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    

Rare Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Lazy Susan #2240Vintage Antique Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Fluted Blue Full Lace Creamer5 Royal Copenhagen Blue Flowers Fluted Plain Dinner Plates 1/176Vintage Antique Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Fluted Blue Full Lace Cup And SaucerVintage Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Candy Dish Pin Tray Neat LookVintage Royal Copenhagen Blue Flute Full Open Lace Fruit Basket #1061Antique Royal Copenhagen Denmark 1032 Blue Fluted Coffee Creamer Pitcher6 Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted #719, Coffee Cups, Set Of SixRare Bing & Grondhal B&g Porcelain Waterlily Dish No. 1169 Copenhagen Denmark Rare Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Gravy Sauce Boat W Underplate 1/202 Pre 1923Pp Rare Serv Bowl 1061 Blue Fluted Full Lace Royal Copenhagen MintRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain 6" Pickle Dish 1/140 Exc Cond No ReserveRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half Lace Demitasse Espresso Cup & Saucer No RserveRoyal Copenhagen Estate Blue Fluted Full Lace Set Of Four Cups & SaucersPp 27 Parts 12 Coffee Cups Saucers 1035 Blue Fluted Full Lace Royal CopenhagenVintage Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Lace Oval Relish Serving Dish #349Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Dinner Plate 10" Vintage [c]Pp 31 Parts 10 Coffee Cups Saucers 1035 Blue Fluted Full Lace Royal CopenhagenRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace Teapot & Lid 1119 (as Is)Pp Footed Bowl 1020 Blue Fluted Full Lace Royal Copenhagen Mint 4 Royal Copenhagen Blue Flowers Fluted Plain Demitasse Cups & Saucers 1/298Royal Copenhagen Blue And White Fluted Plain Small Scalloped Bowl 1 /140 Vintage Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Lobster In Basket Dish Pin Tray No 3277Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Dinner Plate 10" Vintage [b]Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Large Rimmed Soup Bowl Vintage [b]Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Dinner Plate 10" Vintage [a]Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain Two 5 5/8" Bread & Butter Plates 1/182 NorsvRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace Large Footed Salad Serving Bowl 10221960s Royal Copenhagen Craquelure Glazed Porcelain Vase - Orange Crackle GlazeRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Large Rimmed Soup Bowl Vintage [a]Royal Copenhagen Blue Flowers 1551 - Tea Cups With Saucers!! Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half Lace Handled Gravy BoatRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain Boullion Cup 1/344 Exc Cond No ReserveRoyal Copenhagen - Urn With A Child On Top First Quality - 1754 - Rare Must SeeRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace Serving Platter Plate1062 First QualityLovely Vintage Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Lace Covered Serving Bowl #1129Royal Copenhagen-blue Flower-vase-10/1791Antique Royal Copenhagen Denmark 1609 Blue Floral PitcherBing & Grondahl Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Collectors Plates 1971-1983 Lot Of 13Vintage Lot 4 Royal Copenhagen Denmark Brown Rose Candy Bone Compote Dish Nr Jgd5 Royal Copenhagen Blue Flowers Fluted Plain Tea Side Bread & Butter Plates 182Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Salt Shaker Mint! #480Royal Copenhagen Blue Flower, 6 Pieces. Sugar Bowl 8563, 2 Small Vases 8563.Leaf Shaped Pickle Plate By Royal Copenhagen Saxon Flower 1221Royal Copenhagen Girl With Doll 3539 DenmarkRoyal Copenhagen Pin Dish Small Plate #3611 Blue/white Flower Dogwood?Royal Copenhagen Princess Blue Small Plates Lot Of 12Royal Copenhagen Blue Flowers Fluted Two Pepper Shakers # 467Royal Copenhagen 1964 Fetching Christmas Tree Plate Denmark Blue White No BoxRoyal Copenhagen # 1238 Playful Daschund....l@@k....nrVtg Royal Copenhagen Denmark Fajance Langelinie Mermaid Ribbed Dish Plate 2-1776Two! Royal Copenhagen Tranquebar Large Dinner Plates 10 3/4" Vintage Beehive Royal Copenhagen 1963 Windmill Christmas Plate Denmark Blue White No Box Or CertSet Of 3 Bing & Grondahl Copenhagen Porcelain Seagull Pattern PlatesOld Royal Copenhagen Flow Blue Hand Painted Plate, Tranquebar Pattern, Signed!!1950's Royal Copenhagen Crackle Glaze Porcelain Bowl Dish 259 2653 First QualityRoyal Copenhagen Tranquebar Butter Pat PlateRoyal Cumberland/ Royal Copenhagen Yellow Town & Country Spongeware - Plates -6 Royal Copenhagen Nils Thorsson Aluminia Faience Hors D'oeuvres Tray PlateRoyal Copenhagen Fajance Dish

Recent News: Royal Copenhagen China

Source: Google News

Antique fans flock to Oprah Winfrey's charity auction
Chicago Sun-Times, April 25th

That life included a flair for Royal Copenhagen dishware, neoclassical pieces, and early 19th century furniture. But some came as pure fans, wanting a piece of Winfrey's history. Rosemary Morgan drove from Crete with her daughter to check out the auction...Read more

'O' my: Winfrey items to be auctioned
Dallas Morning News, April 18th

That doesn't mean Oprah fans will be getting deals: Auctions often deliberately offer very conservative estimates to drum up interest. The auction items hint that Winfrey entertains often — and lavishly. There's a Royal Copenhagen porcelain dinner set...Read more

Heirlooms or Ikea: What's on your table?
Naples Daily News, April 18th

In her cupboards, Sundquist has accumulated at least one complete set of dishes for each decade of her adult life: Dansk White and Royal Copenhagen blue half lace for her 20s, Mary Hadley pottery for her 30s, Simon Pearce Belmont crackle celadon for...Read more

Inside Look: The Oprah Collection
Chicago Tonight | WTTW, April 15th

Among the most valuable items on the auction block is "a very lovely set of Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica. It arguably is one of the most expensive porcelains in the world,” said Gleason. “The reason for that is it's all hand-created and hand-painted...Read more

Using your heirloom dishes, silver makes a table look grand and makes your ..., April 14th

In her cupboards, Sundquist has accumulated at least one complete set of dishes for each decade of her adult life: Dansk White and Royal Copenhagen Blue Half Lace for her 20s, Mary Hadley pottery for her 30s, Simon Pearce Belmont crackle celadon for ...Read more

Original artworks from the Ruben School, Cortes, Galien-Laloue, others at ...
ArtfixDaily, April 2nd

Also offered will be Flora Danica Royal Copenhagen cabinet plates, including an eight-piece set by the French maker Jean Lurcat (1892-1966), Tiffany glass, early glass, a patinated gilt bronze lamp by French sculptor Jean Ferrat (1822-1882), a lovely ...Read more

Chanel, Biedermeier, Cartier, Baccarat and a violin: Oprah's stuff at Leslie ...
ChicagoNow (blog), March 27th

Collections include pieces from Swansea, Derby, Limoges and Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica that range in price from $1500 to $40,000! And NONE of these are dishwasher safe! LOL! Her decor included Biedermeier furniture (mirrors, game tables, ...Read more

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

For more than 50 years, Royal Copenhagen, the esteemed Danish purveyor of hand-painted porcelain, has celebrated the holidays with a grand display of Christmas tables that show off the brand's timeless wares and capture the celebratory spirit of the ...Read more