Thursday, June 2, 2016

What Exactly is a German Regimental Beer Stein: is it Real or Repro?

A Real Regimental Stein
Who knew that there were so many dedicated, dare I say rabid, collectors of beer steins? I have lately landed like an alien from Mars marveling in their midst, intrigued and fascinated by the history of something that is both plebeian (you drink beer from it) and beautiful (have you seen these things?)

How did I get here? Re-roll the tape to 1957, when a little kid from California is uprooted and transplanted to Germany with her family. My dad was in the Air Force, a code breaker during the cold war. I had no idea what he did for a living until 20 years after he retired. I just knew it was top secret and all very hush hush. Seriously, what 8 year old in the known universe cares about what the parental units do when they are out of sight?
Details of the intricate homey camp scenes on the beer rmug

My mother was a culture vulture and we did not live in military housing on post if she could ever help it. Nope, we lived on the economy as the saying went, in this amazing old house at Number 3 Prieger Promenade in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. Our friends were German, we dressed like German kids and we learned to speak German pretty well over the course of four years.
That list on the back is a list of all the members of the unit at the time this group served.

This was a good thing, and we never missed the snotty army brats we went to school with who were mostly quintessential ugly Americans who wouldn't leave the base and lived to go 'home'. They hated Germany; German food, German customs and German people. We, on the other hand, immersed ourselves totally (thanks for that Mutti) which included jumping in the car every week and going exploring somewhere new.

We camped everywhere we went. I literally never stayed in a hotel until I was 18 years old. Okay, I stayed in a hotel in Paris when I was 10, but I have the dubious distinction of camping with my family at the Brussels World's Fair in 1958 where I discovered Flemish Mayonnaise on Frites (French Fries) and marveled at the Atomium and Sputnik. In our travels we met everyone from cosmetics magnates to gypsies, from college kids backpacking around the country to restaurant owners lolling in the Black Forest and so many more. In short, we landed in enough magic to last for a lifetime.  I developed an itchy foot and a lust for travel that has never stopped.

A lithopane is a porcelain picture in the bottom of a beer stein and in some teacups. You can't see them until you hold them up to the light. 

And oh yes, the steins! My dad went bonkers for bier steins. Heidelberg student steins with engraved glass sides and painted porcelain lids, pewter steins with castles on them, steins with lithopanes in the bottom, which are pictures you can see when you hold the stein up to the light, old steins and new steins, big ones and little ones. Our house was filled with his collections of steins and meerschaum pipes.

After he died a few years ago we couldn't find any of the steins except the metal ones that fell off their rack and got smashed in an earthquake in California, dented Pewter. But after my mother died at the age of 95 last year, my brother found the collection where she had hidden it and they are slowly emerging into the light of day. Which brings me to THIS stein. It was either kismet or good karma, I'll take either one.

A few weeks ago a woman brought a box of her father-in-law's things to the antique mall, Finder's Keepers, where I occasionally work and asked if we would be interested in buying  the pieces she had. She just wanted them gone from her life. A lot of it was non-thrilling old plate silver, a no go in this era,  but then I unpacked a fat German stein with a music box in the bottom, a nice music box too. Unfortunately it plays "How Dry I Am"when you pick it up and that wretched tune has now been stuck in my head for days. It had the words to the song lettered on it and was painted with a Fraulein in net stockings sitting at a table. A guy in a 40's suit is giving her the eye, real hubba hubba stuff. I looked at the beer mug and asked her if anyone in her family had lived in Germany in the 1950s? Turned out most of the box of stuff was brought home from Germany in the mid-50's by her father-in-law who was stationed there.
The best steins have the details picked out in white enamel that is hand applied, like the shield and the guy's buttons.

Sadly, in the 1950s right after the war there were a lot of Frauleins in net stockings and not a lot of jobs for them. I remember my dad joking with our beloved housekeeper, Ushi, about the price for a lady's favors, "Zwei markt funfsiche," and they would laugh uproariously at the idea. It didn't dawn on me until many years later what the conversation was about. So, this stein was a soldier's souvenir from his rollicking 1950s and indicated the provenance of the other piece hiding in there. A regimental stein from 1906.

