Collectors International, Inc.
|~ RUSSIAN FAIRY TALE STEINS - Revisited ~
by Steve Breuning
German heritage and raised (in the U.S.) in a fairly strong German
culture, it was probably inevitable that that I would have a
fascination for German beer steins. My first steins were Post World War
II steins I inherited from my grandfather. When he passed away in 1978,
my grandmother had each of the eight grand children pick a few of his
items to have as keepsakes. My eyes were immediately fixated on these
two steins. I knew nothing of modern vs. antique, Mettlach, Thewalt,
Merkelbach, Remy, etc. I just thought they were beautiful and reflected
my grandfather’s view of German culture. I can’t say that having these
two steins stimulated any real interest in my now passion for
collecting beer steins, but subconsciously I believe it played a part.
And I guess that like many stein collectors, I started with
The first steins I purchased were on a business trip to
Europe in the early 1990s. We were in Austria, Czech Republic, Germany,
and Hungary. Every one wanted souvenirs of their trip and I thought I
should too. The only thought I had was to get a beer stein at each stop
that I thought reflected the local culture we experienced. I know that
while not “tourist” steins per se they were again Post World War II
steins. Yet, I still love to look at them and recall all the fond
memories of the cultural stops.
Shown at right: ½ Liter Wurfel & Müller/King Werk fox handle
stein #1032C; 3 Liter Gerz #3262 "After the Hunt." Monetarily not very
At this point I still was not giving
any thought to stein collecting. But as I look back, I realize that I
always had these steins prominently displayed and when asked
about them I loved telling stories about my grandfather and the various
parts of Europe we visited.
Everything changed in 2008 when I was
having a meeting with a friend and he suddenly looked at his watch and
said. “Sorry, I have to go, I have an
auction about to start.” I asked
what kind of auction and he said that he collected antique beer steins
and there was an online auction about to begin. I remember saying.
“There’s that big a market for
collecting beer steins?” He added. “Oh
yes, there are actually world wide groups and societies.” I was
immediately fascinated and told him I love the beauty of beer steins
and that I had never even thought about seriously collecting them. We
agreed to get together in the next week and talk about this.
together and he brought with him Gary Kirsner’s The Beer Stein Book,
Ron Heiligenstein’s Regimental Beer
Steins of the Imperial German and
Royal Bavarian Armies and the Imperial German Navy, 1890 to 1914
and pictures of the incredible number of Regimental steins he focused
his collecting around. He let me borrow the books which I read
cover-to-cover over the next few weeks. I remember that I was getting
I did some searching and found the Stein Collectors
International website. The non-member section of the Reading Room was
enough to convince me that I was about the venture into a new world of
I began to collect seriously in July, 2009. I immediately
became a member of SCI and was excited to receive my introductory
packet of Prosit magazines. These arrived just before I was leaving on
a trip. I now had my reading material for on the plane and where
I was staying. By luck of the draw, three of the issues with me
contained articles on the Villeroy & Boch Russian Fairy Tale
Steins. I’m not sure why, but these four steins just struck me right. I
found them beautiful and being a lover of fairy tales their stories
kept me captivated. And,so it began. Unbeknownst to Walt Vogdes who
wrote these articles, he is one of the two people who brought me
nto stein collecting.
The four steins Walt had written about (pictured
above) were centered on four Russian tales: The Snow Maiden, Vassilissa
the Fair, The Firebird,
and Maria Morevna. Each of
displayed three paneled illustrations for a given fairy tale. Each
stein is an 8 inch tall (at the top of the thumb lift), ½ L stein with
an inlay lid, and a limited edition of 5,000 worldwide. They were
produced Villeroy & Boch in 1978. The thumb lift is a pewter
Mettlach Abby and the bottom also contains an impressed tower.
first tale shown on these steins is The
This story tells
the tale of an old man and woman lived in the woods. They were good,
hardworking people now feeling the lowliness of never having had a
child. One day, to cheer themselves up, they remembered the games they
used to play in their childhood and began to make a snowman. They
shaped the snow into human form and when they were finished they had
created the frozen image of a young girl that was beautiful beyond
description with her snow white skin, deep sky-blue eyes, and curly
The immortal gods Father Frost and Mother Spring saw the joy
in the man’s and woman’s faces and decided to bring their
‘Snegurochka’ or snow daughter to life. The couple watched in amazement
as suddenly Snegurochka’s lips turned red and her eyes began to open.
