A Guide To Collecting Antique German Pottery

Learn about the various types of antique German pottery, such as dolls, steins and figurines and what to look for when collecting them.

The Germans were the first Europeans to discover the Chinese secret for creating pottery. Until the 18th century, Europeans could only get porcelain by export from China and Japan. In 1710, the Germans began making hard-paste porcelain when Johann Freidrich Böttger, an alchemist, stumbled upon the discovery. Other German states, such as Berlin and Frankenthal, began producing porcelain by the mid-18th century.

Today, antique German pottery is known for its delicate style in many different forms. Some manufacturers specialized in porcelain dolls or steins, while some, like Meissen, created figurines, cup and saucer sets, bowls, snuffboxes and plates. Early Meissen items have an oriental theme because they were trying to copy the Chinese import pieces. In doing this, they inadvertently created the famous Meissen onion pattern. The onion was not actually onions, but blue and white replicas of the fruits and flowers the Meissen artists copied from the Chinese pieces. Because the Chinese fruits and flowers were foreign to them, the distorted results form an onion pattern. Meissen items are marked with crossed swords on the bottom of the porcelain; however forgeries always try to replicate that mark.

German porcelain dolls have always been a favorite of collectors. One of the more popular of doll makers in Germany was Heinrich Hanwerck. His fine featured dolls with almond eyes and bow mouths were made through the early 20th century. Hanwerck dolls had a sophisticated French look to them, despite being German made. Other famous German doll maker names include Heubach and Kestner. Heubach dolls appeared with cherub-like baby faces whereas the Kestner dolls usually had a wide-eyed, almost surprised look. A gray-eyed Kestner doll is more valuable than the typical blue or brown-eyed doll. Kestner was perhaps the only German doll manufacturer that not only produced the head, but the doll body as well. Often, a doll manufacturer made the head of the doll while the body parts were purchased elsewhere. Many times, body parts were replaced when broken over the years, while the head stayed intact. So it is possible to have a manufacturer mark on the head and not any other part of the body. Manufacturer marks are a sign of authenticity of any item. When purchasing antique dolls, clothing is also a consideration in value. If the doll has its original outfit, it will be worth much more.

Stein is short for Steinzeugkrug, the German word for jug or tankard. The Germans were the first to put lids on their steins to prevent germs during the Plague. During the early 18th century, only the wealth could afford to drink their beer from a porcelain stein. The Mettlach factory produced steins that had great detail. The etchings often show people dancing, riding horses or hunting. Heinrich Schlitt was a famous Mettlach artist known for his comedic themes on steins. Many steins will have their maker's mark on the bottom, but Diesinger steins made between the years of 1860 and 1910 will not. Some marks are incised and some are painted on. Most manufacturers have changed their stein marks through the years, so it is possible that that same brand can have different marks if they are many years apart in production.

German figurines vary from groups of figures to children to even Disney characters. One of the more well known figurine names is M.I. Hummel. Hummel's are small figures, usually depicting children in every day activities. The line is named after its original artist, Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel. Each Hummel item has a model number on the bottom of the figurine. Two more well-known German figurine manufacturers are Rosenthal and Dresden. In 1930, Rosenthal was commissioned by Walt Disney to create the Mickey Mouse figurine. In 1931, Minnie Mouse and six other figurines were created. Rosenthal has had several different marks through the years, but the since 1907, it has been the Rosenthal name signature with a crown in an X between the name Rosen and thal. The Dresden factory created a line of court figurines called Crinoline groups. These figurines show various scenes that occurred in court life, such as dancing. Dresden was also responsible for creating what is called Dresden lace. The lace was dipped in porcelain then hand placed on a figurine. Because a mere touch could ruin the lace, few of these figurines survived. Dresden items often have a blue crown on the bottom, although many confuse it with the Meissen swords mark.

Collecting German pottery can be fun and profitable. But, you must arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. Know all you can about the specific pieces for which you are looking. Be familiar with their marks and the signs of forgers often use. Keep in mind that defects, even small things such as a chip on a plate, can greatly reduce the items value. Do as much research as you can either through the library, collectors magazines, antique stores and appraisers or the Internet to insure you add great, authentic items to your collection.

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