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    

Vintage Royal Copenhagen Blue Flute Full Lace Open Weave Oval Basket #1055Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace Pierced Cake Plate 8 3/8" 1st QualityRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace Open Sugar BowlSuperb Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica Custard Cup, Cover & Saucer 1970'sSuperb Antique Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica Salad Plate, Circa 1895. PulsatillaSuperb Antique Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica Luncheon Plate, Circa 1900. ViolaPp Rare Christmas Plate1947 Royal Copenhagen First Sort Pp Rare Christmas Plate1938 Royal Copenhagen First Sort Superb Antique Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica Pickle Dish. Circa 1895. SaxifragaRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace W/gold Rim Cup Saucer Gargoyle Face #1036Superb Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica Custard Cup, Cover & Saucer 1970's SedumSuperb Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica Demitasse Cup & Saucer, 1969. CardamineSuperb Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica Salt Or Paper Weight. Circa 1969. VacciniumPp Rare Christmas Plate1911 Royal Copenhagen First Sort Superb Antique Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica Luncheon Plate, Circa 1900. Ledum2 Royal Copenhagen Flow Blue Butter Pat Salt Dish Blue Onion? Denmark Superb Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica Bread & Butter Plate, 1959. ArctostaphylosSuperb Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica Bread & Butter Plate, 1959. Calypso BulbosaVintage Royal Copenhagen Blue Flute Full Lace Oval Platter #1060Rare Antique Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica Trial Piece Circa 1880. Crocus VernusPp Rare Christmas Plate1946 Royal Copenhagen First Sort Royal Copenhagen Saxon Flower 1221 Leaf Shape Pickle Dish Tall Vintage 1969-74s Royal Copenhagen 719 Bacca Vase By Nils Thorsen Danish ArtRoyal Copenhagen Fox # 1475 Denmark DhRare Antique 1914 Royal Copenhagen Denmark Porcelain Christmas Collectors PlateRoyal Copenhagen Porcelain Blue Fluted Ash Tray W Orig. Wood Base #1001 Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Mega 33 Cm Oval DishTwo 2 Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain Ramekin 1/423Royal Copenhagen 1'' X 41/2'' Square Blue/green Design Denmark Excellent ShapeRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace China Bud VaseRoyal Copenhagen Christmas Cup & Saucer 1982 "waiting For Christmas"Vintage Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted-half Lace 9 1/2" X 6 3/4" Dish #716Vintage Royal Copenhagen Nils Thorsson Fajance Art Vase 1960's ScandinavianPp Rare Christmas Plate1920 Royal Copenhagen First Sort Royal Copenhagen Christmas Cup & Saucer 1985 Year Set, "the Snowman"~rare~royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Lace Large Milk Pitcher # 386 ~mint~Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Open Sugar & Creamer DenmarkRoyal Copenhagen "fat Robin" Model No. 2266 By Platen Hallermundt Dated 1967Thorkild Olsen Royal Copenhagen Denmark 2gray & Burnt Orange Crackleware PlatesDahl Jensen, Royal Copenhagen, B&g, Handpainted Porcelain VaseRoyal Copenhagen Mother's Day Plate With Brochure 1974 Arne UngermannCopenhagen Porcelain-denmark Tea Pot And Cups And SaucersVintage Royal Copenhagen Denmark Vase Pine Trees On Blue Seaside ElegantRoyal Copenhagen Denmark " Blue Fluted 175 " Soup Bowl 9 7/8 " Flea BiteLovely Royal Copenhagen Vase2pc Beautiful Vintage Pierced Porcelain Dish & Bowl Royal Copenhagen Blue WhiteRoyal Copenhagen Fajance Nils Thorsson Vase - No. 717/3455Royal Copenhagen Denmark Tranquebar Blue Cup And Saucer # 992Royal Copenhagen Denmark Tranquebar Blue Cup And Saucer # 957Royal Copenhagen Denmark Tranquebar Blue Cup And Saucer # 957 1404Royal Copenhagen White With Blue Flowers Hand Painted TeaplateRoyal Copenhagen Johanne Gerber Fajance 804-3487 Trinket Dish/lidRoyal Copenhagen Fringilla Coelegs 4" Porcelain Tray & Trinket BowlRoyal CopenhagenRoyal Copenhagen Christmas Cup & Saucer 1983 "merry Christmas"3 Hand Painted Royal Copenhagen TraysWonderful Royal Copenhagen VaseRoyal Copenhagen Wall Plate With Daffodils - 1st QualityVintage Royal Copenhagen "faience" Lidded Porcelain Duck Shaped Dish Royal Copenhagen Tranquebar

Recent News: Royal Copenhagen China

Source: Google News

Unexpected toys help Santa make his rounds
HeraldNet, December 18th

Q: Our family has complete collections of both Bing & Grondahl and Royal Copenhagen Christmas plates. We understand only a limited number of these plates have much value, but we would like to know the value of the collection as a whole. Is it greater...Read more

Ultra cool gifts this holiday season
Boston Globe, December 10th

“Contrast” mug by Royal Copenhagen. $32 at Bliss Home, 152 Washington St., Marblehead, 781-631-2474, www.blisshome.com. Handout. “Hugo” chair. $1,959 at Circle Furniture, 31 St. James Ave., Boston, 617-778-0887, www.circlefurniture.com. Handout ...Read more

My Space: Stella Bugbee
Christie's, December 9th

'I liked working as a designer and creative director, but I love being an editor,' says Stella Bugbee with a smile as she leads us on a tour of the Brooklyn brownstone she shares with her husband, the designer Todd St. John, and their three young children...Read more

Another look at the history of Bobby's
Eastbourne Herald, December 9th

Here are photographs of the Merrie England theme staff dance, the Cabaret staff dance, the Bobby's Revue at Maxims Nightclub, a Bobby's display at the Heathfield Show, a Christmas display at the store in the 1950s, the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain...Read more

Copenhagen Christmas Markets: Get Festive In Denmark
Yahoo Lifestyle UK, December 4th

Scandi stalwarts George Jensen and Royal Copenhagen are also great places if you're looking to splurge on crockery or silverware for a loved one, or yourself! And department store, Magasin, Denmark's answer to Selfridges, is also worth a look. Cute...Read more

Perez Becomes CEO of Alpha Dominche
Home Furnishings News, November 26th

SALT LAKE CITY-Alpha Dominche, a maker of specialty coffee machines, has named former Bodum executive Thomas Perez as its CEO. Perez has succeeded Khristian Bombeck, who has left the company to pursue other ventures. Perez served as president ...Read more

Festival announces sneak peak from the 2015 programme
Scoop.co.nz (press release), November 19th

The Royal Copenhagen Chapel Boys Choir will perform one concert on Anzac Day, Saturday 25 April. The choir is regarded as one of the finest in Europe and they perform at Denmark's important state and royal functions. Festival Director Philip Tremewan ...Read more

Fiskars acquires Royal Copenhagen, creating a consolidated portfolio of ...
GlobeNewswire (press release), December 12th

Fiskars is accelerating the international expansion of its Home business by acquiring the renowned Danish premium porcelain company, Royal Copenhagen. The acquisition enables Fiskars to consolidate a unique portfolio of leading Scandinavian dining ...Read more