Continued from Tuesdays With Norwood: Porcelain Ballast – Part 2

When he was nineteen, Böttger met the mysterious alchemist Lascaris in Berlin and received a present of some two ounces of transmutation powder from him. If you refuse to believe in alchemists and transmutation, you may as well assume that Mr. Lascaris stepped out of a UFO for the stories of his–and Böttger’s–careers are entirely too well documented to dismiss. As Lascaris no doubt intended, Böttger’s couldn’t resist showing off the powder’s powers. Unfortunately, he also claimed to have made it himself with the predictable result that he soon had all the crowned heads of Germany in his pursuit. He finally reached safety, so he thought, in Dresden, under the protection of August II, “the Strong,” Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. But with extravagant gifts and riotous living, his stock of powder was exhausted rather sooner than later and his “protector” proved not to be the disinterested well-wisher he had seemed. Poor Böttger found himself confined in the castle of Konigstein where he was given a laboratory for his researches and a clear understanding of the fate reserved for him should he fail.

He finally convinced his jailer, a certain Count Tschirnhaus, that he was not an Adept in the spagyric arts but merely a demonstrator. The count proposed that in that case he should put the laboratory to use in quest of the secret of making china, since next to gold and power, collecting Japanese and Chines porcelains was Augustus’s ruling passion. (He had filled a palace with his collection–some twenty thousand pieces and still growing–by the time of his death.) Fortunately for the prisoner-researcher, Saxony abounds with the two main ingredients for the manufacture of porcelain–china clay or kaolin and the so-called china stone, a type of rock made up mostly of silica and alumina that serves as a flux and gives the ware its translucency. Böttger first produced stoneware and then, after numerous false starts, finally obtained a hard-paste red porcelain in 1703. The kiln had been kept burning for five days and five nights and in anticipation of success his royal patron had been invited to see it opened. It is reported that the first product Böttger took out and presented to Augustus was a fine red teapot. The long-sought secret had been discovered at last and after a few more years Böttger managed to come up with genuine hard-paste white porcelain.

To be concluded in Tuesdays With Norwood: Porcelain Ballast – Part 4