Steins: An Introduction~
by Walt Vogdes
|This article provides an introduction to beer steins
which were produced by Mettlach in their "golden age" of stein
production between 1885 and 1910. Mettlach is easily the best known name among
manufacturers of old beer steins, and to collectors the name is synonymous with
quality and value. To be accurate, Mettlach is but one of the multiple factories
of the company of Villeroy & Boch (V&B), its name being taken from the
village where it is located. But the name is a very useful one, since the great
majority of steins produced by Villeroy & Boch and sought by today’s
collectors were produced in this factory. Moreover, the trademarks employed on
the base of their wares prominently feature the name Mettlach.
Located on the Saar River in western Germany, close to borders with
Luxembourg and France, the Mettlach factory is housed on the grounds of a former
Benedictine Abbey dating to the 10th century. The factory was founded on this
site in 1809 by Johann Franz Boch-Buschmann, and the company of Villeroy &
Boch resulted from a merger with Nicolas Villeroy in 1836.
Each of several V&B factories designed (and trademarked) their own
wares, and while other factories admittedly produced some high quality and
desirable steins, this article will deal exclusively with those manufactured at
Mettlach. Further, while Mettlach produced plaques, pokals, beakers, punch
bowls, pitchers, tobacco jars, vases, dinnerware, ash trays, beer taps,
candlesticks, bottles — the variety seems endless — this article will stick
with beer steins.
The Attraction for Collectors
Mettlach steins have a number of characteristics which make them a
- they are well-marked and easily identified
- good reference books are available
- there are many related pairs and sets
- designs are original and creative
- broad variety allows for every taste
- excellent quality control was maintained
- there is a ready market
- prices have been broadly stable
No one knows how many steins were produced by Mettlach, but
we do know that at the height of production Mettlach employed over 1250 factory
workers alone. Allowing for different sizes and design variations, Kirsner (The
Mettlach Book) lists over 1500 different steins! He speculates that average
production could have exceeded 2000 examples, noting that the most common
items certainly had far more, while some had far less.
|This is the cover of a booklet authored by E. R. Thieler in
1909, on the occasion of Mettlach's centenary as a pottery. It was reprinted in
1971 by Stein Collectors International, Inc.
While we might be tempted to speculate that the majority of this production
remains in Germany, this is a very shaky conclusion. In addition to normal
breakage over time, huge quantities of these examples of German culture were
intentionally destroyed by conquering forces after each of the two World Wars.
Mettlach wares became well known in the US following exhibitions in Philadelphia
(1876) and Chicago (1893), and US collections provided a safe haven during the
war years. As a result, a significant portion of the existing Mettlach pieces
are in the US.
More important to today’s collector than the original production
quantities is the quantity which remains intact. Although in a few cases only
one or two examples are known, the majority of items are more common, with
somewhere between 100 and 500 examples being seen on the American market.
Types of Steins
The primary "lines" of steins produced
by Mettlach are briefly described in the following sections. While reference is
made to production techniques, it must be pointed out that Mettlach used many
different techniques which were refined over time, and likely altered these
techniques in producing specific items. Much research has been done to try to
understand how Mettlach produced these items, and each of the theories is able
to produce evidence to support it.
While the various categories of Mettlach steins and their markings are
discussed below, it should be noted that the stein type is the primary
characteristic by which all steins are known. Thus collectors refer to "old
style", relief, etched, cameo, PUG, etched and PUG, etched and relief,
character, faience, Rookwood, Delft, etc. Note that these terms refer to the
primary area of decoration on the stein, including the side decorations,
but ignoring any framework surrounding the decoration as well as the rim and
The early (pre-1880) stein production by Mettlach
was generally limited to a relief "tree trunk" style, where the body
was molded with the appearance of a tree trunk, and leaves and vines were added
in relief. These steins, also called "old style", were frequently
highlighted with shiny platinum. Comprising a very small fraction of the total
stein production of Mettlach, these early pieces are largely ignored by today's
collectors. The construction of a railroad along the Saar River, together with
new production techniques and an emphasis on the best artistic standards of the
past, allowed Mettlach to introduce several new lines in the years following
1880. These wares, featuring extensive use of color, were termed "frankly
unrivaled" at the 1885 World’s Fair in Antwerp, bringing Mettlach
worldwide renown and stimulating vigorous production.