She smiled warmly at the old couple, shook the snow off her body, and
emerged from the snowdrift in stunning beauty.
All went well until the
spring began to warm the land. Snegurochka became quite depressed. When
the summer arrived, she became even sadder. She prayed to Mother Spring
who then gave her the ability to go outside and play. She had a good
time for the first time since the winter when she joined a group of
village girls to pick flowers. On one of her outings she met Lei the
Shepard boy. She was now sad again as her heart was not capable of
feeing love. Once again Mother Spring joined in, against the feelings
of Father Frost, and gave Snegurochka the ability to feel love. But as
soon as she begins to feel love her heart warms her and she melts and
evaporates into a white cloud.
As she was melting away, her spirit was
caught by Father Frost who took her spirit across the stars to the
frozen lands of the north where once again she took the form of a
beautiful young woman and could play all through the summer - on the
And each year in winter, on the first day of the New Year,
Father Frost and the Snow Maiden return to Russia in their troika
(sleigh) where they continue to work their magic, as they did for the
old man and his wife, they bring gifts, and help make dreams come true.
The second tale shown on these steins is Vassilissa the Fair.
story tells the tale of a merchant and his wife who had a daughter
known as Vassilissa the Fair. When the girl was eight years old, her
mother died. On her deathbed, she gave Vassilissa a tiny wooden doll
and told her if she were in need give the doll a little to eat and a
little to drink and then it would help her. As soon as her mother died,
Vassilissa gave it a little to drink and a little to eat, and it
After a time, her father remarried; the new wife was a
woman with two daughters. Vassilissa’s stepmother was very cruel to
her, but with the help of the doll, she was able to perform all the
tasks imposed on her. When young men came wooing, the stepmother
rejected them all because it was not proper for the younger to marry
before the older, and none of the suitors wished to marry Vassilissa’s
stepsisters because they were so ugly.
One day the merchant had to
embark on a journey. While he was gone his wife sold the house and
moved them all to a gloomy hut by the forest. One day she gave each of
the girls a task and put out all the fires except a single candle. Her
older daughter then put out the candle, whereupon they sent Vassilissa
to fetch light from Baba Yaga’s (witch) hut. The doll advised
Vassilissa to go, and she did so.
While she was walking, a
mysterious man rode by her in the hours before dawn, dressed in
white, riding a white horse whose equipment was all white; then a
similar rider in red. She came to a house that stood on chicken legs
and was walled by a fence made of human bones including skulls. Now a
black rider rode past her, and as he did night fell and the eye sockets
of the skulls began to glow. Vassilissa was too frightened to run away.
In the morning Baba Yaga found her by the fence.
Baba Yaga said that
Vassilissa must perform tasks or be killed. She was to clean, do the
laundry, and cook. She was also required to separate grains of rotten
corn from sound corn, and separate poppy seeds from grains of soil.
Baba Yaga left, and Vassilissa despaired, as she worked herself into
exhaustion. When all hope of completing the tasks seemed lost, the doll
whispered that it would complete the tasks for Vassilissa, and that the
girl should sleep.
At dawn, the white rider passed and at about noon
the red rider passed. Later the black rider rode past and Baba Yaga
returned. Baba Yaga was surprised she found nothing to complain about.
Baba Yaga took the corn and had three pairs of disembodied hands
squeeze the oil from it and then asked Vassilissa if she had any
Vassilissa asked about the rider’s identities and was told
that the white one was Day, the red one the Sun, and the black one
Night. But when Vassilissa thought of asking about the disembodied
hands, the doll quivered in her pocket. Vassilissa realized she should
not ask, and told Baba Yaga she had no further questions. In return,
Baba Yaga enquired as to the cause of Vassilissa’s success. On hearing
the answer “by my mother’s blessing,” Baba Yaga, who wanted nobody with
any kind of blessing in her presence, threw Vassilissa out of her
house, and sent her home with a skull-lantern full of burning coals, to
provide light for her step-family.
