Thursday, 21 June 2012

Die Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur / The Royal Porcelain Manufactory, Berlin

King Frederick the Great of Prussia, Owner and Patron of
Die  Königliche Porzellan- Manufaktur [KPM], Berlin until
1786. Incidentally, 2012 marks the 300th anniversary of
 the birth of Frederick the Great in 1712.
From a painting by Anton Graf.
[Source : Wikipedia]    

Die Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur, or literally "The Royal Porcelain Manufactory" in Berlin [KPM] has a long and fascinating history stretching over 250 years with strong connections to Prussian royalty.

The predecessor of KPM, known simply as "The Berlin Porcelain Factory" [Berliner Porzellanmanufaktur], dated back to 1751 and early on secured Prussian Royal patronage and support. This was partly through the Prussian military presence in Saxony during the Seven Years War making it possible to "acquire" trained staff from the famous "Meißener Porzellan-Manufaktur" ["Meissen Porcelain Manufactory] near Dresden.

A KPM biscuit figure of Frederick the Great,
manufactured in 1850 and presented to
Prince Albert, Consort of Queen Victoria.
[Source : Victoria & Albert Museum]

It was only with the purchase of the company in 1763 by the legendary Frederick the Great of Prussia for 225,000 Prussian Thalers that the company secured the coveted "Royal" [Königlische] title - and the right to use the Royal Sceptre. This purchase not only saved the business from bankruptcy but also ensured the continuation of a company which the King held dear. Die Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur then operated from premises at no 4 Lepziger Straße in Berlin.

A modern KPM reproduction of Frederick the Great's favourite
Rococo style pattern tea service,"Rocaille".
[Source :  Welt-Online]

The KPM company demonstrated surprisingly modern work practices such as regulated hours of work, higher-than-average earnings, secured pensions, company health insurance, and benefits for widows and orphans. The King forbid child labour, not merely for humane reasons but also for professional reasons: Only highly qualified craftsmen could maintain the high standards of production which he set. Production techniques also remained progressive.

A later circa 1900 KPM porcelain plaque in a wood
and gesso frame which demonstrates the oil painting
like ability to paint on porcelain.
[Source : Artnet Galleries]

With Royal ownership, and up until his death in 1786, Frederick ordered at least 21 table services with as many as 450 individual pieces each, primarily as gifts. These gifts may still be found in royal houses and museums across Europe. The cost to Frederick was in the region of 200,000 Prussian Thalers, being almost as much as what the company had cost him to purchase. Frederick the Great's successor,  his nephew King Frederick William II, continued to support KPM by various purchases, off-setting the cost against profits due to him.

A KPM Lithothane in relief of Frederick the Great
[Source : Wikipedia]

Steam power was first utilized by KPM in 1793, the first company in Prussia to do so. However the occupation of Berlin by the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's troops between 1807 and 1808 had  a lasting and detrimental effect on the company which led to significant losses. The company's receipts were seized and KPM warehouses in Breslau and Warsaw were auctioned off to the benefit of the French authorities.  

The same KPM Lithothane of Frederick the Great,
as viewed through a light source.
[Source : Wikipedia]

By 1814 the development of new colours enabled the painting of porcelain to impart similarities to oil painting. Lithothanes, a novel and highly ingenious manufacturing technique which originated in France from 1827, were from 1830 another early KPM success. These were essentially images moulded in relief in varying thicknesses on opaque porcelain. When held up to the light an image (created by the varying thickness of the porcelain) becomes visible.

Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur [KPM] 26cm Cabinet plate in scalloped
Rococo style with hand-painted decoration and gilding, circa 1837 - 1844
[From my personal collection]

My own Rococo styled KPM cabinet plate dates from the period 1837 to 1844 and exhibits not only the blue "Royal sceptre mark" and the letters "KPM" which are printed under the glaze, but also the red orb [blaue zeptermarke 'KPM' und rote Reichsapfelmarke] which are printed over the glaze. The cross on the orb has not clearly printed due to a slight depression in the porcelain.

A closer view of the elaborate and delicate hand-painted flowers and
gilding on my KPM plate. Note the raised areas highlighted with gilding.
[From my personal collection]

Despite many changes KPM, not least State ownership from 1918,  destruction of the factory during an allied bombing raid in Nov 1943, re-establishing production after the war, the creation of a limited liability company by the State in 1988 and sanctioned to use the KPM title, and finally complete privatisation in 2006, KPM's emphasis remains on quality handmade products. 

The blue "Royal Sceptre" and letters KPM under the glaze
 plus the Royal Orb in red printed over the glaze. These
 marks were in use from 1837 to 1844.
[From my personal collection]

Bibliography & Sources :

- General Internet Resources
- Wikipedia
- Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur, Berlin
- My personal collection


  1. The early work of The Royal Porcelain Manufactory in Berlin [KPM] was exquisite and I always look for the royal sceptre mark. Needless to say I have only afforded the smallest, cheapest pieces.

    But in particular I love the portraits in a frame, of which you have shown one, lovely example. The artist must have painted on his oils with a bush containing VERY few hairs.

  2. I didn't know anything about KPM when I bought my plate but I knew I just had to have it, it was exquisite. Unfortunately we don't get the range of porcelain and object d'art here. I do miss my wanderings around Armadale High Street in Melbourne, like an Aladdin's Cave for someone like me, but certainly no bargains to be had!


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