Prussian king Frederick II had a passion for “white gold,” and in 1763 took over the Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur from a Berlin businessman, Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. The king gave the company its name, and allowed it to use his emblem, a cobalt-blue sceptre. Until the abdication of Emperor William II in 1918, KPM was owned by seven kings and emperors.
Frederick William I, the Soldier King, was given 600 Saxon cavalrymen by August the Strong in exchange for 151 Chinese lidded vases from the palaces of Charlottenburg and Oranienburg. Since the king of Prussia regrouped the soldiers to set up a regiment of dragoons, the valuable vessels have gone down in history as the “dragoon vases.”
Wilhelm Caspar Wegely, a Berlin woolstuffs merchant, made a rather immodest request in a letter to the king of Prussia. He wanted to be given the privilege of setting up a porcelain manufactory in Berlin, and, free of charge, the Kommandantenhaus building in Friedrichstraße together with the land on which it stood. On top of this he asked for customs duties to be waived on the material needed for the production process, and the exclusion of competition of any kind.
A week after receiving Wegely’s letter, Frederick II acceded to his request, and added another privilege. In order to ensure that the arcanum, the secret formula for the production of porcelain, which had the status of a state secret, would never be divulged, customs officials were to be forbidden to look into Wegely’s barrels. Moreover, Wegely was permitted to require his workers to swear that they would keep the secret. The king’s magnanimity made good economic sense. Exclusiveness increased the market value of the “white gold.”
Production began even before the building work on the manufactory had been completed. The entrepreneur Wegely received the building material free of charge and was merely required to pay for the construction work. Wegely purloined first-class craftsmen from his competitors, and appointed the porcelain modeller Ernst Heinrich Reichard to the post of chief modeller. Porcelain made during the initial phase bears the mark “W.”
In Wegely’s manufactory the famous miniature and enamel painter Isaak Jakob Clauce was appointed to the post of head of the painting department.
In the Seven Years’ War, Frederick II needed money for other things than porcelain from Wegely’s manufactory, whose best customer he had become. The Prussians occupied Meißen, and the town’s porcelain manufactory. Enough porcelain was confiscated in Dresden, Leipzig and Meißen to meet the king’s requirements. The remainder was sold for far less than it was worth to the king’s supplier of military equipment, Heinrich Karl Schimmelmann. Wegely reminded the king that he had been granted certain privileges, and was then permitted to visit the Meißen manufactory.
Neither the privileges nor industrial espionage were able to help Wegely, who was on the verge of bankruptcy. He shut down his factory and sold his stock of porcelain, his tools and his raw materials to a Berlin entrepreneur, Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky.
Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky, who was a manufacturer of silk and an art dealer, now founded a porcelain manufactory in Berlin. He concluded an agreement with Wegely’s chief modeller, Ernst Heinrich Reichard, who was in possession of the secret formula known as the arcanum. Reichard received 4,000 reichstaler for the arcanum, and another 3,000 for the stock of porcelain and other material. Furthermore, he undertook to work for Gotzkowsky as a holder of the arcane secrets and as the manager. Gotzkowsky bought the Dorvillesche Haus next to his own property in Leipziger Straße, and began to build a factory on the site. For over 100 years KPM remained at this address, notwithstanding the fact that it is a long way away from the Spree, and thus in a very unfavourable position. In the same year, Gotzkowsky appointed Friedrich Elias Meyer, a pupil of Kändler who came from Meißen, to the post of chief modeller, and Carl Wilhelm Boehme to the post of head of the porcelain painting department.
The company had secured the services of top-level experts. This did not stop Gotzkowsky’s financial situation from deteriorating. Since the royal exchequer was in the red on account of the war, Gotzkowsky believed that he stood little or no chance of obtaining assistance from the king.
The end of the war also signalled the end for Gotzkowsky’s manufactory. After he had reached a point where he could no longer pay the wages of his employees, the king himself appeared on the scene and purchased the manufactory for the considerable sum of 225,000 reichstaler. He took over the staff of 146 workers. On 19 September Frederick II officially became an entrepreneur. He gave the business its name and allowed it to use the royal sceptre as its symbol. From now on it was called Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Berlin (Royal Porcelain Manufactory in Berlin) and became a model of how to run a business. There was no child labour, there were regular working hours, above-average incomes, secure pensions, a factory healthcare fund and assistance for widows and orphans.
