By CYNTHIA TOTH
Fasten your seatbelts and get ready for a wild (or relatively calm) ride: Dresden figurines are here!
In 206 B.C.E, China created the world’s first porcelain. This new and beautiful form of ceramic was a hot trading item for hundreds of years -- and an expensive commodity at that. China and Japan both mastered the technique long before Europe, and the race to catch up with their trade was a long and hard one.
In 1709 C.E., Augustus the Strong placed alchemist Johann Friedrich Bottger under house arrest. (It was rumored that Bottger could turn clay into gold.) In his quest to figure out how to turn clay into gold, Bottger accidentally discovered how to make pure porcelain. Augustus the Strong immediately established a royal porcelain factory in Meissen, Germany -- one of the greatest pottery achievements in Europe -- and the Dresden figurine obsession began.
Slowly but surely, the new porcelain made its way through Europe, finally landing in England in the mid-1700s. Since porcelain was considered the "gold of ceramics," it was a trinket only the wealthy could afford. England is credited with making options for the lower classes. Called "Staffordshire Figures," the figurines were created out of a cheaper stoneware and painted by factory workers. Though not as high-quality as Dresden porcelain, women from all classes could collect and enjoy the knick-knacks.
Simple scenes such as animals, young couples and mothers with children were the most popular. Nostalgia for "days gone by" was high and the idea of a pure and simple life brought joy to many people. Later, as immigrants came to America to build new lives, they brought their figurines with them -- and the craze began sweeping the United States, lasting well into the 19th century.
Does your family have any cherished porcelain figurines?
Funding has been provided to the Fort Bend History Association from Humanities Texas and the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020.
Fort Bend Museum Staff