John McGregor

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 white surface.



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.


Figure 1

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 1709.


Figure 2

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.

Figure 3

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.


Figure 4

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.

Figure 5

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.

Figure 6

Figure 7

Figure 8

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.

Figure 10

Figure 11

Figure 12

Figure 13

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).

Figure 14

Figure 15

Figure 16

Figure 18

Figure 17

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.

Figure 19

Figure 20

Figure 21

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.

Figure 22

Figure 23

Figure 24

Figure 25

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 & Hudson, 1985

Sammlung Kurt Bösch, Auction Catalog, 1988

HR Steins and the Freising Factory Revisited, John McGregor, Revised Second Edition, 2005

Various Internet sites


Copyright © 2005 by John McGregor. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with the permission of the author.