Stein Collectors International
Featured Stein ~ February 2021

Der Deutsche Michel (The German Michael) Character Stein

By Roy De Selms
SCI Master Steinologist, member Carolina Steiners

This month's Featured Stein, seen at left, is Dümler & Breiden #633. A not uncommon stein, for years it has been referred to as "Man with Pipe" or "Farmer" by collectors who are not aware of the cultural history to which it refers.

This misunderstanding would probably have continued to go uncorrected were it not for the inscription on the base rim: "Deutscher Michel" (German Michael). That inscription is missing from most examples of this stein. Without the inscription, the only apparent visual clue to the true identity of this stein is the blue Phrygian cap which is somewhat obscured by the pewter lid. In contrast, the distinctive cap on Rosskopf & Gerz #428 (right) makes it much easier to recognize that representation of Michel.

In the years following this case of mistaken identity collectors have benefited from the discovery and publication of original catalogs. From them we can sometimes learn the title by which a stein was known at the time it was offered for sale. In this case, the undated (but early) Dümler & Breiden catalog lists this stein as "Trinkseidel, Flachboden mit großem Kopf (deutscher Michel)" (drinking stein, flat bottom with large head (German Michel)).

Der deutsche Michel
is a fictional figure used to represent the character of Germany in the same manner that "Uncle Sam" represents America and "Marianne" personifies the French.

A cartoonish characterization of deutscher Michel was published in the March 24 1849 issue of the magazine Eulenspiegel. It shows the mood of the German people thru the 1848 social revolution and the meetings of the Parliament of the St. Paul's Church in Frankfurt in June 1848 which tried to develop the first constitution for a unified Germany. The movement was immediately squelched by the Prussians who had other plans. Der Deutsche Michel in the Frühjahr (Spring) of 1848 is shown as defiant and looking for social change with his wild beard and Jakobinermütze (Liberty Cap; Phrygian Cap). The facial expression became calmer, the facial hair more conventional, and the hat somewhat deflated during the Sommer (summer). Finally, in the Spätjahr (Autumn) Michel has acquiesced, his face showing resignation, and his cap has morphed into a Schlaffmütze (sleeping cap). The caption—Michel und seine Kappe im Jahr 1848 (Michael and his cap in the year 1848)—makes clear that the cap is an essential part of any depiction of Michel.


However, there's more to it than that, and that's shown in this second cartoon which appeared at the time of World War I.  Here Michel is shown sleeping (not likely while smoking a pipe) and then in a fury when tormented by Germany's adversaries. The caption reads "der Michel schläft - doch wehe, wenn er wacht!" (the Michel sleeps - but watch out when he awakens!) and paraphrases the old adage "Let sleeping dogs lie." This translates to the image of the Michel being happy to sleep in peace until being provoked into action. The clever hidden double meaning of the Nachtmütze/Schlafmütze (night cap/ sleeping cap) has led to the assumption that all Michels are wearing night caps.  However, it's more likely that this is also a Phrygian Cap which has been used from the time of the Greeks to symbolize "Freedom and Liberty" which is Michel's ultimate goal.

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