The most noteworthy innovation during this period
was the introduction of what we today call "etched" steins, and it is
this line which led to the acclaim and popularity which Mettlach enjoyed. The
term "etched" derives from the look and feel of the decoration, where
the outline and details of the design are formed by incised black lines. These
lines can easily be felt by fingertip or fingernail. The design was made from
colored slips of clay, which are separated and given detail by the incised
lines. These lines are actually formed by mold (although the exact technique has
been the subject of much research and speculation), and no "etching"
of the surface was actually involved.
The stein shown to the right (form 2134) is a favorite among fans of
artist/designer Heinrich Schlitt. It is commonly referred to as the "dwarf
in a nest". The inlaid lid shows a rooster at sunrise.
The most common and most popular themes for etched steins include scenic
illustration -- tavern scenes, castles, the Munich Child, medieval scenes, etc.
However, a number of steins were made with abstract designs, and these are
generally known by another name. "Art Nouveau" steins feature the
flowing lines and geometric patterns of that style, although they are still
executed with in the etched technique. "Mosaic" steins involve a
repeating pattern comprised of many small sections of colored clay. While
bearing many similarities to etched steins, they do evidence some of the
characteristics of relief, and are generally more complex in their style.
At about this same time Mettlach began to
introduce relief steins using either applied or molded relief decoration. The
decoration was typically light in color against a darker color on the body,
frequently blue or terra cotta (shown to the right with a greenish-gray
background). The relief coloration was set by the color of the clay. Applied
relief designs were formed using a flat mold, then applied on top of the
undecorated body before firing. Molded relief pieces were formed by pressing the
white clay into recesses in the form before the colored clay was added for the
body. These steins are similar in appearance to Wedgwood Jasperware, although of
higher quality and finer detail. A later innovation involved the use of full
color relief decoration, but the production of relief steins never approached
the volume of etched steins.
|Cameo and Phanolith
Similar in initial appearance to relief items,
cameo steins utilize a more translucent material for the design, and exhibit a
finer degree of detail, achieving an appearance similar to shell cameos. Whereas
relief steins are commonly glazed, the cameo decoration is unglazed, or bisque. The
two lines also used different background colors, with the cameo items using a
sea-green or dark blue unglazed background which heightens the translucent feel
of the decoration. Cameo steins were given form numbers in the 2000’s and
3000’s. The term "phanolith" is applied to plaques which may
actually have been made with a finer, more translucent process than cameo.
The figure shown to the left is a phanolith plaque of modern manufacture,
but very finely done, nonetheless. Because the detail of this item is essential
to understanding how it differs from standard relief pieces, you may click
anywhere on the image to see a larger version.
|Print Under Glaze (PUG) Steins
In 1886 Mettlach initiated use of a transfer technique for decorating a
less-costly line of products based upon a process employed by the English. This
involved the use of lithographed designs on metal plates, which then transferred
the full-color design to a paper "transfer". The stein body was glazed
and fired, then the transfer applied, followed by another clear glaze and final
firing. There are also a number of Mettlach PUG steins on which the transfer
consisted of only an outline of the design, and the colors were handpainted.
Unlike other Mettlach lines, PUG decorations are flat on the body and smooth to
the touch, and the steins have a glossy glaze finish. Because they required
significantly less handwork, the simple half-liter PUG bodies originally cost
about one third as much as the half-liter etched bodies, although with the
addition of a pewter lid they were about half as costly. Interestingly, the
pewter lid for a simple half-liter PUG cost more than the body alone!
The use of transfer decoration meant that a unique mold was no longer
required. A large variety of decorations were applied to the same body form
number. Forms 1526 and 1909, in both ½-liter and one liter sizes, were the most
commonly used, although there were many others. In some cases the same design
was used on more than one body. Whereas etched and other types of steins are
generally known by the form number, PUG steins are known by the combination of
decoration number followed by form. As an example, the ½-liter PUG stein
illustrated here, decoration number 591 on body form 1526, is commonly referred
to as "591(1526)".
At various times Mettlach produced steins which had the same decorative
style as other manufacturers or periods, including Delft
designs, faience and Rookwood.
