by Ron Gray
Forget the fancy and expensive stein you wouldn’t dare drink out of. Forget the fragile porcelain character stein you wouldn’t dare let a friend hold. This month’s stein is a practical and sturdy stein designed to drink your favorite beverage – again and again and again. It could even withstand slamming it down on the table in a chug-a-lug contest. If you collect these old steins you can be assured they are used steins.
Merkelbach and Wick made this one-liter salt-glazed grey stoneware stein for Munich’s famous Hofbräuhaus. While the brewery was founded in 1589, it took about another twenty years for the Hofbräuhaus to be founded (see http://www.hofbraeuhaus.com/ for more information). It was so famous that a song was written about it. Klaus S. Richter wrote the lyrics and Wiga-Gabriel composed the music (circa 1920) for In München steht ein Hofbräuhaus (In Munich is the Hofbrau pub). If everything is working and you have RealOne Player, you should be hearing an instrumental version of this famous song. You can see the lyrics, in both German and English, at http://www.parlorsongs.net/issues/2000-7/2000-7.asp. You can even sing along if you like. If you need to hoist a beer or two before joining in, you don’t need to drink alone. Visit http://www.munichtoday.de/javaipix_hofbrauhaus.htm (allow time for the IPIX to download and then click the buttons to get a panoramic view of the Hofbräuhaus) and you can pretend you are actually in the famous Hofbräuhaus. Can you smell the beer yet?
The firm of Merkelbach & Wick routinely applied their distinctive trademark to their stoneware products. The mark is comprised of the fancy letters "M&W" above "Gr.," all enclosed in a circle. The letters stand for "Merkelbach & Wick" and "Grenzhausen," the small Westerwald village where they operated from the 1880's until dissolving in 1921. (Grenzhausen merged with neighboring Höhr to become Höhr-Grenzhausen in 1936.) Two images of the M&W trademark are shown below the illustration of the lid of this stein. The one to the left shows the mark clearly, although it is common for the mark to be only partially impressed or indistinct (as seen on the right, which is a photo of the actual mark on this stein). Since there are relatively few firms whose trademark is in a circle, and the curlicues on the letters are quite distinctive, collectors generally have little trouble dealing with an indistinct M&W trademark.
Although the firm dissolved in 1921, the Wick side of the firm continued operation of the factory under the name Wick Werke from 1921 to closing in 1984.
At the Hofbräuhaus it is common for regular customers to keep their favorite stein at the bar for their personal use when they stop in for a drink (I wonder if Norm had his own private glass, in addition to the stool, at Cheers?). A number on the stein would help them keep track of it, although the regular customers' steins are kept locked in a special area. When the barmaid takes your stein for a refill you want to ensure you get the same one back. Little old ladies used to frequent the German bars selling knitted beer markers so you could identify your stein. The beer markers were caricatures of famous Germans. I found an article in The Strand Magazine from 1897 about these remarkable beer markers. The article was reprinted in our quarterly magazine and has been posted to the Library section of this site.
This month’s beer stein falls in the category of brewery beer steins (brauerei Bierkrüge in German). Brewery steins represent a popular specialization area for the beer stein collector. This is one way to start a collection at a moderate price level. Since Germany is known for its many breweries, a brewery stein collector should have a good supply to choose from for their collection. Here are links to four sites that show brewery steins:
Be sure to have your 1L brewery stein ready to celebrate St. Patrick’s day.