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 Flora Danica Round Dish Reticulated Plate Lathytus Silvestris LRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half Lace Teapot - 610Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica Reticulated/pierced Plate 20/3554Beautiful Danish Royal Copenhagen Reclining Brindle Colour Boxer Dog 3635 Rare Royal Copenhagen Fluted Lace Porcelain Inkwell Ink Well Stand 1/128Vintage Royal Copenhagen "blue Fluted-plain" Sugar Bowl & Lid #428Vintage Royal Copenhagen "blue Fluted-plain" Small 3 Cup Coffee Pot #47Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half Lace Coffee Pot -518 7 Vintage Royal Copenhagen "blue Fluted-plain" Flat Cups & Saucers #79Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Otter Mink # 4654 By Jeanne Grut 1959 7" Perfect.Pp 12 Coffee Cups 1038 Two Guilded Edge Blue Fluted Full Lace Royal CopenhagenPp Coffee Pot 517 Sugar 398 Creamer 521 Blue Fluted Half Lace Royal CopenhagenVintage Royal Copenhagen "blue Fluted-plain" Custard Cup & Lid #64Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace Pierced Bread Basket Antique "as Is"Very Rare Vintage English Bulldog 1135 Dahl Jensen For Royal Copenhagen1st Quality Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace 10" Serving Bowl 1078Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica 6 3/4" Dessert Pie Plate Mentha Aquatica L Capitat6 Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half Lace Large 9-3/8" Rimmed Soup Bowls Pr Royal Copenhagen Denmark Porcelain Hand Painted Floral Lidded Serving PiecesPair Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace #1098 Open Weave 10 1/4" Plates*2* Royal Copenhagen Full Lace Vegetable Bowls #10184 Royal Copenhagen Black Fluted, Half Lace 10-7/8" Dinner Plates In Orig. BoxRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace Pierced Cake Plate 8 3/8" 1st QualityPair Royal Copenhagen Black Fluted, Half Lace Rimmed Soup Bowls In Orig. BoxFive Antique Royal Copenhagen Blue Floral Fluted Plain Teacups 1/76  **6**royal Copenhagen ~ Blue Fluted Full Lace Dinner Plate #1084Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica 6 3/4" Dessert Pie Plate Lanicula Europaa L.Very Rare Vintage English Bulldog Puppy 1139 Dahl Jensen For Royal CopenhagenPp Huge Coffee Set 40 Parts Cups 1549 Plates 1625 Blue Flower Royal CopenhagenRoyal Copenhagen Flora Danica 6 3/4" Dessert Pie Plate Veronica Pracox Am**6**royal Copenhagen ~ Blue Fluted Full Lace Dinner Plate #1084**8**royal Copenhagen ~ Blue Fluted Full Lace Salad Plate #1086Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica 6 3/4" Dessert Pie Plate Chara Aomenaosa LPp Three Servplates 2/144 1/ 140 Blue Fluted Half Lace Royal Copenhagen2 10" Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Lace Dinner PlatesBeautiful Danish Royal Copenhagen Sea Lion 1441 Th. Madsen **6**royal Copenhagen ~ Blue Fluted Full Lace Dessert Plates #1088Royal Copenhagen Princess Coffee Pot In Rare Royal PurpleRoyal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain Crescent Bone Dish Royal Copenhagen **5** Blue Fluted Full Lace Soup Bowls #1170Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica 6 3/4" Dessert Pie Plate Chara Aomenaosa L2 Cups & Saucers - Royal Copenhagen, Fluted Full Lace #1130 1st & 2nd Quality4 Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Plain Dinner Plates 1/183 Old MarkVintage Royal Copenhagen "blue Fluted-plain" Salad Plate #179**2** Royal Copenhagen Full Lace Demitasse Cup And Saucer #1036Pp 13 Tea Cups 713 Blue Fluted Half Lace Royal CopenhagenSet Of 6 Royal Copenhagen Blue Flowers Braided Cups And Saucers 10/8261Vintage Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half Lace 10" Dinner Plate 1/571Vintage Royal Copenhagen "blue Fluted-plain" Salt & Pepper Shakers #467/480Antique Royal Copenhagen Blue Floral Fluted Plain Teacup And Saucer 1/3155 Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica Salt Or Egg Cup - Denmark #3530 Fine Condition!Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Full Lace Demitasse Cups And Saucers 1038 Set 12Royal Copenhagen *full Lace* Blue Fluted Chop Plate #1041 **very Rare** Royal Copenhagen Blue Flowers Braded Coffee Pot #10/1794Antique Royal Copenhagen Blue Floral Fluted Plain Teacup And Saucer 1/76  Six Antique Royal Copenhagen Blue Floral Fluted Plain Saucer 1/75/78/81Royal Copenhagen Coffee Pot-9 Inch-#518-blue Fluted-lace-old-nr!Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted Half Lace 2181 Cigarette / Toothpick HolderRare Mid Century Lot Of 8 Royal Copenhagen Fajance Annual Mugs 1967-1974Old Lobster Dish Jorgen Balslov For Royal Copenhagen # 3498 Porcelain China Bowl

