The Chinese discovered kaolin clay and figured out how to shape and fire it into porcelain by the 8th century, but they guarded the secrets of making fine china from the West. As a result, Europeans fumbled around for centuries making soft-paste or “artificial” porcelain out of white clay, crystalline quartz, and sand. It wasn’t until the early 18th century that kaolin was discovered in Germany outside Colditz and Aue, and European potteries set about experimenting with making their own true hard-paste porcelain dinnerware.

Following in the footsteps of German potteries like Meissen, Danish chemist Franz Henrich Mueller founded the Royal Copenhagen porcelain factory in 1775 under the protection of Queen Juliane Marie. The company adopted three waved lines—which represent Denmark’s three straits, Øresund, Store Bælt and Lille Bælt—as its trademark.

Royal Copenhagen struggled financially as it experimented with porcelain making until the absolute monarch King Christian VII took over the company in 1779 to guarantee its survival. Most of the porcelain at the time was painted with cobalt blue, as that was the only underglaze color that could tolerate the 1400-degree Celsius firing.

The first dinnerware pattern produced by Royal Copenhagen in 1775 was called Blue Fluted, which is still produced and hand-painted today. It features a floral pattern similar to those of Chinese porcelain sets, but it eventually became a pattern synonymous with Danish porcelain. Another 1770s pattern known as the Bird Service was produced for the Queen. In 1779, the Blue Flower pattern debuted, flaunting a more distinctive European style, with naturalistic flowers.

It wasn’t long before porcelain dinnerware became a status symbol among the royal family and other aristocrats, who would commission coffee and tea services, as well as enormous detailed vases, for prices that would be the equivalent of millions today. The royals gave them as gifts to enhance their country’s reputation and used them to serve on when entertaining prestigious foreign visitors. Royal Copenhagen and other porcelain potteries would decorate these wares with a rich multicolored overglaze and hand-molded embellishments.

The most famous and ambitious of these commissions was the Flora Danica dinner service. It is believed that the Danish king, Christian VII, ordered it in 1790 as a gift for Catherine the Great of Russia, requesting a service beautiful and delicate enough to be worthy of a spot in her prized porcelain collection. However, the Empress died in 1796, years before the service was complete, and, instead, it stayed in the Danish royal family, now belonging to Queen Margrethe II.

The service is based on “Flora Danica,” a 51-volume taxonomy of Danish flowers that is heralded as one of the great works of the Age of Enlightenment. The color copperplate print...

Production of Flora Danica was revived in 1863 as a gift honoring the marriage of Princess Alexandra of Denmark to Edward VII, the future king of England, and this dinnerware pattern has been made ever since. One of its most unique items is the 28-centimeter “ice dome,” which requires 16 different processes over the course of one month to produce.

Surviving the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Copenhagen factory flourished again in the mid-19th century, thanks to artistic director G.F. Hetsch. He brought flower painter J.L. Jensen, known for his gorgeous colorful overglaze paintings inspired by foreign styles, to the firm.

Around the same time, Royal Copenhagen lost one of its top creative minds, artist Frederick Wilhelm Grøndahl, who joined retailers Harald and Jacob Bing to form Bing & Grøndahl. Unfortunately, Grøndahl died in 1855, just two years after the company was established. However, another former Royal Copenhagen employee, F.A. Hallin, joined Bing & Grøndahl and developed a revolutionary way of painting plates known as relief painting.

Relief painting involves carving the artwork into a mold, which is then used as a model for other molds. The production of the plates requires more than one mold because each mold can only be used to make 20 to 30 plates before it absorbs too much water from the drying porcelain. This new method allowed for subtle shadings in the traditional cobalt blue.

In 1867, the state sold Royal Copenhagen to A. Falch, as well as the rights to the “royal” name. In 1882, Philip Schou, owner of faience factory Alumina, bought Royal Copenhagen and ran both companies.

Royal Copenhagen released its first collectible commemorative plate for the 1888 Scandinavian Fair in Copenhagen. At the time, the only way to make multiples was through stenciling, a process in which an artisan puts a stencil on a white plate and dabs it with paint using a sponge.

