Meissen chocolate pot

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TITLE: Meissen chocolate pot and cover
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
OBJECT NAME: Chocolate pot
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 64.441 a,b
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “38” impressed.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1943.
This chocolate pot is from the Smithsonian’s Hans Syz Collection of Meissen Porcelain. Dr. Syz (1894-1991) began his collection in the early years of World War II, when he purchased eighteenth-century Meissen table wares from the Art Exchange run by the New York dealer Adolf Beckhardt (1889-1962). Dr. Syz, a Swiss immigrant to the United States, collected Meissen porcelain while engaged in a professional career in psychiatry and the research of human behavior. He believed that cultural artifacts have an important role to play in enhancing our awareness and understanding of human creativity and its communication among peoples. His collection grew to represent this conviction.
The invention of Meissen porcelain, declared over three hundred years ago early in 1709, was a collective achievement that represents an early modern precursor to industrial chemistry and materials science. The porcelains we see in our museum collections, made in the small town of Meissen in the German States, were the result of an intense period of empirical research. Generally associated with artistic achievement of a high order, Meissen porcelain was also a technological achievement in the development of inorganic, non-metallic materials.
The purple scale pattern forming a wide band on the neck of the pot and on the rim of the cover frames onglaze enamel paintings of exotic birds perched on foliage. Although not as common as flower patterns Meissen produced several of these tea and coffee services with bird subjects framed by the scale pattern in blue or purple (see the cup and saucer, ID number 1992.0427.05 a,b). The silver gilt chain attached to the cover and handle of the pot is probably contemporary with the piece.
Porcelain painters did not always copy faithfully from their sources, using them as a base from which to decorate three-dimensional forms. Although the birds on the chocolate pot look like exotic fantasy birds they could be based on the Chinese painted pheasant, a richly colored fowl imported to Europe from China and kept in aviaries popular with the European nobility. In his Natural History of Uncommon Birds (London 1743-1751) George Edwards depicted the painted pheasant from one “newly dead” and given to him by the “Lady of Sir John Heathcote.” He notes that “these birds of late are frequently brought from China: I have seen several of them in the Possession of our Nobility, and some curious Gentlemen…” and that they “bear the English climate well.” (page and plate 68 of Volume II). It is highly likely that such birds were kept in the court aviaries at the Moritzburg Castle near Dresden.
George Edwards’ plates from the Natural History of Uncommon Birds were used by the engraver Johann Michael Seligmann on which to base his hand-colored plates for his Sammlung Verschiedener Auslandischer und Seltener Vogel (‘Collection of various foreign and uncommon birds’ Nuremberg 1749-1776). He also referred to Mark Catesby’s Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (London 1731-1743).
The purple scale design and the gold painted rims were the work of other specialists in the manufactory.
In the eighteenth century tea, coffee, and chocolate was served in the private apartments of aristocratic women, usually in the company of other women, but also with male admirers and intimates present. In affluent middle-class households tea and coffee drinking was often the occasion for an informal family gathering. Coffee houses were exclusively male establishments and operated as gathering places for a variety of purposes in the interests of commerce, politics, culture, and social pleasure.
Chocolate was a popular breakfast drink taken with a bread roll, but it was even more expensive than tea and coffee.
George Edwards’ Natural History of Uncommon Birds is available online at the Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture:
For a history of chocolate drinking see Weinberg, B.A., Bealer, B.K., 2002, The World of Caffeine:The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug; on the practice of drinking tea, coffee, and chocolate see Bowman, P.B., 1995, In Praise of Hot Liquors: The Study of Chocolate, Coffee and Tea-drinking 1600-1850; On the coffee house see Ellis, M. 2011, The Coffee House: A Cultural History.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 414-415.
Currently not on view
Meissen Manufactory
Credit Line
Dr. Hans Syz
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
Domestic Furnishings
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Meissen Porcelain: The Hans Syz Collection
ca 1760
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
collector/donor number
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
blue (overall color)
polychrome (overall surface decoration color name)
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (cover material)
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)
metal (overall material)
overall: 5 1/2 in; 13.97 cm
overall: 5 9/16 in x 6 3/8 in x 4 in; 14.12875 cm x 16.1925 cm x 10.16 cm
National Museum of American History
Object Name
pot, chocolate