The Mettlach "Rookwood" steins were similar in general appearance to
standard-glaze portrait items produced at the Rookwood factory in Cincinnati,
OH. The outline of the decoration for these items was put on the body using a
printed transfer, and the decoration was finished by hand. The Mettlach Rookwood
steins, all of which are portraits, were made with a fancy "carved"
pewter lid, many with a large ball thumblift, reminiscent of lids from an
earlier period. Many of the faience and Delft steins also came with these lids,
and some of the faience steins included a pewter footring.
|The BAVARIA Line
This line of transfer-decorated steins, bearing the incised word BAVARIA as
part of the trademark, appeared in the catalogue of 1906. These steins were
simpler in their body shapes and overall decorative techniques, making them
compliant with emerging trends of the Jugendstil period, while
simultaneously making them less expensive.
Mettlach produced many steins to special order, for both domestic purposes
and for export. In fact, many steins bearing German phrases or verses can also
be found in an English-language version. While we might suppose that it would be
prohibitively costly, the existence of a sizable number of such pieces indicates
that it was not. Well-known examples of special orders include an etched stein
for St. Augustine, Florida, which includes a figural alligator handle, three
steins produced for Cornell University, and the Quilmes Brewery (Argentina)
True handpainted designs were used for many custom decorated steins, and
they frequently carry silver presentation lids. While some of these may have
been decorated in the factory, more commonly they were commissioned to local
artists who worked on either flat or relief matte-finish bodies especially
purchased for this purpose. Although there are a wide variety of hand-painted
themes, the most common examples are probably steins decorated with student
crests or wappen. These steins are frequently marked on the base or on
the rear of the body to identify the decorative firm.
While the vast majority were 1/2 or 1 liter in capacity, Mettlach produced
steins ranging in size from 0.05 liter (very few, PUG decorated) to 7.0 liters
(only one, etched #1161). This etched giant, standing 21" tall and weighing
about 11 pounds -- empty -- is signed "C. Warth". The design features
two ladies in Victorian costume holding foaming steins of beer, with an Imperial
German Eagle above a very typical incised German verse:
|Gerstensaft mit Hopfen
credenzt von schoner Hand
sind jedem Wundertropfen
im weiten deutschen Land.
|Barley juice with hops,
Served by a beautiful hand,
Are everyone’s wonder drops,
In all of Germany’s land.
With figural stoneware inlaid lid this stein cost 40 DM in 1885, making it
the most expensive stein offered by Mettlach. The body without lid cost 30 DM,
for which sum one could purchase 7 or 8 etched steins with inlaid lids.
Most collectors today feel that without a lid, a stein is incomplete. This
is especially true for Mettlach, since a very large number of the steins had
stoneware inserts (inlays) in a pewter ring designed to match or complement the
body. While Mettlach steins could originally be ordered without lids, those
steins were in the clear minority.
The various types of lids originally accompanying Mettlach steins include
figural (three-dimensional), etched inlay, PUG inlay, fancy pewter, simple domed
or low-relief pewter (the most common lids on PUG steins) and presentation lids
(usually silver or silver-plated and probably added to a specially ordered
lidless piece). Etched steins bore either etched inlaid lids, figural lids or
pewter lids. The "Occupational series" provides an excellent example
of etched lids which complement the themes on the bodies of the steins. PUG
steins were made with either PUG inlays or pewter lids. While pewter lids were
more expensive and more prized than many of the stoneware inlays during the
height of Mettlach production, that appeal has been reversed for modern
Mettlach employed a large number of artist/designers, among them
some of the most prominent of their time. Most prolific among them were Heinrich
Schlitt, Otto Hupp, Fritz Quidenus, Christian Warth, Johann Baptist Stahl, and
M. Hein. Other notable artists who designed steins for Mettlach include Ludwig
Hohlwein, Franz Ringer and Richard Riemerschmid. A large number of steins,
although still the minority, carry the name or initials of these artists as
"signature". Many unsigned steins can still be attributed to the
artist who conceived of their design. The works of Heinrich Schlitt, a very
famous Munich artist who designed murals in many public facilities, is a
favorite of Mettlach collectors. Many of his works feature Heinzelmaennchen,
the German "mystery people", or fun-loving dwarfs. The steins designed
by Ringer, Hohlwein, Hupp and Riemerschmid are also highly coveted by collectors
for their artistic execution.
