QUESTION: My mother has a 12-place setting of Rosenthal china that she uses only on holidays and special occasions. I’ve always loved this pattern—her dishes say “Rosenthal Maria” on the bottom—but other than her set, I’ve never heard of this china company. I guess that’s because today we don’t entertain as formally as people used to. She told me that the set was given to her as a wedding gift. She and my father just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. I’d love to know more about this china since I’m sure one day it will be mine. What can you tell me about Rosenthal?
ANSWER: Rosenthal is and has been one of the finest European potteries since Abraham Rosenthal founded it in 1883 in Selb, Germany. Some experts compare it to some of the best German porcelain manufacturers. Even though they’ve been around for over 130 years, the firm’s products remain elusive to collectors because people who own pieces like them so much they tend to keep them.
Rosenthal originally started out founding a porcelain-painting business, but when he couldn’t get enough pieces to paint, he opened his own porcelain factory.
In 1881, there were four porcelain painters working for the company. By 1951 the number had grown to 6,000. Today, the Rosenthal firm owns two porcelain factories, the Selb and Rotbuhl both in Selb, and a ceramic factory in Kronach, plus several others not pottery related.
The Rosenthal family had a great interest in modern art. Philipp Rosenthal, son of Abraham, was a designer and his son together invited famous modern artists to collaborate in the development of both artistic porcelain and pieces for everyday use. In 1961, Rosenthal introduced the Studio Line, characterized by the simple lines modern design.
Rosenthal dining sets first appeared in 1900. Even though it was a new century, they were influenced by Victorian design and decoration. This dinnerware came in complete sets of 12, as was the custom of the time, including many pieces no longer included in today’s dinnerware sets. Back then sets included handled soup tureens, ragout bowls, fish dishes, fruit bowls on feet, salt and pepper cellars, blueberry bowls with saucers, chocolate plates, four sizes of coffeepots, three sizes of sugar bowls and cookie jars, as well as the usual dinner plates and cups and saucers. While the shapes of some pieces evolved over the years, some have remained unchanged, such as the pear-shaped coffeepot, the round teapot, and the oval chocolate pot.
Early painted patterns included "Rococo/Louis XIV," 1892, made in Selb, "Gladstone" and "Moliere," both produced at Kronach factory in 1900. Art Nouveau style services included "Flora" in 1899, "Iris" in 1900 and "Botticelli" and "Donatello," both made at the Selb factory. The firm’s most successful dinnerware service, "Maria," appeared in 1914.
The challenge that collector’s face when identifying which Rosenthal pattern they have is that through the years Rosenthal placed hundreds of designs on the same shapes. While a collector may say he or she owns pieces of Donatello, for instance, what they actually have is Rosenthal’s Donatello shape. Artists rarely signed their decorations on Rosenthal china. The company mostly used a combination of transfers and hand painted details over top. Even the modern Studio Line with its incredibly bright colors is usually decorated with a transfer and then hand applied gold and other colors.
Rosenthal produced china using all the design innovations of the 20th century, including Art Deco, Bauhaus, and International Classicism in the 1920s and 1930s.
Today, collectors can purchase open stock of the exquisite "Suomi" pattern, designed by Timo Sarpaneva in 1976. Other artists who decorated "Suomi" included Salvador Dail and Victor Vasarely. Rosenthal has also developed a collector line of cups. The first was in the "Cupola" shape—each decorated by a different artist and boasting a diagonally mounted, grooved handle impossible to actually use. The second was a group of 10 espresso cups taken from the "Mythos" service, plus more than 30 artist cups. Rosenthal also produced limited edition Year Plates and Artist Plates designed by such artists as Roy Lichtenstein, Edna Hibel and LeRoy Neiman.
While Rosenthal produced some dinnerware sets in great quantity, putting them on the lower end of the value scale, there were special pieces painted by famous artists which sell for as high as $800 to $1,000.
To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my site. And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about the Victorians in the Winter 2018 Edition, "All Things Victorian," online now.