middle east and Iran has been steadily growing in recent years.
Other important porcelain museums
Two places outside the factory also display some important pieces. The most important collection of historic Meissen porcelain is in the southern arcade galleries of the Dresden Zwinger. With more than 1,400 objects, the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam houses the most important collection of Meissen porcelain outside of Germany.
Seek Meissen Boutique in the Outlet
There is also a Meissen porcelain outlet on site. Tablewares, cups, single figurines, etc. are available. The prices are quite cheap. The latest porcelain products are available in the shop next to the outlet. The prices of those products are much higher.
Relax at the Restaurant & Café
Still cannot afford the noble porcelain? Then take a snack at the Cafe and enjoy your snack served in Meissen porcelains. After hours of admiring the porcelain pieces, I was hungry and thirsty. So I and bought a piece of cake and a plate of salad served in Meissen porcelain. The Meissen Torte (cake in English) features Meissen’s signature Crossed Swords.
The menu changes monthly and features the Mediterranean style of dishes, traditional Saxon cuisine, and specialties from the region such as Meißner Winzerschinken, a type of ham cured in local wines and then air-dried. Wines grew in the hills of the Elbe Valley in Saxony, as well as local beers are also available.
My tips and recommendations
The tour is very popular. I had to wait for an hour. Visitors cannot carry big bags, such as rucksacks inside the factory premise. There is a place for visitors to deposit the bags. The tour includes an audio-guided tour through the demonstration workshops available in 14 languages, and a single visit of the Museum of the Meissen Porcelain Foundation. You can secure your ticket to the Meissen Porcelain Factory online.
The factory is not far from the Albrechtburg Castle, which was the manufactory of the Meissen porcelain for 173 years. It is worth a visit as well. The tour Elbe river cruise to Meissen from Dresden combines the castle visit, Meissen city visit and the porcelain factory or citiy museum before returning to Dresden.
How to get there
The place is open year around except the Christmas holiday season.But it is suggested to check the official website for the actual daily opening time.
Staatliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Meissen GmbH
Erlebniswelt HAUS MEISSEN®
At Talstraße 10, 200 metres from the main entrance, the Meißner Stadtwerke offers paid parking.
S-Bahn (S1) from the Meissen Altstadt goes directly to the factory. It is only one stop. From the S-Bahn exit, it is around 600 meters to the factory.
From the Meissen Altstadt, it is about 2 km and takes around 23 minutes to walk to the factory.