A Short History from 1708 to World War I
porcelain (por'ce-lin) n. a strong, vitreous,
translucent ceramic material, biscuit-fired at a low temperature and glost-fired
at a very high temperature.
The word porcelain was derived from the Italian "porcella,"
which means "little pig," the name of a cowry shell that has a smooth
TYPES OF PORCELAIN
Porcelain as we know it today, falls into three types;
hard-paste, soft-paste, and bone china. Hard-paste is made from kaolin clay and
a feldspathic rock containing crystals of potassium, sodium and calcium. In
china it is called "petuntse" which is a type of feldspar found only
in China. Hard-paste porcelain is fully vitrified and only requires a glaze for
aesthetic purposes. Soft-paste porcelain is not a true porcelain and is made
from white clay and glass frit. Soft-paste porcelain is not fully vitrified and
requires a glaze if it is to hold liquids, but is great for decorative art. Bone
china falls between Hard-paste and soft-paste in durability. It is hard-paste
porcelain with bone ash added to improve translucence.
Soft-paste porcelain has been in use in Europe since its
discovery in Florence, Italy about 1575. However, because this article is about
beer steins we will concern ourselves only with hard-paste porcelain.
Hard paste porcelain was first developed in China in the 7th
century A.D. when high temperature kilns were first developed. In order to
vitrify, hard-paste porcelain requires temperatures of 1250 to 1450 degrees
Centigrade, or 2280 to 2640 degrees Fahrenheit. At these temperatures the
petuntse, or in our case feldspar, melts. The kaolin which is resistant to heat,
does not melt, allowing the item to hold its shape. Finally, porcelain is formed
when the kaolin and the feldspar fuse, or vitrify into a single mass. The vase
in Figure 1 is from the mid-16th century and is typical of the hard-paste
porcelain imported from China prior to its discovery in Meissen about 1708, or
The tale of the discovery of hard-paste porcelain in Europe,
is an odd one. It is a tale of three men, August II the Strong of Saxony and
Poland, 1670-1733, seen in Figure 2, Johann Friedrich Böttger an alchemist,
1682-1719, seen in Figure 3 and one Count von Tschimhaus of whom little is
known. It is doubtful that this is a true representation of Böttger as he was
only 37 years old at the time of his death.
"China mania" was rampant in Europe and kings vied
with each other, attempting to be the first to discover "white gold,"
as porcelain was called. The espionage and secrecy surrounding the race to be
the first to acquire porcelain is said to have been similar to that during the
developement of the atom bomb in modern times.
August the Strong however, was on a different track and was
confident that Böttger, the alchemist, was going to be able to bring him great
wealth by turning base metals into gold. Böttger was held under house arrest
while he struggled with the problem. He was paid for his work, but there was no
leaving the premises. When the king's patience finally ran out he had Böttger
imprisoned in a fortress near Meissen. In 1706, one Count von Tschimhaus, a
Saxon nobleman, convinced August to let Böttger help him with a project. The
project was the development of true porcelain, something for which Count von
Tschimhaus deserves more credit than he receives.
Around 1708, while working with Count von Tschimhaus, Böttger
developed a proto-porcelain, a very hard stoneware, that could only be cut with
a jeweler's wheel. Figure 4 is an example of a stein made from this stoneware
and wheel engraved.
Within the year, he produced true, hard-paste porcelain, an
example is seen in Figure 5. This was the beginning of the Meissen and Dresden
porcelain factories, but it wasn't until 1715 that he perfected white porcelain.
Finally, Böttger's future seemed secure, but in 1716 he was
once again arrested and thrown into prison, this time, for attempting to sell
the secret to making porcelain. Two years later, in 1718, another Meissen worker
successfully escaped, carried the secret to Vienna and the short lived monopoly
was ended. In 1719, Böttger died in prison.
We do not know if all porcelain factories produced beer
steins, but here are a few that did. The beautiful piece in Figure 6 is from
Meissen-Dresden, which was founded 1708 or 1709 as outlined above.
The "Royal" Vienna factory was founded in 1719 by
Claudius Du Paquier with the stolen information provided by the runaway worker
from Meissen. A late 19th century piece is seen in Figure 7.
What would eventually become the Nymphenburg factory was
founded in 1748 in Neudeck, by Maximillian III Joseph the last Prince-Elector of
the Bavarian House of Wittelsbach. In 1791 the factory was moved to Nymphenburg
where the piece in Figure 8 was produced.
