Two Inexpensive Steins of Interest

by Chris Wheeler

In this article Chris Wheeler shares with us two steins from his collection, each of which offers an interesting history lesson.

It all started 10 years ago when I inherited my father's stein, a Marzi & Remy 2029 purchased new in 1952. This was to replace one that got broken, his father's stein, which had been handed down by his great grandfather. Apparently it was nondescript and brown, dated early 1800's, and probably worth a fortune today. When the perpetrator was confronted and told how old it was, his only reply was, well it's about time you bought a new one!

My grandfather, on my father's side, hailed from Gaildorf, Württemberg, coming to the UK in the late 1880's, settled in London raising 7 children, and changing the family name from Wiessner to Wheeler. He fought in the British Army on the same part of the same front and on the same dates as his brother, who was on the opposite side in the Kaiser's Imperial Army. They only found out after the war that they might have been shooting at each other!

My great grandfather on my mother's side was born on Heligoland, an inhabited island approximately ½ mile square in the North Sea, 40 miles off the Danish and German coasts. Its colourful geography and history are ably described on the web-site http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heligoland. In 1890, when my great grandfather was a young man of about 25, Queen Victoria and the Kaiser, or more accurately their minions, decided to exchange territories. The British gained Zanzibar (East Africa) and in turn lost Heligoland.

Like most Heligolanders my great grandfather was a seafarer, in fact a ship's engineer. However he did not like the Germans (or perhaps the Germans did not like him; we are not sure), so when the exchange took place, he decided to leave. The British government of the day, in their wisdom, gave Heligolanders full British citizenship provided they worked for five years on the land (sic!), since the general population, at the time, was gravitating towards the cities. This he did, and, when his time was served, he ended up finally using his engineering skills, working at the Gloucester Wagon Works making railway vehicles. He never returned to the sea! It was fate therefore when I managed to purchase a black handled Marzi & Remy with the island of Heligoland hand painted on the front. The legend underneath says "Helgoland," its German name, which would indicate that it was painted after 1890. I'm sure the old man would turn in his grave if he knew I had this stein.

An image from the Views of Germany Photochrom Print collection held by the Library of Congress shows the same view of the island with greater detail (below). If you visit their site (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/pp/mdbquery.html) and search on the word "Helgoland" you will be taken to a page which lists a number of additional views of the island which are contemporary with the stein. Sadly, the island, which was used as a naval base, was heavily bombed in 1945, then used as a bombing range between 1945 and 1952, so these views are gone forever. Today the island has been rebuilt as a vacation resort.



Given my Germanic connections, it is not really surprising that I should be attracted to steins.

My interest is in steins which are visually appealing, but not necessarily exotically expensive. They must be older than me (no clues given), with a potentially interesting history for me to research. I always imagine it possible to find out whether anyone famous, or notorious, has drunk from them. So, no $500 Mettlachs for me, unless I can buy them in mint condition for a song, and certainly none of those cobalt blue salt glazes that look like they were made by a 5 year old in the 1850's. Also my shelf space is limited, so I am forced to operate a "stein bought necessitates a stein to sell" policy. However my wife has not yet spotted that on some shelves the steins are two deep!

It was a good day therefore when I spotted an etched stein on eBay for $20.00. I eventually won it for $30.00 from some "eejit" bidder who, judging from his previous purchases, was intent on buying ballast. It had the Eckhardt & Engler mark on it and my research started there.

-----and this is what I have found out!

Although this stein was manufactured and marked by Eckhardt & Engler, the model was first produced by Rosskopf & Gerz. These two firms, both located in the Westerwald village of Höhr, share a tangled history, which we recount here.

Rosskopf & Gerz (R&G) was founded in 1901 by potter and designer Karl Wilhelm Rosskopf in partnership with businessman Alois Jacob Gerz. Both of these gentlemen already had a background in the stoneware industry, having been employed by the firm of Reinhold Hanke, and their wide range of products "in the newest modern German style" was met by a ready market. In 1905, following the departure of Rosskopf, A. J. Gerz expanded the firm with the addition of a pewter workshop and decorating studio. The firm was successful with a range of artistic and utilitarian products, and enjoyed a good reputation until the pressures of the first world war forced them into bankruptcy in 1917.

The firm of Eckhardt & Engler (E&E) was a few years older than R&G, having been founded in 1898 as a wholesaling and finishing company by businessman Peter Eckhardt and his brother-in-law, Ernst Johann Engler. The firm employed 12 pewter-smiths and 14 painters. In 1907 R&G turned to E&E to market their products, and the companies enjoyed a mutually profitable and symbiotic relationship. In 1914 E&E took over a small pottery firm, acquiring a small kiln as well as their product line. After R&G encountered financial difficulties at the beginning of the war, E&E purchased some of their moulds which they then placed into production, marking them with the E&E trademark. This explains why we come across steins which are known to be from the R&G line but which bear the E&E mark. The original form or mould numbers were retained. E&E bought the remainder of the R&G moulds in 1922 or 1923.

My stein appears in an R&G catalogue supplement published in 1914 as model 455. (Unfortunately, no other R&G catalogues have been uncovered, and it is believed that this supplement is the only company document to have survived to present time.) The R&G version of this stein can be seen in The Beer Stein Library. The form or mould number appears between the handle attachments of both steins. Mine (the E&E version) has a different handle and different coloration than the R&G original, and it also shows some wear to the mould, particularly in the moulded relief bands above and below the main tableau. Based upon the normal practice of assigning mould numbers in increasing order, and noting that the company had registered model 460 by the end of 1904, we can conclude that the model dates to that year. Since E&E first acquired some of the R&G moulds in 1918, we conclude that this stein was produced no earlier than 1918, and probably no later than 1939. Most of the E&E steins bearing a mould number less than around 900 are traceable to the RuG catalogue. Other steins with higher mould numbers seem to have been designed specifically for E&E. E&E finally closed their doors circa 1971. I understand that many, if not all, of the RuG & E&E moulds are now in the hands of KING-Werk (Würfel & Müller).

It is known that the following designers contracted to produce designs for RuG: Kilian Beuler, G.K. (name unknown), Albin Müller, Leonhard Hellmuth, Karl Görig and Bruno Mauder. The latter four followed the Jugendstil style, therefore it is unlikely that any of those designers had a hand with this stein. However the firm did employ in house "artist-designers" two of whom being Franz Willems and Albrecht Simonis, and it could have been one of these who designed R&G 455.

As a footnote to the tangled history of the firms of R&G and E&E, one of the moulds attributed to R&G was apparently used to produce a stein bearing a Girmscheid mark! While it is possible that the origin of the mould may have been misidentified, we are left to speculate how this mould wound up in the hands of the Girmscheid firm.

It always gives me a good feeling when I know as much as it is possible to know about the steins in my collection. They take on personalities of their own and are not just pots on a shelf.

The research I have carried out was not original since there are many helpful experts out there, who have already done a lot of the hard work and have the necessary reference books. Therefore it is both educational and cost effective to join one or more of the organizations dedicated to stein collecting. I must acknowledge articles written, and help given by Frank Loevi of the Beer Stein Library, Walt Vogdes of Stein Collectors International, together with Ronald. E. Gray, whose texts I have heavily leaned on, plagiarized and in certain areas, downright copied! Thanks to you all.

References:
"Rosskopf & Gerz, Steinzeugfabrik - Stoneware Factory" by Frau Dr. Beate Dry-von Zeschwitz, self-published in Munich in 1982.

"Westerwälder Steinzeug des Jugendstils 1900-1914", Doctoral thesis by Frau Dr. Beate Dry-von Zeschwitz, Munich, 1993.