„But how does the cavity get into the “Maria” sugar bowl, then?,“ smiles the attendant with the bleached 1980s haircut. She has just poured thin porcelain slip into a compact cast and is straining a bit to recite her little speech. „Oh yes, it took me ages until I figured out how it works,“ a petite woman with a mop of greying hair and stylish horn-rimmed glasses avidly agrees. Her two companions nod understandingly. The two men, apparently her husband and the father-in-law, have been in the porcelain business for decades and today they are visiting the Rosenthal porcelain museum together to reinforce the new family member's knowledge of the production processes.
After a few minutes our guide checks the texture of the porcelain cream in the cast, swivels it one more time and then pours out most of the liquid. Triumphantly she shows us the hardened porcelain layer that has been left stuck to the walls of the cast. „The plaster of the cast dehumidifies the porcelain slip,“ she explains. „And thus only a thin wall of porcelain remains sticking to the cast.“
In an hour or so, the cast can be removed and the squarish Maria-design sugar bowl will be ready for firing – first at 900 degrees, and later, glazed, at 1400 degrees. During the firing process it shrinks by about 39%.
Rosenthal has been producing porcelain in Selb since 1891. The whole region had become a thriving centre of porcelain production after 1814 when Carolus Magnus Hutschenreuther discovered Kaolin here, one of the main ingredients for the elegant ceramic ware. For centuries, the production of porcelain had been a Chinese secret. Johann Friedrich Böttger “discovered” it in Europe at the beginning of the 18th century. In the lowly developed agricultural region of Fichtelgebirge and Oberpfalz, porcelain painting and porcelain modelling became attractive career choices well into the 20th century.
„Resting Place for a Burning Cigar,“ bold Gothic letters scream from the ashtray. It looks like a cheap made-in-China product. Back in 1886, it was Philipp Rosenthal's big hit. Originally a porcelain painter, he went on to establish one of Europe's biggest porcelain factories, designing dinner services and porcelain sculptures. In 1916 he named a set of dishes after his wife, Maria, and it became the best-selling service ever produced by Rosenthal, boasting over 170 different items at one point, including a fish bone bowl and knife rests. Today, the collection still includes more than 80 plates, bowls, chandeliers and tea cups in different sizes. While few people would buy the ashtray, generations have grown up with “Maria” on Sundays.
The Rosenthal headquarters have moved closer to the city centre in Selb. In the outlet sales-room we watch a young couple inspecting a seconds 21-piece dinner set. “Is it broken?” they ask suspiciously as the set sells for a third the original price. “No!,” the attendant assures. “Some of the plates have small blemish, but in most cases you won’t even see it.” The factory shop has a whole presentation room dedicated to the Maria series. And of course the Maria sugar bowl is also here, now glazed and decorated with a variety of flowery patterns.
***All expenses for our trip were paid and organised by ourselves and we did not receive any funding or sponsoring.***