Recognizing Mettlach Steins
While many Mettlach collectors can spot a Mettlach stein across a room
without having to examine it, the easiest way to identify Mettlach wares is by
the trademarks which appear on the bottom of the vast majority of the steins.
(For illustrations of Mettlach marks, see the article in the Library entitled
"Mettlach Marks: The Basics".) Most Mettlach steins produced
between 1885 and 1910 bear one or both of two trademarks: the incised abbey
tower (sometimes incorrectly called "the castle mark") and/or some
variant of the stamped Mercury mark. The tower mark is actually two separate
marks -- an incised representation of the old abbey tower above a banner
carrying the name Mettlach and the monogram V&B. The Mercury mark, usually
stamped in green but known in blue, brown and black as well, shows Mercury, god
of commerce, over a straight center panel with the words "Villeroy &
Boch" and a semi-circular band identifying the Mettlach factory. (The
variations of this mark serve as a dating system, but that goes beyond the scope
and purpose of this article.)
In addition to a trademark, several other markings typically appear on the
base of Mettlach steins, the most important being a three- or four-digit incised
form number, and in the case of the PUG, Delft and Rookwood steins, a stamped
decoration number. Other marks include a Roman numeral indicating the size, a
two-digit number indicating the year, and various quality-control marks. Steins
manufactured for export may also be marked "Made in Germany", or even
Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.
Some Mettlach steins are found without trademarks, but in many cases the
maker can still be confidently identified as Mettlach. If the incised mold
number or the stamped or painted decoration number is present it may be used to
look up the piece in a Mettlach reference book. If the mold number cannot be
found, or if it is partially obliterated, the digits should be compared with the
distinctive appearance of known examples. Other typical marks -- the size
number, the year, the quality control number -- are useful to imply Mettlach.
The inside should show a characteristic bright white glaze, similar in
appearance to porcelain. Above all, the decoration appearing on the stein should
be exceptionally clear and clean, and the stein should show overall excellence
in design and quality of production.
Mettlach, one of several factories of the Villeroy & Boch ceramics
company, was the most prodigious of all stein manufacturers between 1885 and
1910, sometimes called "the golden age of beer steins". Their wares
are readily identifiable by quality, style and artistry, as well as by very
thorough base marking. Steins were produced in a variety of different lines,
including the following:
"old style" - applied relief, frequently tree-trunk motif,
used platinum highlights
etched - full color, normally matte finish, detailed designs where the design
is flat but detail and color separation is provided by incised black
lines which can be felt by fingertip
relief - the primary design is presented in relief in one color
against a contrasting body color, or later, a full color relief design
cameo - similar to relief, but the decoration is an unglazed, translucent
porcelain- like material against a sea-green or dark blue background (form
numbers in the 2000’s)
PUG - the design, made from a printed transfer under the glaze, is smooth to
the touch and has a shiny finish, the design number should be stamped on the
bottom of the stein along with the incised mold number (the most common mold
numbers are 1526 and 1909)
The name Mettlach would not be nearly so well known were it not for the
artistic merit and the consistently high quality of their ware. It is not a
coincidence that the manufacturer with the best designs and the best production
techniques was also the most prolific producer of beer steins. The large volumes
produced by Mettlach, the variety of decorative themes and techniques, the
number and quality of the artists they employed, the willingness to experiment
and their continual innovation -- both artistic and technical -- give ample
warning: while we can analyze and theorize to great lengths, Mettlach broke more
rules than they followed, and new examples continue to surface.
History of Villeroy & Boch - http://www.villeroy-boch.com/History.246.0.html?&C=GB&L=en
Kirsner, Gary, 1987, The Mettlach Book, Glentiques Ltd., PO Box 8807,
Coral Springs, FL 33075
Prosit, quarterly publication of Stein Collectors International, 1965
to present (numerous articles displaying growing knowledge and theories about
Mettlach wares, techniques and artists).
Thomas, Dr. Therese, and Post, Anton, Villeroy & Boch Mettlach 1885 -
1905, Hans J. Ammelounx, Wheeling, IL, 1975
Thieler, E. R., Making Steins in an Old Monastery, booklet reprinted
by Stein Collectors International in 1971
KERAMIK 6, Buchverlag J. Büchel,
Triesen/Lichtenstein (German and English
© Stein Collectors
All rights reserved.