I pulled it out of the box and it was beyond beautiful, the colors still sparkling bright. I also saw the finial, that pointy thing on top, was damaged and I knew it would drastically affect the value. Still, it was so beautiful I offered to buy it for what I thought was a fair price, not knowing then what the heck it was, just that it was gorgeous,
The stein took a tumble at some point. His rifle is bent like spaghetti

I got it home and started my research, discovering then what a ginormous field stein collecting is--and what a mysterious one too! So many records of manufacturers and potters were completely destroyed during World War II. A lot of history about these magnificent pieces simply doesn't exist anymore. I did find there are excellent articles on them everywhere on the interwebs.  This is a link to an excellent article on identifying real or fake pieces. I highly recommend it if you find one of these and wonder about it too.

Every German, ending about WWI, had to show up and serve his country for a set amount of time.  These steins were a sort of souvenir of service that a soldier would buy and keep along with the other guys in his unit. Regimental steins were a big business, just look at the listings on eBay! And the prices! No wonder crooks are prone to making fakes. 

 This is actually an Imperial German Hessian beer stein which belonged Gardist Geier. He servied with the‘6 Comp. 1 Grossh. Hess. Inft. Leibg. Regt. Nr. 115 Darmstadt 1904-06. The Gross Herzogliche Freiherr Leibgarde Infantry Regiment 115 is the oldest military unit in the German army going back to 1650. This regiment was the traditional Life Guards Regiment of the Grand Dukes of Hesse.

 The front of the stein has an image of a statue of a winged Germania standing over a German soldier Below that is a red shield with a white ‘L’ and crown, and a pickelhaub (the pointy hat) helmet, drum, shovel, flask and bugle. Soldiers are shown in poses of fighting and in a homey camp scene. Marked 0.5 L on one side (liter) and a red 14 is painted on the bottom.  The lithopane is a traditional scene with a mum with a hankie crying and a dad waving to his son.

 The pewter lid is topped with a seated soldier holding a gun and a flask. The thumblift is a crowned rampant lion holding a shield. Steins had lids simply to keep bugs out of the beer.
Lids were to keep out bugs--and the interior should be brighter than the exterior pewter because it wasn't exposed to light

The paintings on steins were fired on transfers and the best steins have details like buttons picked out in raised enamel.  The soldiers of the regiment are listed on either side of the handle, also done in most cases via the transfer process. They could use the same list to sell a stein as a souvenir to every member of the regiment. The company, and the soldier’s name would have been hand lettered for each individual stein and the name on the stein must be on the list for the stein to be authentic.
Glorious deetail

This stein is especially interesting because Gardist Geier served Prince Ernst Louis, the last grand duke of Hesse (1868-1918). He was the brother in law of Tsar Nicholas of Russia and the grandson of Queen Victoria of England. This stein  represents an amazing piece of European history that really demonstrates how interconnected royalty is and was and how very odd it must have been to fight in a war against your family. These pieces are very collectible and a lot of military collectors love them. Beware though, lots of fakes to trip up the unwary collector. Happy Hunting and Cheers! (picture me lifting a beer filled stein.)
Side view, here you can see the lion of Hesse.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Mystery of Kathy Kale

While thrifting in Colorado recently I came across an odd and intriguing thing that looked like a candle holder. It looks rather like an old exploded view of power line insulator in an odd way. It's brown ceramic, has three feet and a beautiful brown glaze-- without the ever popular drippy white edge.

What is it?

Sorry folks,I  have never been a big fan of the drip ware with white edges. My aversion probably dates to a youth of chili in drip glazed Hull bowls or my grannie's awful coffee served in heavy Hull Pottery  mugs.

The piece is marked clearly on the bottom with "Kathy Kale USA" and a monogram. The clay body is a white sturdy stoneware and even the tips of the feet are glazed. It must have sat in the kiln on a perch that held it up off the kiln floor. It has one little spot on an edge that didn't get glazed. It's not a nick as confirmed by a magnifying glass, but a flaw that got through. So who is Kathy Kale and how old is this little cool  piece and what is it?

