Featured Stein: April 2009
~ An Early  Westerwald Stein ~
by David Vandergriff
The Westerwald region in Germany is known around the world as one of the major producers of stoneware. The rich and abundant supply of clay found in this region has allowed the industry to thrive over time. The area of Westerwald called Kannenbäckerland (or jug bakers land) has a history of making beer steins and other wares for centuries. Stoneware is still being produced there today. 

There is evidence of pottery production in this area from well over two millenniums ago. Potters were using the clay in the Westerwald region as early as 800 BC. Fully vitrified and salt-glazed steinzeug was first recorded from around the middle of the 15th century. 

Toward the end of the 16th century, there was an influx of potters to the area. Among the potters immigrating to the region were Anno Knütgen and his family from Siegburg, and the Mennicken family from Raeren. They brought with them molds, tools, techniques and experience. The presence of these and other master potters had a huge influence on the history of Westerwald stoneware.

In the 17th century, the motifs on Westerwald steins were created with incised lines and/or applied relief. The basically gray stoneware bodies were usually decorated with cobalt blue from the late 1500s until around 1650. From that time until around 1700, the use of manganese purple was sometimes added. Typically, when the phrase 'early Westerwald stein' is spoken, one first thinks of the gray stoneware steins with cobalt blue decoration that are frequently seen in the antique stein market. The stein shown here is an exception. Though certainly not rare, early Westerwald steins with a plain gray body are not as common and come around less often. 
The decoration on this stein wraps around the entire body of the vessel. There are four connected panels with oval frames that are done in applied relief. Also, the red (reed) and knibis (zig-zag lines or fan-like ornamentation) techniques are combined in the decoration. 

The stein holds a generous 1.25 liters of brew. While there is no mark, I can vouch for the capacity, having personally filled and emptied this stein on a few occasions. Finally, the stein is adorned with a pewter foot ring and a pewter lid that bears the original owner's initials and the date 1757. 

This style of all gray stein was mostly produced in the 18th century, with the peak in popularity around 1750. The Westerwald potters probably began making these
all gray bodied steins to keep up with the changing times and the changing demand in the market. 

The ability and readiness to make changes has been a factor in Westerwald stoneware production for over 400 years. In the early days, the potters and their families participated in every phase of the work, from digging the clay, building the kilns, throwing and firing the wares, to loading the finished products for market. Today in Westerwald, different tradesmen are networked together. Forest workers, electricians, furnace makers, mining companies, packing and shipping companies are all a part of keeping the stoneware industry efficient.

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