Upon her return, Vassilissa found
that, since sending her out on her task, her step-family had been
unable to light any candles or fire in their home. Even lamps and
candles that might be brought in from outside were useless for the
purpose, as all were snuffed out the second they were carried over the
threshold. The coals brought in the skull-lantern burned Vassilissa’s
stepmother and stepsisters to ashes. Vassilissa buried the skull
according to its instructions so no person would ever be harmed by it.
She then went to find shelter in the nearest town.
In town, Vassilissa
met an old woman who took her in. One day the old woman gave Vassilissa
some flax. With it Vassilissa spun the most beautiful thread, so fine
it was like hair. Then she weaved the thread into the most exquisite
cloth. It was brilliant white, soft, and so beautiful. Vassilissa gave
it to the old woman and said: “Grandmother, you have been so kind to
me, sell this cloth and keep the money.” The old woman looked at it and
said, “My child, this is too fine to sell. I am going to take it to the
Tsar. “So she brought it to the Tsar as a gift. The Tsar thanked the
old woman and gave her many presents before sending her home.
with the beautiful cloth, the Tsar tried to find someone who could make
shirts from it. However all the tailors declined the work, as the cloth
was too fine for them to handle. In the end the Tsar called the old
woman and said, “You must also know how to sew the cloth as you made
it.” The old woman replied, “No your Majesty. It was not my work. It
was done by a girl I took in.” So the Tsar asked the old woman to see
if Vassilissa would make the garments. Vassilissa made the shirts and
the old woman took them to the Tsar.
As she waited for the old woman to
return, one of the Tsar’s servants entered. He said loudly, “His
Majesty wishes to see the needlewoman who has made his wonderful
clothes.” So Vassilissa went to the palace.
Vassilissa and the Tsar
were captivated by each other and eventually they married.
Vassilissa’s father returned, they invited both him and the old woman
to come and live at the palace. Also at the palace was the little doll,
for Vassilissa carried it around in her pocket until the day she died.
The third tale shown on these steins is The Tale of Ivan Tsarevich, the
Firebird,and the Gray Wolf.
This story tells the tale of a powerfulTsar
whose pride and joy was his apple orchard. One tree in particular for
bore only golden apples. A problem arose when a large Firebird
discovered the special tree and each evening swooped down and left with
several apples. Furious, the Tsar commanded his three sons to
catch the Firebird alive and bring it to him.
As his two older brothers
laid down and went to sleep in the shade of the trees, Ivan waited
patiently and when the firebird appeared he was stunned by its beauty:
Her wings were golden, eyes like Oriental crystals, and tail feathers
so brilliantly red they appeared to be illuminated by the sun. Ivan
grabbed the bird by the tail but in his awe he underestimated the
bird’s strength. The bird freed itself from Ivan’s grip leaving him
holding a single bright red tail feather.
The Firebird was never seen
in the orchard again.
Even though the Firebird was now gone, the Tsar
was so enchanted by the glowing feather that he sent his sons out again
to find the bird and bring it back alive. Filled with jealousy the two
older sons rode off without Ivan, leaving him to do his search alone.
As Ivan rode across the countryside he came across a pillar in the
middle of an open field. It had the following words on it: “He who goes
straight will be hungry and cold. He who passes to the right will be
safe, but his horse shall die. He who passes to the left will be
killed, but his horse will be safe.” Choosing the lesser of three
evils, Ivan decided to go to the right and rode for three days.
Suddenly a gray wolf appeared out of nowhere and ate the horse. Ivan
wept and continued his journey on foot. Suddenly the gray wolf
reappeared and said: “I’m sorry I killed your horse, jump on my back
and I’ll take you where you want to go!” Ivan trusted the wolf and told
the animal that he needed to find the firebird. He climbed on the
wolf’s back and they sped off like a flash.