The work processes became more rational, and the techniques employed were honed and perfected. KPM became what it has remained to this day: a business that is based on economic principles and takes “manu factum” seriously. Craftsmanship is the basis of the enterprise, and the secret of its success. 1767 saw the appearance of the NEUZIERAT, NEUGLATT and ROCAILLE dinner services, and they were followed in 1770 by NEUOSIER.
In 1784, after a four-year development period, the king’s desire for a soft and delicate shade of blue was fulfilled. The colour was known as “bleu mourant” (dying blue), and was used to decorate NEUZIERAT, Frederick’s favourite dinner service. It is also the origin of a familiar Berlin saying. If you are feeling a bit like death warmed up, then you are in a state of “bleu mourant” (in German this is rendered as “blümerant”).
Since he was now owner of KPM, the king no longer had to think twice when it came to finding suitable gifts. Almost all of his diplomatic presents came from the manufactory, and were to be found at the court of the tsars in Russia, and on the tables of European royalty. From 1765 to his death in 1786 Frederick II placed orders with KPM for porcelain to the value of 200,000 taler. For his palaces alone he ordered 21 dinner services, each of them with up to 450 separate parts.
Under Frederick the Great’s successor, his nephew Frederick William II, the manufactory became a technologically leading enterprise. The new king obtained what he needed in the way of porcelain from KPM, but stopped paying cash. The amounts receivable were deducted from his share of the profits. The factory flourished. From 1787 onwards the average annual net profit came to more than 40,000 taler. In 1790 Peter Biron, the Duke of Kurland, placed an order with KPM for the KURLAND dinner service, which to this day continues to be one of the great success stories of the manufactory.
KPM was a modern manufactory, and it eagerly introduced new technologies. The new kilns of the earthenware manufacturer Ungerer were considerably more efficient because the firing chambers were stacked one above the other.
At the behest of the chairman of the Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Berlin commission, the erstwhile minister Friedrich Anton von Heynitz, KPM was the first enterprise in the country to acquire a steam engine. It had ten hp, which meant that ten horses were no longer needed.
Napoleon’s troops occupied Berlin. They seized KPM’s cash and auctioned off the stock of porcelain in Breslau and Warsaw for the benefit of the French authorities. In this period KPM ran up huge losses.
Christoph Georg Frick, KPM’s arcanum specialist, developed brilliant and rather subtle shadings of green on the basis of chrome oxide and a new combination of black and grey based on iridium. The new colours expanded the spectrum available to porcelain painters, who now had at their disposal the gamut of expressive possibilities that had previously been the preserve of oil painting.
By the end of the Wars of Liberation the Prussians had managed to get rid of the French. And KPM found it difficult to keep up with all the orders it received. The king rewarded his most loyal generals by giving them expensive porcelain gifts.
The KPM warehouse was turned into a stylish shop with showcases, shelves and display windows.
KPM had to make way for the construction of the Prussian Parliament on Leipziger Straße. The new building was on the edge of the Tiergarten. It cost 360,000 talers. On account of its position by the river Spree it was now possible to transport raw materials and manufactured goods on barges.
The chemist Hermann Seger joined the company and began to develop new glazes. Among his inventions were ox blood (sang-de-boeuf), celadon, crystal and running glazes. They were inspired by ancient Chinese ceramics.
An artistic director was appointed to assist KPM’s managing director. His task was to ensure the high artistic level of KPM porcelain.
Theodor Schmuz-Baudiss was appointed to the post of artistic director and began to make greater use of the glazes developed by Seger. KPM porcelain of the Jugendstil era such as the CERES dinner service made in 1912 is generally considered to be a paragon of perfection.
In the First World War people were supposed to do without luxury of any kind and to exchange “gold for iron.” At the request of the emperor, KPM gave up golden decorations. Their place tended to be taken by the Iron Cross. Instead of roses the artists now painted oak leaves, and instead of sweet shepherdesses they executed portraits of the commanding officers, above all those of William II and Hindenburg.
After the demise of the monarchy in 1918, KPM became the Staatliche Porzellan-Manufaktur. After the Second World War, the responsibility for the company was in the hands of the state of Berlin, which was the owner. In 1988 the Senate decided to allow KPM to revert to the name Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Berlin GmbH.
After the abdication of William II, KPM no longer had a royal owner. It was now known as the Staatliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Berlin. However, the KPM mark and the sceptre were retained.
