Featured Stein: May 2010
~ Toy Steins  ~
by  Lyn Ayers

Every once in a while I check out different stein auction locations looking for those JW Remy steins that are still hiding from me. A couple months ago I was poking around on line, and I ran across these three tiny steins. I was intrigued so I spent more time trying to determine what they were. They looked old. None had lids and I couldn’t tell if they had ever had lids. I closely studied the amazing detail on each of them. In fact, I decided they were older rather than newer: modern copies would likely not have such great detail. It was also interesting to note that the listing stated “From the personal collection of Jack Lowenstein.”  Well, that did it! I contacted the site and asked what they could do for two items. We came to an agreement on the price. Several days later UPS knocked at my front door. 

Imagine my elation when I unwrapped these little gems and saw how impressive they really were. They were tiny, the Bartmankrug is only 2” tall and the other two about 1 ½”. The detail was phenomenal ( see the close-ups below ) and they looked old — I mean, really old! They were unglazed but I felt that they had been fired at a pretty high temperature: they were “rugged”, not like “soft” pottery. They were not hollow like a container would be so they obviously were not intended to contain liquids. There were no marks anywhere. Upon studying them some more, I realized that they were not molded, but hand-thrown! How did the potter get such clear detail in the design? How did he make it? Did he have a tiny potter’s wheel? He must have had special tools just to make them. But what was their purpose???? Salesman’s samples? Models for new designs? What? 

What I believe is the answer to the riddle came a few weeks later. I took them to someone I hoped could give me some insight into their purpose and history. I met up with Gerd Kessler in Colonial Williamsburg where he had been invited by the Foundation as a guest lecturer on Westerwald Stoneware at a symposium on Early American pottery. As I unwrapped them, you could see his eyes light up. He agreed that they were undoubtedly quite old (for him, meaning before 1900) and was pretty sure what they were: they were toys, possibly from the early 1800s! He also was impressed with the attention to detail in such tiny toys. 

When I questioned him about how he recognized them as toys, he responded that his Great Uncle in Hoehr-Grenzhausen had made stoneware toys and sold them in the late 1800s and early 1900s and these were quite similar. 

You run across the most interesting, intriguing items sometimes. 

Footnote: Those of you who attended the SCI Convention in 2008 and took the post-convention tour might recall that Gerd Kessler is one of the key staff members at the Hoehr-Grenzhausen Stoneware Museum as well as being JW Remy’s Great Grandson.
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