The Titanic—Were These Pirkenhammer Dishes On That Ill-Fated Ship?
Pirkenhammer Sugar Bowl From the Turn of the Century
Finding an Exquisite Set of Pirkenhammer China
The famous White Star Liner Titanic will always hold a special place in our hearts. Just the name of that magnificent ship immediately conjures up unforgettable and moving scenes from romantic and tragic movies about this great human disaster. Even though the Titanic sank in 1912, the mystique of anything and everything that has to do with this incredible ship is still spell-binding to this day. I remember watching the movie “A Night To Remember” when I was just a boy, and I was so shaken by the experience of witnessing the drama unfold that I had to read the book. I will never forget the human tragedy that was recalled in both of these. My great-grandmother was born in 1876, and I would often sit with her and talk about the “olden” days. She had witnessed so much of history first-hand, so sitting with Grandma was often like getting to take a trip through time. I once asked her about what she remembered of the Titanic, and I will never forget the look on her face. All these many years later, and she still got a very sad look on her face as she described what a horrible and tragic event it was. The dramatic event of the Titanic sinking with so many lives lost was a powerful event, and I think it will continue to haunt us for many years still.
It is, therefore, no surprise that, if a person finds that they have discovered something that may have been aboard that unforgettable ship, it will make them pause and wonder. I will never forget the feeling I had when I first looked at the piece of dinner china that was in my hands, looking at the name Pirkenhammer on the reverse side, and thinking to myself, “Could it be?” “Could what be?” you are probably asking. Could it be possible that I was holding a piece of china from the Titanic? Let’s take a journey.
A Brief History of Pirkenhammer
The dinner service chinaware that became Pirkenhammer of Austria / Bavaria was founded by Johann Gottlob List and Friedrich Hocke in 1803. The company changed hands in 1811 when it was sold to Johan Martin Fischer of Erfurt and Christopher Reichenbach of Brezova. In 1822, they were licensed at a national level. Fischer died in 1824, and his wife took his place in the company. In 1831, Fischer’s son, Christian, took over the helm. By now, Pirkenhammer was renowned and had achieved the reputation of being literally the best porcelain in Bohemia, valued especially for its exquisite translucent qualities and design. Christian Fischer observed the French manufacturers very closely, and his extraordinary efforts in design and manufacture led to Pirkenhammer china being considered by Europeans as superior to the French. The company prospered. In 1835, Pirkenhammer won the bronze medal at the Vienna Fair, and took the gold medal in 1839. Pirkenhammer’s reputation soared, and so did the prices. Reichenbach retired in 1852, selling his share to Fischer, and at the same time, Fischer’s daughter, Wilhelmine, married Ludwig von Mieg. He became a partner in the company, and the name on the business was now Fischer and Mieg of Pirkenhammer. Pirkenhammer became so famous for excellent and exquisite china that European royalty and heads of state ordered their dinner service from Pirkenhammer. And this is where the story gets interesting. When European royalty traveled, they would have their dinner service carried with them so that their servants could set their meals appropriately. These people were only going to dine on the best china, no matter where they were, and Pirkenhammer was the fashion for anyone who had money enough to have a set made for them. The average person could not afford to purchase this elegant china, it was just that expensive, and this made it all the more a “must-have” for the ultra rich. Knowing the elegant history of Pirkenhammer, when I heard that Pirkenhammer was aboard the Titanic, it intrigued me, but it did not surprise me, especially knowing that European elite who would travel on this ship would have had their own china brought with them for the journey. But, adding to this tale was the story that Pirkenhammer had been asked by the White Star Line, owners of the Titanic, to manufacture sets just for their ship. And here I was, holding a plate marked Pirkenhammer, a plate that was handed down through the years and carefully tended, as was obvious from the mint condition of the service. People who are not of royal lineage do not usually have maids and butlers hand-cleaning their china, and I have seen beautiful antique pieces with their hand-applied gold edges ruined by lower-class relatives who inherited them and stupidly put them in dishwashers. No, these were typical of antique Pirkenhammer. They had been well-cared for, and not only was the gold on the edges still very prominent, but the patterns were as elegant and rich as the day they were made. And what translucence! Holding these piece up to the light is to see one of the reasons they were so prized. At a cursory glance, I estimated that the set of dishes before me was made somewhere around 1900. However, when exactly would take research, and that I could not do unless I bought the entire set. You can guess what I did.
The Rare Titanic Mark on Pirkenhammer
An Adventure Begns
The story of Pirkenhammer chinaware and the Titanic becomes even more intriguing when one tries to research and nail down exactness, because no one is talking. Pirkenhammer has long since been bought out by disinterested parties, changed hands, and no one there is of any help. But, pieces of Pirkenhammer dating to that time do show up with the word Titanic printed on the back of the plates. Adding further excitement and mystery to this tale is the fact that a piece of Pirkenhammer was found in a stateroom aboard the sunken ship, salvaged, brought to the surface... and sold for a very handsome sum to a major casino in Las Vegas! Thus, if you saw a set of elegant and mint-condition Pirkenhammer dishes sitting in front of you for sale, what would YOU do? I bought them immediately. Yes, visions of finding out that these very dishes might have been aboard the Titanic did dance in my head, but it would take much research before I would know anything. It was home with the dishes, and a great adventure began.
Several Pieces of the Pirkenhammer Set
Pirkenhammer Mark Circa 1918
Dating Pirkenhammer Pieces
Dating any pieces of Pirkenhammer begins with looking on the back of the dishes to examine the “marks,” as they are called. All pottery manufacturers used logos that were applied under the glaze to distinguish their line of pottery ware. By researching historical records of these marks, a person can determine who the manufacturer was, where the item was made, the time period, and in some cases, even the year and month it was manufactured. I only knew that the symbol of the crossed hammers was decidedly Pirkenhammer, and that the Pirkenhammer name sadly disappeared after 1945, but I would have to look up the historical records of the evolution of the Pirkenhammer marks, since their marks had changed several times over the years, and these changes in design would tell me when my pieces were made. I was hoping they were before 1912.
The Set of Pirkenhammer That I Acquired
Pirkenhammer Mark on the Cups
The History of These Pieces Will Continue to Be Made
Somewhat anti-climatic, anyone who knows history could have told me what I was going to eventually find...Czechoslovakia was established in 1918. That name is prominently printed on the back of every one of these beautiful pieces, which means that they were made a few years after the fate of the Titanic. My estimate is that they were made around 1918-1920, and the fact thus becomes obvious that these dishes were too late to make the ill-fated trip. These rare and exquisite pieces of antique Pirkenhammer, therefore, survived to be enjoyed without having to be brought up from the ocean depths. While they may not have earned the fame of being pieces brought up by divers, I think there will someday be some romantic soul who will want to enjoy dining on service that was reserved for very special people. This set of dishes will not be going to a museum after all. I put them on display. Their destiny awaits someone special, someone who appreciates the rare value of antique Pirkenhammer...service to royalty.