The story of Desirée Svend Jensen - Old Copenhagen Blue
The Désirée porcelain factory was founded by Engineer H. C. Torbol in 1964. Prior to starting his own production, Mr. Thorbol was the managing director of Bing & Grondahl and the porcelain factory Norden in Copenhagen for some years.
The Désirée porcelain factory was from it's beginning located in Ringsted, Denmark, in beautiful surroundings by the old village Benloese.
Benloese is an outer area that is now a part of the city Ringsted. Back in the days the city got its name because of its location near the great Benedictine monastery, that was part of the big and beautiful Church of St. Bendt, which is the oldest brick church in Scandinavia and it dates as far back as around 1170 A.D.
The lovely, rural surroundings has always been an important contributions for the inspiration that was required in developing the factory's many products.
When Desiree set out in 1964/65, they produced primarily stoneware products for instance tableware, lamps and vases. Many people still remember the factory's first tableware Selandia, which was very popular for decades and widely spread in Danish homes. This tableware is known for its cylindrical shape and the engobe decoration in iron colors applied directly to the off-white color underneath the glaze.
Later followed the patterns Thule, Diskos, North Sea ( Vesterhav) and Jutlandia, all stoneware patterns and all with underglaze decoration.
Although stoneware was very popular during the 60's and 70's, Desiree took up the challenge of producing porcelain, in spite of the fact that production was made in Denmark, renowned for its porcelain tradition. The result was that the first Mother's Day plate was produced in 1970, and later the same year the first Christmas plate was released.
The beginning of the plates
Desiree's Mother's Day plates took their motifs from the world of children. In total 25 different plates were released with different motifs depicting this charming and fascinating world, we have all experienced. Among others where Maggi Baaring, Nulle Oigaard, Mads Stage, and Svend Otto S., who are some of Denmark's finest artists who have contributed motifs for these plates.
When Désirée introduced porcelain and the renowned technique underglazing in their production, it was used for the Mother's Day plates, and the porcelain Desiree Hans Christian Andersen Chrismas plate.
The blue underglaze technique was invented by the very famous designer Arnold Krog working at the Royal Porcelain Factory during the 1880's and this technique gained admiration as well as world fame at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1888 in the very same exhibition, where the French introduced the Eiffel Tower. Bing & Grondahl used this technique in the introduction of the first Bing and Grondahl Christmas plate in 1895, and they were soon followed by the Royal Porcelain Factory, with their introduction of the first Royal Copenhagen christmas plate in 1908. In 1970 Desiree followed their lead.
At first Desiree primarily marketed their Mother's Day and Christmas plates on the US market, where they became known under the name Desiree Svend Jensen.
Desiree Hans Christian Andersen Christmas plates were, from the beginning and right up till its end in 2002, inspired by the famous fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen.
Also a series of Christmas Cup and Saucer with the same motifs as the Christmas plates was issued. This series started in 1982 and ended in 1998.
From the mid 70's Knud Thorbol took over the management of the Desiree factory and for the following years a wide range of products were developed by Lis and Knud Torboel among others the white tableware Polar.
After introducing porcelain and the blue underglaze technique in the Desiree company in the 1970's a wide range of popular tableware was designed by Lis Torboel and introduced in the company's product range. Examples of this tabletop are Mistletoe, Scandinavia and Springtime, all very popular at the time, and all produced in the hand painted underglaze technique.
During the 1970's Denmark housed a large number of porcelain manufacturers. In addition to the two leading companies, Bing & Grondahl and Royal Copenhagen, there were Kronjyden, Knabstrup, Soeholm, Eslau and Désiree. During the 1980's and 90's the number of companies producing porcelain was reduced, partly because of the increasing Danish wages and partly because producers from countries such as China and countries in Eastern Europe introduced their products. Production costs were much lower in these countries and consequently their products could be sold at a much lower price.
The two large porcelain manufacturers Bing & Grondahl and Royal Copenhagen merged in 1987. The smaller porcelain manufacturers had to close, among these Désiree and Eslau were the last survivors, but both had to close down production in Denmark soon after the turn of the millenium. Part of their production was continued in foreign countries.
Experience the making of Désirée Denmark porcelain plates
For the Désirée plate to become the beautiful little plate of art we know, it had to undergo a long range of different processes. Before any of the plates were offered in stores, they had to be handled by many different people. However, not all items got that far.
Follow the plate's way from clay to porcelain plate through the photos below:
After having mixed the minerals kaolin, feldspar and quarts with water until a cream-like substance was achieved, water was removed under high pressure in a filter press.
What was left was a filter mass with a water content of 18-20 %. This mass could be cast into plates and other items.
To cast plates Desiree used plaster moulds. The Danish porcelain manufacturer was particularly known for their Mother's day plates and Christmas plates with motifs in blue under-glaze decoration.
The motifs of the plates were hand carved as relief in a plaster mould, which was used for the production. This handicraft requires extensive knowledge by the artist drawing the motif and by the person modelling it. Applying this to the plaster mould as a hand carved relief was no easy task.
From the hand carved original mould, the work moulds were made. Only a limited number of plates could be produced from each work mould. The mould then had to be discarded.
Now the casting of the plates could begin. At this time the clay had been through a process of removing air pockets under vacuum. The moist clay was pressed into the shape of the clay cylinders as seen on the photo above. Then a slice of clay was cut off and placed on the plaster mould, which was then rotated.
During rotation the slice of clay was rolled out between the plaster mould and the so called roller head. This is the process which shapes the plate from the wet clay.
After the plate was shaped, it went through a drying process. Still in the plaster mould it was controlled carefully, to make sure that all details in the motif was copied from the plaster mould to the clay.
Only the very best plates got through this inspection, and a large number had to be destroyed. Before the plates were sent on in the process, the edge was rounded off in a trimming process.
The approved plates were then burned for the first time at a temperature of 940 degrees Celcius. When taken out of the oven, they were checked once again for possible cracks.
When they had passed this test, they were stamped at the bottom with the company trademark. This stamp included the manufacturer's name, the name of the plate's motif, the designer's name and the initials of the lady, who painted the plate. At the front side of the plate, the production year of the plate was stated underneath the motif.
Now the very demanding underglaze decoration began.
This decoration was carried out by ladies with years of experience in this very unique skill. The ladies added and removed colour again and again to achieve a varying layer and strengths of the colour. After the next burning this was reflected in the many blue nuances the artist put into the motif.
Prior to the second burning the decorated plate must be covered by a layer of glazing. In addition to water, the glazing includes materials closely related to the materials used in the production of the plate, but the mix of the materials were different.
In the following burning this caused the glaze to melt and then cover the plate and the decoration, thus forming "a transparent glass window".
This firing lasted approx. 24 hours from start to end. Not only is it important for the temperature to reach 1320 degrees Celcius, the time it takes to reach a range of temperatures on the way to the 1320 degrees is crucial.
Furthermore the chemical composition of the burning was constantly checked as seen in the photo above to ensure that the plates get the tone of colour, which gives them the most beautiful appearance.
After having been burned, the foot of the plate was rough like sandpaper. Before the plates were sent to customers all over the world, the foot was polished in order to prevent them from scratching the other plates.
At the end of a long journey through many hands was the final expert quality check. This quality check decided whether the plate was found worthy of leaving the factory as a representative of the high quality standards required by Desiree Denmark.
Less than 50 % of the cast plates were approved.