The Berlin factory was founded in 1751 and became Königliche
Porzellanmanufaktur (KPM) after it was taken over by Frederick the Great in
1763. A rather plain, but attractive piece from ca.1840 is seen in Figure 9.
The Schierholz factory, later Schierholz & Söhn, was
founded in Plaue, Thuringia in 1816 by two brothers named Heuäcker. During that
same year, Christian Schierholz became a partner in the firm when one of the
brothers died. The second brother soon followed the first and in 1817 Schierholz
became the sole owner. The smiling young woman in Figure 10 is an example from
the Schierholz factory ca.1900.
The Ernst Bohne factory of Rudolstadt, Thuringia, was founded
in 1848. In 1854 Ernst passed away and the factory became Ernst Bohne Söhne
(Ernst Bohne Sons). The face full of mischif, in Figure 11, is a fantastic piece
by E. Bohne Söhne also ca.1900.
Anonymous porcelain steins, the Reservist stein (Reservistenkrug)
seen in Figure 12, the Occupational stein (Zunftkrug) in Figure 13 and Student
character stein (Figurenkrug) in Figure 14, were the rule rather than the
exception during the period from around 1870 to World War One. Even though these
bodies are unmarked, there is no reason to believe they weren't made by one, or
more, of the major factories. I know of two factory marks on steins from this
period. One, a character stein (Figure 15), is marked under the handle with an
incised "Amberg" (Figure 16) and the other, an occupational stein
(Figure 17), is rubber stamped with the mark of Hass & Czjzek of Cmodau,
Czechoslovakia (Figure 18).
Hauber & Reuther the little factory that could, produced
a type of "porcelain" from late 1886 to probably 1905. Examples of
Hauber & Reuther steins are seen in Figures 19 through 25.
Unlike the Regensburg factory that closed its doors when they
could no longer get clay from the Westerwald, Hauber & Reuther simply began
using a kaolin rich clay they could acquire locally and jumped into porcelain
production with both feet.
Hauber & Reuther began by producing exactly the same
models and types in porcelain, as they had produced in steinzeug as evidenced by
the steins illustrated here. A high relief piece is seen in Figure 20. Figure 21
is a tapestry stein with both etched and relief decor. Figure 22 is in threaded
relief with a hand painted scene on the front. Figure 24 is simply threaded
relief and Figure 25 is etched. All have their steinzeug predecessors, two of
which are seen in Figures 19 and 23.
I believe that Hauber & Reuther did their homework and
developed a porcelain recipe that would hold its shape when fired, more like
stoneware than porcelain, allowing them to continue producing both threaded
relief and etched models. They probably used the same ingredients, but in a
different ratio, more kaolin and less feldspar, resulting in the denser and less
translucent bodies. I believe this is why you never find lithophanes in Hauber
& Reuther steins. The less translucent mix was no good for that purpose.
At first, they marked the porcelain the same way they had
their steinzeug. In this however, they soon discovered they had made a mistake.
As we can observe in the illustrations, Hauber & Reuther
produced new molds for their porcelain pieces, but they soon discovered that
many of these new steins were breaking during the bisque firing. This is known
from shards found in 1990, by Dr./Prof. Herbert Hagn, in a wasting-heap on what
used to be Freising factory property.
When porcelain is fired it shrinks as much as 20-30%, but
because the clay throughout is the same density when it comes out of the mold,
this is usually not a problem. However, if you stamp anything into the clay,
such as capacity marks and factory logos, the clay compressed by the stamp is a
different density than that surrounding it and when fired, will shrink at a
different rate often causing the piece to pull apart at that point. For that
reason the "HR" incised logo and the incised capacity mark, had to be
replaced by inked-on marks that were less intrusive.
In 1708 the secret to the method of producing porcelain was
worth a king's ransom, but just ten years later, in1718, the secret got out and
soon the process was common knowledge throughout Europe. By 1750 hard-paste
porcelain was being produced in France and England and it had become just
another ceramic medium to work in. Porcelain has little, or no, intrinsic value
in its own right and a plain tankard produced in Meissen, Nymphenburg, Limoges,
Worchester and later in Trenton, were virtually valueless until the factory
artisans, the painters and metal smiths, had worked their magic. Today, a
porcelain tankard, produced in the mid 18th century by one of the major
factories, will probably fetch an enormous price, not because it is made of
porcelain, but because it is a great work of art.
My thanks to David Harr for the Schierholz, Bohne and Amberg photos.
Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, New
Revised Edition, Gramercy Books, New York, 1986
Compton's Encyclopedia, 2001 edition.
An Illustrated Dictionary of Ceramics, Savage & Newman, Thames &
Sammlung Kurt Bösch, Auction Catalog, 1988
HR Steins and the Freising Factory Revisited, John McGregor, Revised Second
Various Internet sites