The Scandinavian Fair plate, featuring a crown with three wavy lines underneath it, was displayed on each corner of the Royal Copenhagen Factory booth. Queen Louise let it be known that she would like one of her own, and these plates soon become all the rage with the Danish aristocracy.

From then on, the factory made plates to honor royal events, anniversaries, and all sorts of special occasions. For example, in 1906, the company introduced the Flora Danica Silhouette Portrait plates, designed by Arnold Krog. These 4.5-inch-by-3.5-inch plates are decorated with the shadow profile of a royal family member in the center and his or her national flag and colors on the border. Each of the 15 is topped with a gilded crown.

Meanwhile, the designers at Bing & Grøndahl had not been idle. Using their relief-painting technique, they produced the world’s first Christmas plate in 1895. Royal Copenhagen quickly jumped on this idea, making its own Christmas plate every year employing this new relief-painting technology.

In the early days, collecting commemorative plates was a hobby exclusive to Danish royalty and aristocrats. However, the trend spread to the rest of Europe with industrialization, and Royal Copenhagen produced Christmas plates in the French, English, German, and Czechoslovakian languages.

Royal Copenhagen’s Christmas plates are 7 inches in diameter, and those from 1908 to 1952 are usually inscribed with the year and “JUL” or “Julen,” which is “Christmas” in Danish. The Royal Copenhagen Christmas plates made after 1953 feature only the year. Rarer plates are inscribed with the word “Christmas” in other languages: “Weihnachten” (German, 1908-1944), “Noel” (French, 1909-1944), “Vanoce” (Czechoslovakian, 1909-1943), and “Kerstmis” (Dutch, 1931 and perhaps 1932).

A smaller Christmas plate from 1911, called the “thief plate,” was found in Aarhus, and rumor has it that it was never meant to be sold. Another small Christmas plate featuring ducks was produced in small quantities in 1927 in various languages. For three years during World War II, the general of the German Air Force in Denmark requested a special Christmas plate with the words “General der luffwaffe in Denmark” inscribed on it. Possibly only two of these were made each year between 1941 and 1943. Perhaps the rarest Christmas plate finds, though, are the trial and proof plates for each year.

It wasn’t until after World War II that Christmas plates hit the United States, as soldiers returning from the war brought home the holiday keepsakes marked with the year. The oldest dealer’s price list known to be distributed in the U.S. is from 1952. In the ’60s and ’70s, the popularity Christmas plates skyrocketed, and Royal Copenhagen churned them out. However, in the late ’70s, the market became saturated with cheaply made “limited edition” commemorative plates that diminished the value of such items.

Other famous commemorative Royal Copenhagen plates include those to honor Children’s Help Day in Denmark. A doctor named Johan Carlsen founded the organization, the Danish equivalent of the Help the Children Foundation, in 1904 to raise funds for needy kids—Royal Copenhagen put out a series of plates showing happy kids at play from 1910 to 1940.

Over the last 100 years, Royal Copenhagen has attempted many different commemorative series, including Mother’s Day plates and Portraits of Old Copenhagen (1970s) by the famous illustrator Mads Stage. In the 1950s and ’60s, Royal Copenhagen produced the Plaquette series picturing iconic buildings, antique cars, and U.S. Presidents including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. In the ’70s, the Compass Series, featuring old-world Danish compasses, was produced in limited numbers.

The newest series include Nature’s Children, Young Adventurers, and the Millennium series. The 1990s’ Christmas in Denmark series, also known as the “Dear Family,” was the company’s only full-color plate series. Aside from plates, Royal Copenhagen also made mugs to commemorate each year, starting in 1967.

Some Royal Copenhagen items have been sold as “seconds,” identified by a single perpendicular scratch in the trademark’s waves, which is sometimes easier to feel than see. Plates might have been marked as second-quality thanks to holes in the glaze or cracks in the porcelain under the glaze. Sometimes the seconds are “out-of-round,” meaning the plate does not lie perfectly flat when placed face down on a table.

