Stein of the Month: July 2003

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A Heavily Cut and Stained
Spa Stein with a Set-On Lid

This Stein-of-the-Month article was provided by Norm Paratore, a member of SCI and Gambrinus Stein Club. He discusses a stein which has special significance to him because its purchase opened his eyes to the glass cutting art and gave new focus to his collecting.

I consider this stein to be "my most meaningful stein". Notice I didn’t say my favorite, or most expensive, or oldest, or most unusual or rarest stein. I purchased this glass stein at an antique show in Pennsylvania around 1993 from someone most readers know or know of – SCI Master Steinologist and glass expert, Ron Fox. I had to think long and hard since the asking price at the time was pushing my financial limit, and it even has a small chip on the inside lip of the lid. But, the bug had bit and the stein was to be mine.

OK, you ask, what makes this stein so meaningful to me? After all, many collectors wouldn’t even consider this a “true” stein since it has a set-on lid. WHAT…A SET-ON LID? Blasphemy!!!! Heretic!!!! Yes, it has a set-on lid and you all can snicker or turn your noses up, but that is fine as it helps keep prices lower for me!

Now to why I call this my most meaningful stein. First, this is the stein that made me look more seriously at glass and for starting me down the path I’m still on. I love old, blown, copper wheel cut glass steins! Prior to my purchase of this stein I was interested in what many new collectors start with – Mettlach or just about anything else that struck my fancy at the time and I could afford. Mettlach steins seemed to be safe since there was so much published about them and everyone knew the price of every mold.

I started looking a little more closely at this stein and noticed that just about every surface from the finial to the bottom of the foot is cut in some fashion – all very intricately. That is a lot of cutting since the stein is almost ten inches tall. Take a close look at the lid, where there are six different cuts alone. Around the edge the person who applied the stain only painted every other cut! Talk about labor intensive. Then look at the staining around the middle of the lid, as well as the finial. And there are five separate types of cuts on each side panel. Just below the side panels and running around the entire stein is a double cut that took two passes (or one pass with a “W” shaped cutting tool), below that there is vertical scalloping leading to (gasp) the plain top of the foot. On the bottom of the foot is a starburst with a ground clear pontil. The handle has a diamond cut as shown in the picture. As you look at the pictures, notice how the extensive cutting of the glass reflects light onto the table.

Secondly, I looked closer at the building on the front of the stein and the detail. Learning how these scenes were done opened up another world. Just the idea of how these copper wheel artists formed those marvelous pictures was, and still is, mind boggling. The name Saltzbrunn on the stein got me wondering what it was and why it was on a stein. Well, I found out it was spa-related, which led to an interest in spa scenes on steins and finally into spa sippers, beakers, and mugs. It's remarkable how many steins had spa buildings or scenes on them and no one seemed to be paying any attention. This burgeoning interest led me to research German/Bohemian spas, their importance to the economy, and why in the mid-1800s they were suddenly so overwhelmingly popular, which in turn was responsible for the proliferation of spa related glassware, souvenir decorations, and thousands upon thousands of post cards. Watch for a future article in Prosit on this subject. Or, come to the August 2003 meeting of the Gambrinus Stein Club and hear it live.

The third and final reason why this is my most meaningful stein… it was responsible for my collection of steins with set-on-lids. My collection stands at just over a dozen right now and range from the simple to the very elaborately cut, from the smallest at 6” to the largest at just over 11”, with and without wheel cut scenes. The set-on lid style was popular for a very brief period – basically from about 1820 to 1850. By around 1850 they were done – stick a fork in them, fini, over and out!

The steins fit in to the time period of excessiveness in glassware and cut decorations, which ended around 1850. John Ruskin, a prominent English art critic, had previously blasted all cut glass as "barbaric" and he labeled pyramid shaped cut diamonds "prickly monstrosities", criticism which eventually brought about changes in glassware decorations. Colorless cut glass fell out of favor on the Continent for the next twenty-five years, and it was only revived after the United States Centennial Celebration of 1876 in Philadelphia when American colorless cut lead crystal made such a good impression on the European glass industry.

The miter cut "prickly monstrosities" that Ruskin objected to so strongly can be found on set on lid glass steins. The stein bodies he referred to were generally of the larger size with thick heavy glass and similar sized handles, and large cut decorations as well. Naturally the size of the lid and the decorations had to balance out with the body, so they were also large and a bit excessive. Between Ruskin's opinions, changing economics in glass production, the development of stained and flashed colors and the popularity of engraved decorations, interest in the steins faded away around 1850.

Many older glass steins may have bubbles and faults, some may have a yellow cast to them due to the Potash additive, some may sag or lean to one side, and some may have chips or even cracks. All of these flaws to my eye simply add character. Think of the care in handling that had to take place over the years for something so fragile to still be intact after 150 years and more. How many glasses have you broken just in the last couple of years? But the one thing I have come to appreciate while collecting older glass steins over the last ten years is that no two are exactly alike.

Those are the three major reasons why this is "my most meaningful stein" and one which has a prominent spot in my display. Many thanks to fellow glass enthusiast and one of my mentors, SCI member Jim Sauer, for the information about John Ruskin.

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