Royal Delft

History of Blue Delftware

The Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles is the only remaining factory of ± 32 earthenware factories that were established in Delft in the 17th century.

Although it is not exactly sure when the first factories were started, it is known that as early as in the second half of the 16th century, there were factories in Amsterdam, Haarlem and Middelburg that produced multicoloured (or polychrome) earthenware. Dutch potters learnt this trade from their Italian colleagues. It was presumably not until the end of the 16th century that the first pottery was founded in Delft. After that, the number of factories rapidly increased. Firstly because Dutch seamen caught several cargos containing Chinese porcelain and introduced it to the Dutch. Secondly, and most importantly, because tradesmen with the Dutch East India Company (founded in 1602) brought back large quantities of Chinese porcelain from the Far East. This type of porcelain, which was decorated in blue on a white background, was very popular among the Dutch, and soon afterwards Dutch potters started to imitate it.

Porcelain and Delft

Porcelain was a material unknown in the Netherlands, and so the potters attempted to imitate the Oriental products as well as they could with local clay. They succeeded in a relatively short period of time, and shortly after that a large number of factories were founded especially in Rotterdam (12) and Delft (32). This development took place in the first half of the well in the two cities mentioned before. It may have been because a number of buildings in Delft were left vacant because of the ailing brewery industry.

The 17th century

“De Porceleyne Fles” ( The Porcelain Jar) was founded in 1653 by David Anthonisz. v. d. Pieth, at the Oosteinde in Delft. After two years, the factory passed into the hands of Wouter van Eenhoorn and Quirinus van Kleijnoven. Wouter van Eenhoorn was a businessman who also ad financial interests in other potteries, such as „De Griekse A”, “De drie vergulde Astonnekes”, “Het Hooge Huys” and “De Paew”.

Little is known about both the financial and the artistic results of the various companies, and conclusions can only be based on deeds of purchase and sale, contracts , etcetera. Consequently, we can only suspect that in the period during which “De Porceleyne Fles” was owned by Van Kleijnoven and Van Eenhoorn, the factory was prosperous and was one of the most important companies.

In 1653, Van Eenhoorn sold his share of the company to Van Kleijnoven, who then owned the factory. After Van Kleijnoven deceased in 1695, his widow continued the business, but after two years she sold it to Johannes Knotter. He was the first one to introduce the jar in the trademark.

The 18th Century

Johannes Knotter owned the company for only four years, and then sold it to Marcelis de Vlught. Like the previous owners, De Vlught was neither a potter nor a painter, because no works of him were ever found. He therefore hired Jan Sixtus van der Hoeck, a master

painter who was famous for his exquisite decorations. After 1750, the factory was successively owned by Christoffel van Doorne, his son Pieter van Doorne and Jacobus Harleen. The latter reintroduces the jar in the trademark for the first time in 70 years. It has remained part of our trademark ever since. After Harlees decreased in 1786, the company was owned by his son Dirck Harlees. He then sold it to Henricus Arnoldus Piccardt, who was succeeded in 1849 by his daughter, Geertruida V.M.A. Piccardt.

The earthenware industry in Delft was troubled by more and more difficulties. Firstly, porcelainclay was discovered in Europe, and porcelain articles became a difficult competitor. Secondly, in 1746 a whitebaking clay was discovered by Cookworthy. This new clay was in many ways superior to the clay the Delft pottery makers were using. It did not need the layer of white glaze, and the decorations, which were also more delicate, were covered with a layer of transparent glaze.

The 19th century

At the end of the 19th century only a small part of the once so prosperous industry was left. Of the many factories, Geertruida Piccardt‟s was the only one that managed to survive. However, she largely had to give up the production of the old techniques and had to change over to printed, mass produced articles.

In 1876 Joost Thooft, a delft engineer, bought the factory with the intention of restoring the old tradition of producing hand painted Delft Blue. Knowing that people had no more confidence in the older, fragile earthenware, he realised that he would rigorously have to change the technique. Together with Abel Labouchere, his associate since 1884, he succeeded in finding a mixture of clay that resembled the stronger, white English earthenware. From then on, they produced a product that obtained worldwide fame.

Joost Thooft added to the trademark his monogram JT and the word „Delft‟. After he deceased at the age of 46, Abel Labouchere became the only owner of the factory. In 1904 “De Porceleyne Fles” was made into a limited liability company. As a token of appreciation for the attempts the company had been making since 1876 to restore the fame of Delft and the ceramics industry in general, the predicate „Royal‟ was granted to The Porceleyne Fles in 1919.