The arcanum


          On January 15, 1708 in a dark and dank dungeon known as the Jungfernbastei (the Maiden’s Bastion) on the banks of the Elbe River in Bavarian city of Dresden, a twenty-seven year old alchemist by the name of Johann Frederick Böttger produced the first porcelain ever made outside of China or Japan. The story of the European rediscovery of the arcanum for making porcelain is told by Janet Gleeson in a wonderful book entitled “The Arcanum - The Extraordinary True Story.” Footnote

Ms. Gleeson’s story is full of concepts familiar to modern businesses - - counterfeit trademarks, covenants not to compete (except then the penalty for going to work for a competitor was death), protection of trade secrets (again, death was the enforcement tool), golden handcuffs retention policies (except the handcuffs were literal, not figurative, and weren't made of gold) and hostile takeovers (except the hostile part involved an invading army.) And among the grandchildren of R. L. and Winnie Cox, we have our own Johann Frederick Böttger who rediscovered a secret formula and our alchemist’s name is Eugenia (“Genie”) Cox Harris Watermulder.


          Genie’s rediscovery was for the wonderfully refreshing beverage that our grandmother, Winnie McWhorter Cox, made for family picnics. Can any of us forget that delightful mixture of ice tea, grape juice, and lemonade that Grandmother Cox mixed up in her huge blue enamelware pitcher. As befitted her Scotch-Irish heritage, Winnie McWhorter could squeeze a penny with the best of them. She knew better than to serve relatively expensive beverages such as fruit juices to a horde of thirsty grandchildren. Carbonated beverages were out of the question on both cost and perceived health grounds. She knew she had to cut the expensive stuff with a cheap filler, but still maintain the sweetness children craved. And she succeeded gloriously. But alas, the arcanum for what I irreverently call “Cox Swill” was lost and I feared lost forever.


          But on one splendid afternoon during one of the periodic Cox/Harris family reunions at the beach, my cousin Genie brought forth the magic elixir. One taste both released a flood of memories and provided instant confirmation that this was the genuine article. I immediately tracked Genie down and started bombarding her with comments about how good the stuff was, how many hours I had spent wondering how (but never actually trying) to recreate the formula, and generally showing only slightly less enthusiasm than King Augustus the Strong of Bavaria had displayed upon learning the alchemist locked in his dungeon knew how to make porcelain.


          Genie listened to my ranting with a growing expression of incredulousness on her face. Her expression was the one that women reserve for occasions of discovering incontrovertible proof of truly monumental stupidity on the part of a man. Finally, Genie cut me off by saying, “John, it’s just two parts tea, one part grape juice, and one part lemonade.”


          I don’t think she has ever respected me since.

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