Recent News: Royal Copenhagen China

Source: Google News

An Axel Salto Budding Vase Is on the Block
Architectural Digest (blog), October 24th

Danish ceramist Axel Salto (1889–1961) is known for stoneware characterized by earthen colors and botanical forms. Salto had a varied career, working for Royal Copenhagen in the 1930s and later as a graphic designer for books, jewelry, and textiles...Read more

Friendship to green ships: the course of Danish-South Korean trade relations
The Copenhagen Post, October 18th

“For example, Royal Copenhagen and Bang & Olufsen have become more popular. We now also understand and appreciate Danish furniture and lights.” A group of acrobats, the Danish National Performance Team, are currently touring South Korea as part ...Read more

Estate Sale Roundup: October 17-19: The weather is perfect for rummaging
Austin Chronicle, October 17th

Robin Hood #2773, Stephanie #2807; The Clown #2890, Country Rose #3221, Helen #3601"); Cuthbertson "Cajun Christmas" plate; Belleek; Boehm; Coalport; Delft; Goebel; Herend; Lenox; Minton; Mottahedeh; Royal Copenhagen; Spode; Tirschenreuth; ...Read more

Royal Copenhagen mit neuem Service "Schwarz Gerippt"
Schöner Wohnen.de, October 16th

Royal Copenhagen ist seit 1775 gleichbedeutend mit dem charakteristischen blauen Blumendekor, das in Handarbeit auf weißes Porzellan gemalt wird. Heute ist die wohl bekannteste Geschirrserie unter dem Namen "Musselmalet" bekannt. Im Jahr 2006 ...Read more

Belle Roche Estate Jewelry to the rescue!
Seaside Courier, October 15th

The buying end of the business has been brisk, so now they are overstocked with silver, gold and diamond jewelry, fine porcelain figurines by Royal Copenhagen, Lladro and Hummel, fine china, Baccarat, Lalique & Waterford crystal and many other estate ...Read more

Iittala opens its first stores in South Korea
GlobeNewswire (press release), October 3rd

The opening of this first Iittala shop in shop is the initial step of our strategy, aimed at increasing our Iittala retail foothold, leveraging our expertise in South Korea, where we currently manage 17 Royal Copenhagen point of sales. Royal Copenhagen...Read more

Louise Campbell on her tableware for Georg Jensen
Vogue Australia, October 1st

Royal Copenhagen approached her several years ago to redesign its porcelain tableware, the frst time in a century the traditional line had been updated. Her Elements collection was launched to great acclaim in 2008, so with such a track record it's...Read more

Classy Polly Bergen had her own sense of style
Palm Beach Daily News, September 24th

One guest might have Luneville to dine on, another Royal Copenhagen, and another, some other beautiful design. Polly was a class act who enjoyed her life as an actress and her friends. While I had not seen her in some years, I do know that she kept...Read more