Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Mysterious and Most Luxurious Ice Bell

Photo: Rosenberg Castle,  Royal Danish Collection.

I've been on a bit of a china kick lately, well more than usual, and I have been browsing tons and tons of patterns. I was told about Flora Danica by my Grandmother, who has quite a love of beautiful china herself.

Flora Danica is made by Royal Copenhagen and is considered one of, if not thee, most luxurious, expensive and historic china patterns in production today. The design on each piece is taken from the botanical prints of the Flora Danica atlas. The china was originally made as a gift for the Russian Empress Catherine II (Catherine the Great), commissioned by the Danish Crown Prince Frederick in 1790. It was the life's work of painter, Johann Christoff Bayer. Unfortunately Catherine never received the set, as she died in 1796, before the china was completed. One a brighter note, the original dinner set is still in use for state occasions in the Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen.

Catherine the Great

Frederick VI of Denmark

So, as we're browsing these amazing pieces, we came across the ice dome (aka ice bell). The what? I'm usually very proud of my knowledge of obscure dining pieces, but this completely eluded me. It's never been mentioned in any of my books, or in any other china pattern I have ever seen. I was especially curious as it is the most expensive piece offered in the Flora Danica collection. Must be important right? So I started The Great Google Search. It has never taken me this long to locate information online before, but finally, tucked away in a news article from the Rome News-Tribune (April 22, 1990), I found a headline: Danish china survives 200 years, by Barbara Mayer. Score!

Flora Danica's Ice Bell, by Royal Copenhagen

According to Ms Mayer, "Because Flora Danica was created as banquet china, there are some unusual pieces. One of the most spectacular is an ice dome, a 15-inch platter topped with a 14-inch-high dome made of open-work porcelain. The dome was to cover a large chunk of ice, which by evaporation would cool the dinner guests. Now it is used for dessert and sometimes mistakenly referred to as an ice cream dome."

So basically, 18th century air conditioning. Very fancy air conditioning... I kind of want one, just to say I have one, but I suppose I'll have to settle with a fan for now, seeing as buying the ice bell will set you back almost $40,000.00. Oh my.

And some more from the Flora Danica collection...

PS if you're on the west coast, and you ever want to see this china in person, snag a ticket to Sunnylands, the Annenberg estate in Rancho Mirage, CA. They have an extensive collection of Flora Danica, as well as lots of English silver-gilt, Meissen and Chinese porcelain. Not to mention the art... Just get tickets for the house tour ahead of time. They go on sale the 1st and 15th of the month and get snapped up very, very fast. If you miss the house, you can always tour the grounds, no appointment necessary.


  1. That little pitcher has such beautiful curves to it and the poppy....oh lovely

  2. OMG! The ice bell! The price is making my temperature rise! Oh! I'm getting flushed sitting here at my desk!
    Bring on the ICE BELL quick! Ha Ha !

    1. Get a collander and a plate and some ice. I'm sure we can find a gold sharpie to doodle some leaves and flowers on it. Poof! Instant, if ghetto, ice bell :) Ta dah!

  3. Really interesting! Glad you finally found out what it was. I have never heard of this. Will be looking for them everywhere now!

    1. If you see any, do share. I have never seen another one.

  4. Terrific research, Caroline! So very few people know what an ice bell is all about. As the butler in a billionaire's house, we have a full set of Flora Danica, service for twenty-five. But no, we don't have the dome.

    If you ever have the time, perhaps you could do an article on the fascinating world of salt cellars. (Not forgetting the Salt Wars in Italy, when salt was actually used as currency on occasion.)

    We have several sets in this house, bejeweled with rubies and emeralds, and tiny little sterling-silver spoons to dispense the salt and pepper.

    Love your website, and passion for the period.

    Andrew Williams

    1. Oh yes! Salt cellars run a plenty in our home, as well. My husband collects them. We have some Flora Danica as well. Though sadly no ice dome. As far as I know, the only Ice Dome I'm sure of is at the Annenberg Estate, Sunnylands. Well, on the west coast at least. I believe there is one for sale on right now, if you are in the market. Not new, but hey, why not save ten thousand :)

      Glad you like the blog. I'll have to check out yours.


    2. Thanks for your reply, Caroline. Would love to see photos of your salt cellar collection, as well as your established research skills on the origins.

      From my travels I can tell you that salt cellars are still in use all over eastern Europe, althought made of glass and/or plastic, and usually without the spoons. We're expected to "pinch" out the desired amounts of salt and pepper with our fingertips, which offends our American sensibilities of cleanliness and sanitary ideals. Ha!

      Not pushing you in any way, you understand, but you did such an unrelenting great job in researching "Flowers of Denmark" (Flora Danica).


    3. Not pushing at all! I'll just have to get around to it. On my to do list!