Ivan, assisted by a “gray
wolf’ not only caught the firebird but also a obtained a new horse and
met a princess named Tsarevna (daughter of a Tsar) Elena the Fair. As
they traveled, Ivan and Elena developed a true love. At the edge of
Ivan’s father’s kingdom they stopped to rest. As they napped, Ivan’s
two older brothers, returning from their unsuccessful hunt for the
firebird, came across the two and killed Ivan. Elena was told they
would also kill her if she told what had happened.
Ivan lay dead for
thirty days until the gray wolf found him and revived him with the
water of life. Ivan came to his home palace at the wedding day of Elena
the Fair and his brother. The Tsar asked for an explanation and Elena
told him the truth. The Tsar was furious and threw the elder brothers
into a dungeon. Ivan and Elena the Fair married, inherited the kingdom,
and lived happily ever after with his friend the gray wolf on guard
nearby. The three scenes from left to right are: In Search of the
Firebird, Ivan and Tsarevna Elena on the Gray Wolf, and The Wedding of
Tsarevna Elena the Fair.
The final tale told shown on these steins is
This story tells the tale of a young Tsar named Ivan.
Ivan was in charge of the Kingdom and his three sisters following the
death of their mother and father. On their way home from the funeral
the sky turned black and a terrible storm arose. Suddenly a white
falcon appeared out of the sky. He landed, turned into a handsome young
prince, and asked Ivan for Maria’s hand in marriage. Ivan gave his
blessing and the two were married.
The same thing happened with his
other two sisters: One year later during a violent storm an eagle
appeared, turned into a handsome prince and wed Olga. Another year
passed, another horrific storm appeared, and this time a raven arrived
and also turned into a handsome prince. He wed Anna. All three girls
now lived away in their husbands’ kingdoms.
Missing his sisters, Ivan
decided to visit them and on the way he came across the battle camp of
Maria Morevna, a beautiful warrior-princess. After two days at the camp
they fell in love and got married. Ivan was now staying at her kingdom.
After some time Maria had to leave to go to war. She left Ivan in
charge but forbade him and to go into one dark cellar room. But out of
curiosity Ivan went into the room, where he found Koshchey the
Deathless in iron chains. Ivan felt sorry for him and gave him some
food to eat and wine to drink. Koshchey got his power back, broke the
chains, and in a whirlwind he flew away. He caught up with Maria
Morevna, over powered her, and carried her off with him.
Ivan wept for
days but then began to search for his beloved wife. In his search he
passed through the kingdoms where his sisters lived. Their love and
encouragement kept him going.
On his third day into his resumed search
he found Maria Morevna alone and safe. Koshchey was out hunting and
they used this opportunity to escape. But eventually Koshchey on his
powerful horse caught up with them. He cut Ivan into small pieces and
left with Maria. Ivan’s brothers-in-law sensed that something evil had
happened and searched until they found Ivan. They sprinkled him with
the water of life and revived him.
Prince Ivan now knew that the only
way to outrun Koshchey’s horse was with a horse from Baba Yaga (the
witch) who lived beyond the Fire River. On the way to Baba Yaga’s he
became very hungry. He wanted to kill nestlings, but the mother bird
begged him not to. Then he wanted to take honey from a beehive, but the
bees asked him not to destroy it. When he wanted to kill a lioness’
cub, the lioness begged him to be kind. Prince Ivan did not hurt
In gratitude these animals helped him be a herdsman for Baba
Yaga’s horses for three days, which saved him from Baba Yaga’s wrath.
