Collecting Royal Copenhagen China

The first Royal Copenhagen figurines were made nearly 120 years ago. Today’s collecting is a mix of old and new – old favourites are still being sold and new themes and subjects are constantly introduced.

Royal Copenhagen was founded in 1775 and the first figurines and animals appeared at the Paris World Fair in 1889. The sculptures were hand-painted and an underglaze technique, developed by Arnold Krog, was used.

Before Krog designed this technique porcelain makers had only used blue in underglaze designs because other colours would not survive the intense heat of the kiln.  Krog experimented with new shades, such as purple, brown, green and yellow.  He also recruited some of the most highly skilled sculptors in Denmark who set the future standard for figurine and animal designers.

Christian Thomson was one of the most prolific early sculptors and he was with the company from 1898 to 1921.  His graceful style is widely regarded as the typical look of Royal Copenhagen.  He was trained as a woodcarver which gave him a thorough understanding of the anatomy of his subject.  Although his sculptures are not over-realistic they capture the character of the animal and are very tactile.

Thomson modelled over 100 subjects as well as carving 36 designs for commemorative and Christmas plates and his work is extremely popular with collectors.  Although most of Thomson’s pieces have been discontinued, two pieces are still in the current collection and over 100 years old – Goose Girl Small and Boy with Calf.  These figures are regarded as highly typical of Royal Copenhagen’s unique style.

The other two figurines with a long production history are Dancing Girl, from the early 1920s and Wave and Rock by Theodor Lungberg.  The latter was modelled around 1897 but not produced until 1918 and was produced in three colours, white, black and coloured.

Polar bears have been in production with Royal Copenhagen since 1889.  Polar Bear Roaring by Carl Liisberg dates from 1885 and 1909 and is still in production today together with two studies by Knud Khyn – Polar Bear and Seal which celebrates its centenary this year and Polar Bear Walking.

Khyn also modelled many other animals during the first half of the 20th century, but many of these are only to be found in the second hand market.  Collectors find it very hard to find pre-1960 models.

In 2008 Royal Copenhagen launched the Royal White collection which features many of the classic designs of the company in pure white.  This collection reveals the timeless grace and elegance of the original models.  Ond of the current designers, Allan Therkelsen continues the traditions of the great sculptors of the early 20th century and much of his work is in the classic style, but also adding twists of his own.  Allan has designed series of children, one with pets, one with farm animals and one of children at play.  He has also done a series of ballerinas and got his inspiration from visiting the Royal Danish School of Ballet.  His other work includes the Good Luck Frogs series as well as other animal sculptures.  Pia Langelund joined Royal Copenhagen in 1991and two of her most famous pieces are a majestic lioness and a proud virile gorilla.

Royal Copenhagen has been popular for well over a century and collectors seem to like the new as well as the old.  If you are buying older pieces from an antiques fair or dealer you should examine the piece carefully for damage or repair.  Pieces can be dated by looking at the impressed or painted model number, although these can be confusing as, after Royal Copenhagen amalgamated with Bing and Grondhal in 1987, a new code system was introduced and some codes were duplicated.  Figures often have a painter’s mark – pre-1930 this was a number, later it was an initial and by the 1960s the initial would be in upper case.

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