Featured Stein: November 2012
~ A Special Inlaid Lid Makes a Difference ~
By Jim Sauer

Occasionally a rather ordinary looking stoneware stein can be found with a rather interesting and unusual inlay lid, and also with a special pewter mounting, as shown in Figure 1. Such is the case of this Saareguemines 1/2 liter stein, fitted with a glass sulphide inlaid lid of Gambrinus, and a pewter thumb lift of an Imperial Eagle with spread wings. The stein is a step out of the ordinary, definitely different, but not necessarily rare or costly, just an interesting piece to include in a collection.

Figure 1.

The Saareguemines stein body is decorated with marbled colors of brown, pale yellow and tan with a rather heavy glaze finish. The four line German verse on the front and its translation can be found in the handbook, 1001 German Beer Stein Translations, by the late Colonel Lester E. Hopper AUS.  

  Iss was gar ist.
Trink was klar ist.
Sprich was wahr ist.
Lieb was rar ist.
Eat what is cooked.
Drink what is clear.
Speak what is true.
Love what is rare.

The late nineteenth century inlaid glass sulphide lid of king Gambrinus seated on his throne, as shown to the right, has some interest. The term "sulphide" is the name given to a rather small silvery appearing three dimensional incrusted "cameo” type figure enclosed in glass. The rather complex method of making sulphides began in the early nineteenth century with the search for a special ceramic material which could withstand high temperature firing, remain in the exact intended shape, and maintain a consistent color. With the development of a special formula of china clay as the basic ingredient, it became possible to refine the techniques needed to complete a glass enclosed figure. A concave metal die was implemented as a means to stamp out a number of complete figures in three dimensions from a thin shaped spread of the smooth soft clay. The resulting figures were dried over an extended period of time and then fired in a kiln to a point that would exceed the normal temperature of any molten glass that was intended to enclose the figure. This was a difficult step in the production of the fragile incrustations as the hardened brittle figures were subject to a variety of faults that resulted in broken or damaged pieces that were discarded. The next step involved a controlled cooling down period with inspections, and finally storage of the figures for future use. When needed the incrustations were carefully reheated to the same temperature of the molten colorless leaded glass to be used for the completed sulphides. This step involved inserting a figure into an “pocket” of molten glass, which can be understood more easily by referring to Figure 2, which is an illustration taken from the reference book "Sulphides" by Paul Jokelson. The four sketches show the process involved when a heated figure was placed inside a pre-shaped glass pocket of hot glass, with a long narrow hollow iron tube attached to the opposite end of the glass. The open pocket was pinched closed, and the remaining air withdrawn through the iron tube by the mouth suction of a workman. Atmospheric pressure caused the hot glass to collapse over the figure and it became one solid piece. The pinched end was fire polished smooth, and the hollow tube removed as the sulphide was finished. The refraction of light through the glass makes the figures appear as though made from silver, due to the various ingredients in the finished ceramics when covered with leaded glass.

This late nineteenth century sulphide of Gambrinus is of good quality, but it doesn't compare to the superior quality of earlier French and German sulphides made for wealthy patrons during the middle of the century. Taking this into consideration it still makes an unusual and interesting lid on a stein that was dressed up even more with the addition of the Imperial Eagle thumb lift.

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