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The oldest porcelain discovered to date is a wine jar, unearthed during excavations in the Honan Province of China. Archaeologists believe it dates from the sixteenth or seventeenth century B.C. This yellow-glazed vessel, decorated with an ornamental relief, shows that the Chinese knew how to shape and fire delicate porcelain over 3000 years ago.
The art of making porcelain first came into its own during the Sung-Dynasty - between 1000 and 1250 A.D. During the Crusades, porcelain was brought to the Middle East and Europe via the "Silk-Route".
In 1300, when Marco Polo returned from China to his native Venice and reported all the wonders of the Far East, he used the word "porcella", meaning shell to describe the magnificent ceramic ware of China, thus giving porcelain its name.
In the late fifteenth century European explorers set out to discover the world. Very soon the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch and the English, returned to Europe, bringing with them whole shiploads of elaborately painted Chinese porcelain.
Porcelain became the obsession of European royalty; it was every noblemans desire to possess suchpriceless treasures. Some nobles´even employed alchemists and chemists to unravel the secret of this "white gold".
In 1709 the Dresden alchemist Johann Friedrich Boettger and the Chemist Walter von Tschirnhaus finally succeeded in discovering the composition of hard paste porcelain: kaolin, feldspar and quartz.
Augustus the Strong of Saxony installed Boettger and his porcelain makers in the Albrechtsburg, a castle in Meissen. But not even the strictest security measures could keep the secret within the castle walls. In Germany alone, as many as eight major factories were manufacturing porcelain by the end of the 18th century, including such well known names as Nymphenburg, Berlin, Fuerstenberg and Frankenthal.
Elaborate porcelain tableware soon became the fashion among nobility, especially cups which enhanced the fine aroma of the new fashionable beverages: coffee, tea and chocolate.
Political turbulences at the end of the eighteenth century brought difficult times to the manufacturers under royal or noble patronage.
With the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century, the middle classes began to enjoy more wealth and new respectability. State owned factories became privately owned and new porcelain works were established. Porcelain rapidly found its way into countless households in all strata of society and became an object of everyday use.
At the same time shapes and decorations of bygone ages inspired copies in porcelain as well as influencing many other areas.
Even in our mechanized age, the making of fine porcelain demands high standards of craftsmanship, just as it did some 3000 years ago. From the design and modelling stage through to final production, no machine can replace the skilled hands of a craftsman without forfeiting the quality and variety of forms which we associate with elegant porcelain tableware.