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    

Serving Bowl On Foot #1020 Full Lace - Blue Fluted Royal Copenhagen - First SortA Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace Coffee Pot & Lid 1/1030Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace 1144 Hexagon Shaped Plate 7" Diam. ExcRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain - Milk Jug & Sugar Bowl - 1975/79 - Superb!Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain- Large Leaf Dish 1/145 -1923/34 - 1st Qual!Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain - 6 Trios - 1894 / 1934 - Beautiful!Rare Early Royal Copenhagen Fawn With Lizard Model No.433 By Christian ThomsenRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace Cup & Saucer Set - 1130 - Mint8 - Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half Lace #624 Cereal Bowls 1st QualityRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half Lace #708 Square Vegetable Bowl 1st QualityRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half Lace #515 Triangular Cake Dish 1st QualityRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Tea Cups And Saucers. 4 Sets & 2 Extra Cups . 1/315Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain - Large Coffee Pot 1/48 -1923/34 - 1st Qual!Vtg Royal Copenhagen Denmark 2106 Marianne Johnson Artist Porcelain Bowl Nr TfmPp Sugar 1113 And Creamer1032 Blue Fluted Full Lace Royal CopenhagenRoyal Copenhagen Flora Danica Pierced Dinner Plate, 25 Cm/ 10 Inches. No FlawsRoyal Copenhagen #1022 Blue Fluted Full Lace Bowl High Foot Centerpiece CompoteRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace Demitasse Pot #1/1030 FacesRoyal Copenhagen Blue Flower Braided Butter Jar 10 - 8139Royal Copenhagen ?? Blue Fluted Half Lace ?? Tankard Stein / Tall Mug 5-5/8"Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Traditional Bing Grondahl Soup Bowl Five (5) # 23Copenhagen, B&g, "seagull" Coffee Pot- GorgeousVtg Royal Copenhagen Denmark 2630 Floral Butterfly Porcelain Flower Vase Nr TfmRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half Lace Low Footed Cake Plate 511 CompoteAntique 19th Century Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half Lace Teapot C1895Royal Copenhagen Jam Jar With Underplate Signed Rare No ReserveRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half Lace Milk Pitcher # 763 1st QualityRare Early Royal Copenhagen Fawn With Goat Model No.498 By Christian ThomsenRoyal Copenhagen Flora Danica Dessert Plate 20/3573 Pre-owned 7 5/8" DiameterRoyal Copenhagen Blue Floral Fluted Milk Pitcher 10-8526Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted 6in Appetizer/cake Plates. Mint. 1/181. 7 Plates!!Bing & Grondahl Copenhagen Porcelain Figurines1889-1922 Royal Copenhagen 7 3/4" Blue Fluted Plain Salad PlateAntique Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain Loop Handle Cup Saucer - Gold Trim #1Rare 1938 Royal Copenhagen Christmas Plate "vonoce" Rare 1905 Royal Copenhagen Commemorative Plate "patria Integra" 1755-1905Antique Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain Loop Handle Cup Saucer - Gold Trim #21889-1922 Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain Cup & SaucerVtg Denmark Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Hand Painted Vase Woman & Daughter SceneRoyal Copenhagen Eric Nielsen Figural Crab Carp Dish Basketweave 2465 Signed Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace Finger Bowl #1177 First Quallity2 Vintage Royal Copenhagen Trio's Blue Flute Demi Tasse Cups Saucers PlatesVintage Dahl-jensen Copenhagen Bowl & Lid Hand Decorated & Gilded C1930's? Antique Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain Loop Handle Cup Saucer - Gold Trim #4Antique Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain Loop Handle Cup Saucer - Gold Trim #5Rare 1936 Royal Copenhagen Christmas Plate "vonoce" Vintage Royal Copenhagen China Tea Cup & Saucer #1038 Denmark 3 Vtg Bing & Grondahl Copenhagen Seagull Sm Trays Gold Trim 3 1/2" Diam #331Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace Dessert/salad Plate 1086~7.75"~mint Cond!Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace Sugar Bowl 1/1112Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Two Plates Lunch / Dessert First Quality # 179 Mint*wow* Royal Copenhagen China Bowl 50cl Fluted Contrast Pearl &box New H C Gjedde1954 Royal Copenhagen Handpainted Wildflower Vase 7" 1st Qual 2651 235 Perf Cond Vtg Bing & Grondahl Copenhagen Seagull Footed Compote 5 1/5" H 22carat Gold Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain1889-1922 Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain 10" Diameter PlateRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Soup/cereal Bowls #290 6" Diameter Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Traditional Bing Grondahl Cups Saucer Mix, As Is Vtg Bing & Grondahl Copenhagen Seagull Creamer & Sugar Bowl W/lidRoyal Copenhagen 1963 Small Round Porcelain Vase Butterflies Spider Web 814/2390

Recent News: Royal Copenhagen China

Source: Google News

Ryde City Bowling Club could be new home for putt putt
The Daily Telegraph, August 24th

THE 85-year-old entrepreneur whose putt putt business is being kicked out of Melrose Park has a vision for the old Ryde City Bowling Club site but insists he wants support from Ryde Council before throwing his hat in the ring. Tom Wykoff brought putt...Read more

Move Over, Eames: Reissued Furniture Classics Are Stealing the Spotlight
Wall Street Journal, August 20th

IN 1970, I worked as a stationery buyer at Georg Jensen, then a multilevel store on Fifth Avenue filled with china from Royal Copenhagen and other precious things. The company's large wholesale business in Scandinavian furniture—hugely popular at one ...Read more

Property from the Oprah Winfrey Collections
Maine Antique Digest, August 13th

A 1992-99 set of 18 Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica dinner plates sold within estimate at $20,000. “We got an enormous amount of publicity,” Hindman told us. Big-time bankers and estate lawyers attended presale social events because “People love to see ...Read more

Scandinavian Heritage: Denmark's Famous Porcelain
Walker Pilot Independent, August 7th

They are for sale in gift shops all over America, as well as in Scandinavia. There is quite a story behind these plates and the other porcelain products made in Copenhagen. Two manufacturers, Royal Copenhagen and Bing & Grondahl, are the best known...Read more

New luxury amenities; cabin, seat upgrades; Royal Copenhagen mug
The Japan Times, August 4th

Beginning on Aug. 1, United Airlines will offer amenity kits from Cowshed Spa, the premium spa and lifestyle brand of London-based Soho House & Co., to in-flight customers and those in airport lounges. All Cowshed products are made in England from ...Read more

Ceramics and glass shatter price expectations at Crewkerne auction
Blackmore Vale Magazine, May 12th

Even a Royal Copenhagen pygmy hippopotamus looked friendlier than its ferocity suggested when it made £370. Strong results later in the sale included £1700 for a single green wine bottle with a heraldic seal, £1700 also for a single tiny Worcester...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

A Modernist Mecca: Radisson Blu Royal Copenhagen Hotel
HotelChatter, July 25th

Few can deny that Danish architect Arne Jacobsen, creator of the Egg, the Swan and the Series 7 chairs, was one of the most iconic architects and designers of the modernist era. Could the Radisson Blu Royal Copenhagen be his finest achievement?...Read more