Ivan took the wise advice of the bees to take one scruffy small horse
and run away from the evil witch. Prince Ivan took good care of the
horse and when it became strong he returned to Koshchey’s house to take
his beloved wife home. Koshchey overtook them, but was over powered by
Ivan’s horse. Ivan killed Koshchey, bur ed his body, and scattered his
ashes in the wind. Ivan and Maria Morevna visited his sisters and
thanked their husbands, the raven, eagle, and falcon. Then they
returned to their kingdom where they lived out their lives happily and
I thoroughly enjoyed (and still do) the beauty of these
steins and the dramatic visual presentation of the tales. But I became
curious, of all the available Russian fairy tales, why pick these four?
now the rest of the story
– As I began researching everything I
could find on these four fairy tales I came across a limited edition
book about these, and only these four Russian fairy tales. In 1978 the
Viking Press published a book “The
Firebird and Other Russian Fairy
Tales (ISBN 0-670-31544-3, front and back covers seen below).
This book was a tribute to the great
Russian illustrator Boris Zvorykin (1872 – 1942). It contained the
complete story of each of the four fairy tales a well as the 26,
5-color illustrations prepared by Zvorykin. The fairy tales having
their stories told were The Firebird,
Maria Morevna, The Snow Maiden,
and Vassilissa the Fair.
Boris Zvorykin was one of the last and most
impressive artists in the Russian tradition of book illustration.
Zvorykin was born and raised in Russia in an upper middle-class family.
He attended the prestigious Russian High- School for the Moscow School
of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture. Zvorykin left Russia after
the Revolution and settled in Paris, where he began to work at the
publishing house of H. Piazza. At some point in the 1920s he made the
original of this book as a present for his employer, Louis Fricotelle.
Zvorykin himself translated his four favorite Russian fairy tales
French, writing them in calligraphy, and illustrating them on heavy
vellum paper which he then bound in red Moroccan leather embossed with
Russian motifs. Fifty years later, Andreas Brown of the Gotham Book
Mart brought Zvorykin’s manuscript to the attention of Jacqueline
Onassis, an Editor in the Russian Style. She was connected with The
Viking Press, who decided to issue the book in a format that would make
it accessible to the public. All the illustrations were reproduced from
Zvorykin’s original artwork which is now housed in the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York.
It turns out that the Villeroy & Boch
Russian Fairy Tale steins described above were produced by Villeroy
& Boch in 1978 in conjunction with Viking Penguin, Inc. and
the publication of the book by Zvorykin. I spoke with staff at both The
Viking Penguin Press and the Mettlach Museum but no one found any
existing records talking about how the collaboration was actually
conceived or any other history between the two companies.
the success of the 1978 series, a second set of steins was produced
with a date of October 1, 1989. Since the 1978 series was a limited
edition and all molds had been destroyed, the new series had to have
its own unique look. Also, Villeroy & Boch told me they did have
records of wanting a lower cost. The 1989 edition of the Russian fairy
tale steins consisted of four sets of three steins with each stein
having only one of the illustrations (scenes) displayed on the initial
example, the initial series of Vasillissa the Fair
stein with three panel scenes of different illustrations. In the second
stein series of Vasillissa the Fair there were three steins, each
having one wrap around scene from the three illustrations. The example
of this stein is from the second (1989) series. This is one of the now
three steins showing Vasillissa the Fair. The scene from the left side
panel of the original stein is displayed here twice - once on each side
with a gold band separating them down the middle of the stein.
steins were now only 6.25 inches tall and 1/3 L capacity. The new lids
were pewter and domed. The 1989 series was a much larger limited
edition of 12,500 worldwide.
Each stein in the second series also had
matching plates produced. Thus, there are 12 steins and 12 plates each
having one of the original scenes. Here is a sample of one of the
plates.It shows the center panel scene from “In Search of the Firebird,
Ivan and Tsarevna on the Grey Wolf, The Wedding of Tsarevna Elena the
The Curator at the Mettlach Museum I was communicating with
consistently referred to this second set as “The little FairyTale
steins.” Many companies like Kovals and Replacements LTD often refer to
the two series as Russian Fairy Tales–Large and Russian Fairy
Moral of the story – modern steins can be of exceptional
quality, exciting design, vividness of color, and have an interesting
history. And, one day they will be old. Maybe then some of them will
get the attention they deserve.
Note: Like all fairy tales, there
many versions to these tales. I described these closely to how they
were translated by Zvorykin.