John McGregor



We are all familiar with "event" steins. These are the steins made to mark one of the many "fests" that were, and in some cases still are, held in Germany on a regular basis. Figure 1, is a stein commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Octoberfest an event held annually in Munich. Figure 2, is a stein marking the 13th German Turnfest of 1923. Turnfests, or gymnastic competitions, were normally held every four years. However, the First World War and the recovery afterward, caused a bit of a delay between number 12 and number 13. The 12th German Turnfest was held in 1913, and the 13th in 1923. Figure 3, is a Schützenfest, or shooting competition stein from 1910.

The stein that is the subject of this article marks an event held one time and one time only. It occurred in 1878 and was held to celebrate a political victory, achieved after a protracted struggle of nearly twenty years, to obtain patent protection laws.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3


Although the German Empire was founded in 1871, the first Imperial Patents Act was not passed until 1877. In 1871 nobody would have expected the recently founded German Empire to have even considered such a law. Between 1815 and 1871, the number of kingdoms, earldoms and free cities of the former Holy German Empire, varied for dynastic and diplomatic reasons; but always exceeded 30 and all of these territories had their own laws. There were some territories with a Patents Act, some without. Prussia, the largest state in the newly formed German Empire had an ordinance concerning the protection of patents, but it was virtually worthless. The applicant for a patent incurred enormous costs for the publication of his patent drawings. In addition, he ran the risk of losing his invention within a short time, because the patents were granted in an arbitrary manner, lasting from a few months up to five years. In some years, 75 to 80 % of all applications were denied. In the years following 1871, German economists considered patents, for example the protection of technical inventions, detrimental to commerce and therefore, to the German economy.

The Prussian government even considered doing away with patent protection entirely. In a survey of the Prussian chambers of commerce in 1863 most of the chambers voted for the elimination of patent protection. The arguments against patent protection were based on economic considerations. German economists rejected the protection of patents for the sake of free trade because they viewed patents as tariffs. Patents were condemned as relics of the past, before the liberal reforms were put in place after Prussia's defeat by Napoleon. This argument had some validity, because prior to the reforms, patents were granted as royal privileges in Prussia, following the pattern of the English Statute of monopolies of 1624. Great Britain itself had enacted a formal Patent Act in 1852 in order to reform this model, which was based on English Common Law. In France, the Patents Act of 1791, established after the revolution, declared the protection of inventions to be a human right of the inventor. The human rights point of view was also established in the so called "intellectual property clause" in section 8 of the American Constitution of 1787. This idea was flatly rejected by Royalist Prussia.

This struggle, for the establishment of a Patents Act, helped the members of the new profession of "Civil Engineering" to become a coherent professional group with a common goal. German Civil Engineers had founded their first professional organization, The Association of German Engineers (Verein Deutscher Ingenieure) in 1856. The organization had been founded by former students of the Royal Prussian Industrial Institute (Technische Gewerbschule), and was to become a political force to be reckoned with.

Between 1867 and 1877, Werner Siemens, the inventor of the dynamo, and founder of the German Society for the Protection of Patents (Deutscher Patent-Schutz-Verein), was the leading proponent of patent protection and Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was his chief adversary.

Finally, after many years of public agitation by Siemens and his organization, the German Chancellery established a commission, which drafted a patent protection bill. It presented its first draft to the public in 1876. Siemens, immediately published his concerns over the proposed legislation. The Chancellery drafted a second bill addressing some of these concerns and it was approved in a slightly altered version by the German parliament in May 1877. It was enacted on July 1, 1877.

The passing of a Patents Act in 1877 was due to the fact that the Association of German Engineers (Verein Deutscher Ingenieure), which had absorbed Siemens' group in 1874, had made an enormous effort to ensure equal protection of patents within German territory.

The Patents Act was a quantum leap forward in centralization and the use of common sense. Firstly, it centralized all Patents within the newly founded Imperial Patent Office (Kaiserliches Patentamt) in Berlin. It allowed the Patents of the member states to be converted into federal patents, according to their initial duration. In addition, the Patent Office was the only authority able to grant new patents. Applications that were accompanied by a basic description of the object were accepted on the basis of originality.

The Patents legislation not only brought about a modernization through the synchronization of the different patent acts of its member states. It also set incentives for German industry to expand their own research departments and to perform costly experiments as necessary.

As a result of their victory, The Society of German Engineers got together in Munich the following year (1878) to celebrate. The stein described below was issued to mark that event.


Figure 4

While the subject stein has no markings what-so-ever, except a Merkelbach & Wick logo on the bottom, we are able to establish from an old Merkelbach & Wick catalog that the basis for this stein was their, 1/2 liter, model #252 (Figure 4). The subject matter in the cartouches has been changed. The #252 has intertwined hop vines and buds in the front cartouche and verses in each of the side cartouches.

Our subject stein displays objects in each cartouche that represent three of the major engineering disciplines in Germany at the time. Figure 5, represents "Steam Engineering," Figure 6, represents "Mechanical Engineering" and Figure 7, represents "Chemical Engineering."

The pewter is unmarked, but the style tells me it might have been the Brüder Thannhauser who were responsible.

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 7

The custom made lid reminds us of who the stein was made for, where they met and when. It also refers through its symbolism to the reason for this gathering, the "German Patents Act of 1877."


Figure 8

THE INSCRIPTION - The inscription, seen in Figure 8, is cast into the lid and says, "VEREIN DEUTSCHER INGENIEURE - MUNCHEN 1878," or "Society of German Engineers - Munich 1878." This meeting was probably called to celebrate their political victory the previous year and plan future strategy.

THE SALAMANDER - The Salamander, seen in Figure 9, represents an alchemical Force of Nature, the elemental fire. There are traditionally six main elementals. Gnomes (earth), Undines (water), Sylphs (air), Dryads (vegitation), Fauns (animal life) and of course Salamander (fire). Fire changes all things and without fire there would be no engineers. Of course, in today's world we have so-called "engineering" disciplines that do not require fire. Disciplines that they would have laughed at back in 1878, such as "Social Engineering," etc..

Figure 9

Figure 10

HERMES/MERCURY - Hermes (Greek), or Mercury (Roman), because of his winged helmet and sandals, is known by most of us as "Messenger of the Gods." Hermes had many talents and a number of titles, but "Messenger of the Gods" was not one of them, that task was reserved for Iris.

Hermes has his place of prominence on this stein, as the thumblift (Figure 10), for good reason. Hermes was the first inventor. He invented the first musical instruments, the lyre and the flute and although his Grand Uncle, Promethius gave man fire, it was Hermes who invented a way to kindle it. Presumably, prior to this invention, fire had to be collected from natural sources such as lightning strikes, etc.

To keep his clever and mischievious son out of trouble, Zeus made Hermes god of trade and commerce. So, as god of trade and commerce, and an inventor, especially of a method of kindling fire, Hermes was obviously an excellent choice to appear on this engineering stein. A souvenir of the meeting in 1878 of those who had fought for and won pan-German patent laws, protecting, among other things, the rights of inventors.


Gill, N.S., Hermes(Mercury) A Thief, Inventor and Messenger God, ancienthistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa112100a.htm

A variety of other online sources.


Copyright © 2005 by John McGregor. All rights reserved.