If a dinnerware item has two or more scratches in the trademark waves, these are considered third or fourth quality. Sometimes, they are actually flawless pieces that employees purchased from the factory, but they were marked as low quality to discourage the workers from selling them. If the plate is truly third or fourth quality, it will be obviously flawed.

Outside of dinnerware, Royal Copenhagen became known in the Art Nouveau period for its naturalistic art pottery, featuring figurines and animals painted with delicately colored glazes.

The company also produced a number of antique porcelain signs, which exploded in popularity in the late 19th century. Older signs were hand-painted using over- and underglaze, while newer signs were usually produced using transferware techniques.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Bowes Museum: Ceramics

The Bowes Museum: Ceramics

This gallery showcases highlights from the 5,000 items in the museum's ceramics collection dating from 1500-1900. I… [read review or visit site]

Ceramics at The V&A

Ceramics at The V&A

A great reference on ceramics from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Learn about different ceramics techniques and st… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace Fruit Bowl #10612 Royal Copenhagen #1036, Blue Fluted Full Lace Coffee Cup W SaucersSuperb 1st Quality Royal Copenhagen 'swineherd' # 848Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half Lace Leaf Dish #548Pp 38 Parts 12 Coffecups & Saucers 756 Blue Fluted Half Lace Royal CopenhagenPlatter With Open Weave - Blue Fluted 1098 - Royal Copenhagen Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Creamer, Sugar & Tray Set VintagePp Rare Serv Bowl 1061 Blue Fluted Full Lace Royal Copenhagen MintPp Very Rare Serv Bowl 1052 Blue Fluted Full Lace Royal Copenhagen MintRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half-lace Plate - 578Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full-lace Salad Bowl - 1018Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half-lace 2 Handled Covered Sugar Bowl - 605Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Coffee Cups And Saucers. (8) Number 1-80Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half-lace Milk Pitcher - 763Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half Lace Flat Tea Cup Teacup & Saucer Sets X3 #656Pp Two Leaf Bowl 547,548 Blue Fluted Half Lace Royal Copenhagen12 Cups & Saucers - Blue Fluted 719 - Royal Copenhagen Pp Serv Plate 1115 ,3 Plates 1004 Blue Fluted Full Lace Royal CopenhagenRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half-lace Cream Pitcher - 522Pp 4 Fourtea Cups & Saucers 656 Blue Fluted Half Lace Royal Copenhagen Pp 6 Plates 1087, 7 " 17,5 Cm Blue Fluted Full Lace Royal CopenhagenPp Turreen W.lid 397 Blue Fluted Plain Ribbed Royal CopenhagenPp Butter Bowl W.lid 707 Blue Fluted Half Lace Royal CopenhagenRoyal Copenhagen Robin On Branch - Model No 1516 - Early ModelPp Huge Teapot 259 Blue Fluted Plain Ribbed Royal CopenhagenRoyal Copenhagen Squirrel On Dish #982Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half-lace Salt And Pepper Shakers -712Pp Six Dinner Plates 176 Blue Fluted Plain Ribbed Royal CopenhagenRoyal Copenhagen Swallow - 1st Quality - Model No 2374Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half-lace Lunch Plate - 572Royal Copenhagen Denmark Porcelain Finch Preening No.1041 By A NielsenRoyal Copenhagen - Hibiscus Vase Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain Egg Cups - 2026A 19th Century Royal Copenhagen Frijensborg Hand Decorated VaseVinage Flora Danica Royal Copenhagen Denmark Winecooler Catchepot Pot 35705 Beautiful Royal Copenhagen Saxon Flower 1221 Dinner Plates 10"Royal Copenhagen Vase With Hand Painted Boat On The Sea - 1st QualityRoyal Copenhagen Small Blue Fluted Plain Cream Pitcher - 1/59Hand Painted Royal Copenhagen Seascape Sailing Clipper Ship Vase Schooner LampSuperb 19thc Terracotta Copenhagen Classical Relief Plaque By P.ipsen Eneret6 Pc Place Setting Royal Copenhagen Blue Flower Braided Scalloped Rim 10/1621 #1Pp Serv Plate 1115 ,3salt & Peppar Blue Fluted Full Lace Royal CopenhagenRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Saucer & Cake Plated Lot. Nr: 181, 298, 2162, 2126Vase - Blue Fluted 1162 - Royal Copenhagen Royal Copenhagen Bluetit - 1st Quality - Model No 1505 Designed By Peter HeroldHand Painted Royal Copenhagen Large Birds Seashore Sky Vase 1440 | 1049 9"Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half-lace Plate - 761Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted. Half Lace Coffee Cups And Saucers. 1-719Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace Set 4 Cups & Sausers #1035 Top Condition!Royal Copenhagen Dish With Mermaid In The Centre - 1st Quality - Model No 3231Vintage Bing & Copenhagen B&g Porcelain 3x3 Gnome Decorative TilesRare Old Royal Copenhagen Planter - Full Lace - 7-1/2" (19 Cm)Large Royal Copenhagen Hand Painted Porcelain Urn / Jar Blue Flowers MintRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half Lace Flat Tea Cup Teacup & Saucer Sets X5 #626Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Laced - Candle Stick 1138 - Mint MintRoyal Copenhagen - Blue Flowers - 4 Salad Plates 1624 Scalloped DenmarkRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain Butter Pat 3 1/2 Dish #2185Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain Bread And Butter Plate #181Royal Copenhagen~faun And Goat~1012/498~5" Tall6 Pc Place Setting Royal Copenhagen Blue Flower Braided Scalloped Rim 10/1621 #2