A new artistic era began under the aegis of Günther von Pechmann, the founder of the Neue Sammlung in Munich and chairman of the German Werkbund. Both the Werkbund and the Bauhaus influenced the artistic designs. Designed in keeping with the precepts of the Bauhaus, Trude Petri’s URBINO dinner service, which was unveiled in 1931, was not only a commercial success. In 1937 it was awarded a Grand Prix at the World Exposition in Paris. The ARKADIA (1938) and FELDBLUMENRELIEF AUF BORD (1940) dinner services were based on the formal language of the New Objectivity.
In the night of 22 and 23 November an Allied air raid destroyed the KPM Tiergarten buildings, and with them machines and raw materials. Many designs were lost forever.
KPM now moved into temporary quarters in Selb, where there had once been plans to enlarge the company. From Franconia, KPM continued to supply the market with decorative porcelain and domestic tableware. In the meantime some of the staff reconstructed the Berlin premises.
Manufacturing returned to the historic KPM buildings in Berlin-Tiergarten after they had been rebuilt.
Wolf Karnagel designed the STAMBUL mocha service. Today it is a classic and much sought-after, and fetches princely sums at auctions.
The GDR leadership returned the KPM archive, which had been stored temporarily in East Berlin. In exchange the statues of the former Schlossbrücke were returned to their original location.
For his court, the Sultan of Brunei ordered a ROCAILLE dining service based on the Breslau City Palace pattern, a KURLAND coffee service, and a CAMPANER chocolate service.
As a result of a resolution adopted by the Senate, KPM became a limited company and was now called KPM Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Berlin GmbH. It was now no longer a state-owned enterprise. Thereafter KPM was in the hands of the Gewerbesiedlugnsgesellschaft, a subsidiary of state-owned Investitionsbank Berlin.
KPM began to re-emphasize its cultural and craft traditions. It rediscovered old colours and patterns, and its product range combined the old and the new. Important dinner services from the era of the New Objectivity were reissued, and a number of designs that had originally been discarded now saw the light of day. In 1993 the company was given a makeover, and the sceptre from Frederick the Great’s coat of arms took centre stage.
After the resounding success in 1994 of the MARI vase collection, KPM presented the BERLIN dinner service, another high point in its cooperation with Italian designer Enzo Mari. With their concave and convex flags, the BERLIN plates and bowls create an opening blossom when placed on top of each other. In 1998 the design received the iF Product Design Award.
Over a period of five years, the whole KPM Quartier on the edge of Berlin’s Tiergarten district was refurbished by architects Gerkan, Marg and Partners, who worked hard to preserve the historic buildings for posterity. At the same time the production technology was updated and is now state-of-the-art. The ZEN service was inspired by the stylistic power of East Asia.
In 2006, after several previous attempts at privatization, Berlin banker Jörg Woltmann took over the Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Berlin and became sole shareholder. He has been very successful in shaping the philosophy of this traditional company, has pursued the internationalisation of KPM as a premium brand, and has created new employment opportunities.
After the end of the privatisation process, KPM opened its newly designed sales gallery in the historic ring-kiln hall. In its thousand square metres the visitor encounters a dazzling world of sophistication and stylish table culture.
In the centre of Potsdam, KPM opened another sales gallery near the Brandenburg Gate. Other galleries are located in Berlin (KPM Quartier, Unter den Linden and Hotel Kempinski), in Hamburg (Neuer Wall), and in Cologne (Brückenstraße). Furthermore, the internationalisation of the KPM brand is making good progress in countries such as the US, Russia, Japan, China and the United Arab Emirates.
Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur opened the KPM World exhibition in the KPM Quartier. In the course of a tour that is 500 metres in length, visitors experience the fascinating world of the Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Berlin and its 250 years of history. They learn all there is to know about the complicated process of making porcelain, and about the art of porcelain painting and decoration. KPM World is one of Berlin’s cultural highlights.
KPM celebrates the 300th anniversary of the birth of its founder with a historical exhibition and “Frederick Guided Tours” through the KPM World exhibition. An unusual act of homage is KPM’s porcelain FREDERICK POTATO, which reminds us of the king’s “potato decree.” It was as a result of this that the nutritious vegetable became popular throughout the length and breadth of Prussia.
KPM celebrates its 250th anniversary with 23 limited collectors’ editions and the new services KURLAND Blanc Nouveau and KURLAND Royal Noir. Under the heading MADE TO STAY, KPM presents a stunning world of experience at the KaDeWe department store.
The final highlight of the anniversary year is the exhibition “Royal Porcelain Manufactory Berlin 1763-2013. Porcelain art from private collections.”. From September 20, 2013 to January 5, 2014, it offers a never-seen-before journey through all the manufactory’s creative periods