Continued from Tuesdays With Norwood: Porcelain Ballast – Part 1

To keep up with this demand, Jingdezhen, China’s main porcelain-making center since the Song dynasty, as early as 1712 needed to keep three thousand kilns fired day and night. The prices fell to ridiculously low levels–seven pounds seven shillings in 1730 for a tea service for 200 people, each piece ornamented with the crest of the ambassador who ordered it; teapots, five thousand of them in 1732, imported at under twopence each. Even if we multiply these prices by one hundred to approximate today’s, it is incredibly cheap cost for porcelain of this quality. Before European-made wares came into general use around 1800, the English and European middle classes enjoyed their tea and meals from the finest quality chinaware ever used by any but very wealthy people, a quality of life for which the tea trade was directly responsible.

For years before the advent of tea it had been the dream of all European potters to produce china themselves. Britain’s Elers brothers mastered stoneware, but their efforts to reproduce china proved unavailing, and so did the efforts of all the other first-rate potters in Europe. The potters of St. Cloud in France developed a substitute now known as soft-paste porcelain, but nobody came near approximating the real thing until an apothecary’s apprentice named Johann-Friederich Böttger bumbled onto the scene.

To be continued in Tuesdays With Norwood: Porcelain Ballast – Part 3