Stein of the Month: August 2003

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A Porcelain "Blue Onion" Stein

The half-liter porcelain stein shown to the right is decorated with what most people identify as "the blue onion" pattern. With matching inlaid lid and a nice dwarf figural pewter thumblift, its blue and white colors and traditional design gain it easy entry into many kitchens and dining rooms.

First produced under the guidance of Meissen director Johann Höroldt in 1732, the so-called "blue onion" pattern was actually an adaptation of an early oriental "tree of life" motif. In Germany the pattern - or any of its many variations - is known as zwiebelmuster, or "onion pattern". In fact, the flowers and fruit in the design include a stylized pomegranate or peach, and a peony, aster or chrysanthemum. Where's the onion?

Although the Meissen name retains its historical link to this pattern, the design has been used and re-used by many different firms in the intervening years, sometimes employing a different name (e.g., "blue Danube"). To add to the difficulty in identifying the maker of a piece, the crossed swords mark used by Meissen has also been extensively borrowed. While this stein does carry a base mark, I have been unsuccessful in identifying it (see photo). The stylistic characteristics date its manufacture to about 1900.

The base mark, easily confused with the many variations of the crossed swords

Porcelain inlaid lid in an artfully shaped pewter ring.

The blue design is continued down the back of the applied handle.

The dancing dwarf figural thumblift signals that this stein was to be used for pleasure.

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