Always recognised as one of the leading producers of European porcelain, Germany - and Prussia beforehand - have also had many fine manufactories garnering less widespread recognition than the most famous names - here's a look at some of them:

In common with the nature of the porcelain industry in France, the German counterpart had the same hierarchical structure, with notable facilities at Meissen and Dresden leading the way – underwritten by the higher echelons of the nobility - and a number of less exalted factories following on behind under the auspices of their own lesser patrons.

Frankenthal – near Mannheim on the Rhine – had the potential to have secured a position as one of the most highly regarded manufactories of all, but – in a curiously circular history – it suffered an enforced fall from grace. The town itself had been razed by the French during the Thirty Years War (1689), but was then rebuilt from the ground up with the express aim of making it a centre of industrial excellence. Amongst the many entrepreneurs and ambitious artisans attracted to the thriving settlement was Karl Hannong, formerly of Strasbourg, who had found himself one of the many French porcelain producers forced to give up the unequal struggle to sustain a viable business outside of the state-run monopolies. Finding a far more equitable environment in Germany, and under the favourable patronage of Karl Theodore, Prince Elector and Count Palatine of the Rhine, Hannong was, in 1755, able to relocate his original workforce almost in its entirety quickly establish the reputation of his works to such an extent that within two years he was able to induce craftsmen to turn their backs on Meissen and join his team. With a pattern book featuring elaborately decorated, hard-paste tableware and some extravagant figurines and tableaux, Hannong was able to furnish the requirements of an illustrious clientele, and Frankenthal became very highly regarded. Karl’s death in 1760, though, saw the business pass in to the hands of his sons, and they managed to run the financial side of things so badly that the County Palatine assumed overall control in lieu of the settlement of substantial unserviced loans. The state-run concern continued to turn out highly desirable pieces and established a network of retail outlets across France, Prussia, Switzerland and Italy, being rightly considered one of Europe’s finest producers. When the clouds of war again shrouded the continent towards the end of the 18th century, however, it was to spell the end of production. Once again, the town was occupied by invading French forces during the Revolutionary War of the Second Coalition (the precursor to Napoleon’s rise to power) and the factory was abruptly closed down in 1799, never to open again.

Some 350km north east of Frankenthal, on the River Weser, we find Fürstenberg which – from 1747 – was home to Porzellanmanufaktur Fürstenberg. The premises were set up under the guidance of one Johann Georg von Langen, who was able to ingratiate himself with influential nobles in spite of being born to relatively humble stock. Starting as little more than a page in Schloss Elisabethenburg, home to the Dukes of Saxony-Meiningen, Johann Georg found work as a hunter and forester, a taxman, surveyor, manager of mines, paper manufacturer and – most notably – as the grower of Germany’s first commercial crop of potatoes. He was then appointed to oversee the implementation of porcelain production at Fürstenberg at the behest of Karl I von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel. The factory was initially set up in the grounds of the town’s castle on a rocky bluff high over the Weser, as part of Karl’s broader social plan to bring wealth to his dominion. Johann Georg struggled to make the best use of the locally-mined kaolin at his disposal and was dismissed after five years of constant but ultimately unsuccessful experimentation. It is mooted that successful porcelain production was only possible at Fürstenberg from 1752, after the arrival of an unnamed worker from an already successful factory at Frankfurt-Höchst. The Duke immediately accelerated the development of the facility, and new kilns, studios and workshops were constructed within the castle’s environs. The next few years saw the quality of products refined and greatly improved, and with shops opening in Braunschweig and Berlin, the reputation of Fürstenberg grew steadily. Initially best known for the production of vases and urns, the manufactory broadened its outturn to encompass standard tablewares and latterly figurines, and it is still in business to this day, although now operating largely from newly-built premises away from Karl der Herzog’s castle.

Fürstenberg is often cited as being Germany’s second-oldest porcelain manufactory, but this distinction only applies with the caveat “…still operating from its original site”. As mentioned above, it was a worker from Frankfurt-Höchst who brought the secrets of genuine porcelain production to the banks of the Weser, and the factory from which this informant had come would self-evidently been in a position to produce fine biscuit material in advance of von Langen’s fruitless endeavours. This Höchster Porzellanmanufaktur was a venture which had been conceived by Johann Christoph Göltz and Adam Friedrich von Löwenfinck, the latter being a highly-skilled painter who had formerly worked for Meissen. The patron behind this concern was the Elector of Mainz, Johann Friedrich Carl von Ostein, so once again we see the standard model for a continental porcelain factory, with artisan craftsmen working under the aegis of beneficent local nobility or a civic executive. From its earliest inception in 1746, Höchst was only producing albeit good quality glazed earthenware (generally known as faience) but it was just two or three years until the intervention of arcanist Johann Benckgraff and kilnsman Josef Ringler saw porcelain production introduced. With Löwenfinck’s influence to the fore, Höchst briefly became known for some very finely painted decorative pieces, but for some reason he was forced out by Göltz after barely four years of partnership, and a protracted period of instability followed. In spite of being able to count on the input of the renowned modeller Johann Melchior (who later moved to Frankenthal, and then Nymphenburg) this uncertainty saw ownership of the factory first devolved in to public hands and then – in order to shore up its shaky financial position – to the same sort of local government ownership which underpinned Frankenthal. In spite of this intervention, bankruptcy loomed in 1796, and with the French army poised to swarm unimpeded across the Rhineland and beyond, operations were ceased and did not resume for 150 years. Melchior’s figures and the earlier, occasionally quirky, pieces such as milk jugs with legs, lidded cruet pots, chocolate pots with wooden handles, ecuelles (small tureens for use by individual diners) and porringers (for use at the table rather than in the kitchen) have meant that Höchst has left a legacy of eminently collectable pieces, if you’re prepared to hunt them down (there’s an excellent selection which can be seen at the Victoria & Albert Museum…).

So, it’s clear that there were many centres of production outside of those normally considered to characterise Teutonic porcelain-making excellence. Those detailed above, along with their contemporary manufactories at Ludwigsburg, Ansbach, Gotha, Wallendorf, Limbach, Nymphenburg and elsewhere, made up an extensive and highly-skilled industry across Prussia and the proto-Germanic confederation that should see the region considered at least the equal of France if one is to ever make a comparison. As with France, though, politics, warmongering and external economic factors were to ensure that all but the very finest production facilities failed to endure much beyond the 18th and early 19th centuries, and the names of some of these once-illustrious concerns seem to be fading in to relative obscurity – I hope we’ve reversed this trend a little with these few words !

Our montage of images is made up of pieces (by row) from Höchst, Furstenburg and Frankenthal, with the bottom four being from Ludwigsburg, Wallendorf, Ansbach and Limbach – and the link is, of course, to the relevant pieces on our own website:

site search for continental porcelain, including German and Prussian material

for more articles about European glass and porcelain, check the following links:

European Art Glass (part one)

European Art Glass (part two)

Italian Porcelain

French Porcelain

Maltese (Mdina) Glass

Meissen Porcelain

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