Recent News: Royal Copenhagen China

Source: Google News

Housewares | Teapots
Vancouver Sun, February 26th

so here are five to get you started. Scultpted beauty. A teapot that warrants a tea party; this elegantly beautiful number comes in a black or blue version and is sculpted by Allan Therkelsen for Royal Copenhagen. Atkinson's of Vancouver, $157...Read more

Photograph by: Handout
Vancouver Sun, February 26th

so here are five to get you started. Scultpted beauty. A teapot that warrants a tea party; this elegantly beautiful number comes in a black or blue version and is sculpted by Allan Therkelsen for Royal Copenhagen. Atkinson's of Vancouver, $157...Read more

Copenhagen: A study in the art of functionality
Toronto Star, February 19th

COPENHAGEN—There's not a single skyscraper to be seen in the skyline of downtown Copenhagen. And that's no accident. It's the result of the sort of conscientious urban-planning that defines Denmark's seaside capital. And the thoughtfulness doesn't...Read more

IMPORTANT FINE ART AND THE MELLON SCAIFE ESTATE TO ATTRACT ...
ArtfixDaily, February 12th

This month, a very extensive collection of 18th and 19th century porcelains will be offered from Meissen, Derby, Worcester, George Jones and Royal Copenhagen that should collectively sell for more than $100,000. Furthering the Scaife decorative art ...Read more

Original toys that are in good condition are no child's play
HeraldNet, February 12th

Old toys are expensive today because they are scarce. Children played with the toys, damaged them, scratched the paint, lost parts and eventually the toy was discarded because of its shabby condition. Today collectors of early tin toys pay premium...Read more

Antiques: Rider or not, tin toy is of rare breed
Columbus Dispatch, February 8th

Royal Copenhagen dessert plate, flower spray, pierced basket weave rim, circa 1900, 8 inches, 12 pieces, $380. • Vase, North Dakota School of Mines, Dutch boys and girls, green, tan, brown matte glaze, Florence Gregoire, circa 1951, 33/4 inches, $545...Read more

Inside Danish royal palace that left Kate, Duchess of Cambridge green with envy
Daily Mail, January 29th

It's the honey-stone pile that glowers out across Danish capital Copenhagen and is home to the country's Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary. But Frederik VIII's Palace, which sits within the Amalienborg Palace complex, isn't only popular...Read more

Royal Copenhagen's Annual Show of Magical Tablescapes
Architectural Digest (blog), December 19th

The gingerbread factory is made from recycled cardboard. Flora Danica porcelain. 1 of 15. Brox used Royal Copenhagen's Flora Danica porcelain, one of the brand's most exclusive lines, to contrast with the humbler and more playful elements on the table...Read more