It's a warmer. Amazing. I figured it out. How cute is this little thing? But who made it and who is Kathy Kale?

Well...that's a mystery. There were three Kale families that were potters in the Carolinas at the turn of the 20th century, as in the 1900's and before. It is thought, but I cannot find any proof, that Kathy Kale could have been a Carolina Kale.  What we do know is that her wares appeared under the aegis of at least four potteries between the 1920's and 1965. But was she a real person? A joke? A trademark? A designer? No one really seems to know.

She appears to have worked or been a trademark for Canonsburg Pottery founded in 1900 and located in Pennsylvania just outside Pittsburgh.  They sold her Kathy Kale Creations as part of their line which was primarily dinnerware. That company exited stage right in 1978.

She appears to have worked or been a trademark for Watt Pottery, founded in 1886 at Rosefarm, Ohio. The pottery was sold and restarted in 1922 when the Watt family  bought the Globe pottery of Crooksville, Ohio.They made pottery mixing bowls and dishes much as Globe had done. In 1935,  they changed with the times and made pieces with the freehand decorations that are so popular with collectors today.

Watt bowl

Apple, Starflower, Rooster, Tulip, and Autumn Foliage are the most common. Pansy, also called Rio Rose, is the rarest because the glaze was thought to be flawed and they didn't make it for long. They added mid century lines to stay on trend including Kathy Kale, which was their very last line. The plant closed in 1965.  

Her trademarked name is associated with Hull Pottery of Crooksville, Ohio. Found in 1905, Hull originally made utilitarian stoneware, dinnerware and decorative tiles. They kept up  with the times and  from the 1930's to the 1950's, churned out popular patterns of dinnerware such as Magnolia, Orchid, Calla and Rose. They hopped on the 50's pastel bandwagon too, as well as expanding into florist's vases.
Hull bowl

Hull is probably most remembered for their Mirror Brown glaze which is still the quintessential Hull glaze. In 1950 the factory was destroyed in a flood followed by a fire. They rebuilt and reopened within two years focusing on their "House 'n Garden Servware" and  Imperialist Florist lines, but closed permanently in 1986.
Hull mug
Kale also crops up in McCoy Pottery in their Town 'N Country line from the late 50's early 60's.  McCoy was in business from 1910 to 1991 under one owner or another. They didn't get around to marking their pieces until 1933 and McCoy is the most collected pottery in the USA. They made every color, every style and every size you can think of at one time or another. 

Andy Warhol collected McCoy cookie jars and he is credited with the resurgence of McCoy's popularity several years ago. Through the years McCoy was sold several times; in 1967 to Mt Clemons Pottery, in 1974 Lancaster Pottery took over the reins and in 1985 they were sold to Designer Accents in New Jersey. The company breathed its last in 1991, no longer being able to compete with cheap imports. 

Somewhere in their history Kathy Kale crops up again with McCoy and lo and behold...

It's not a Hull warmer, the glaze is wrong, Watt warmers seem to have been round and brown. Canonburg made dishes and no warmers I can find. Drum roll please, its attributed to McCoy, a line called Town 'n Country to coincide with the station wagon suburban mentality of the time. The perfect pot for a potluck, it would have been brown drip glazed with a lid and including this warmer. You can still find them for sale occasionally and the one below is in its original box!

I found this one on line still in its box!

I love solving a mystery, but I still don't know who Kathy Kale is....I'd like to think she was in joke that all these big potteries shared, or maybe a mysterious lady potter flitting from factory to factory. (And although the original pot is long gone, its perfect for a cute casserole still, like this adorable unmarked little guy I found on my trip.)
Perfect with a cute little casserole

You can find lots of collectible pottery at our wonderful store, Finders Keepers Antique Mall in Olympia at 501 East Fourth Avenue; and because we are still a 'small town' the prices are great and so is the selection.
With just a candle

And this little piece is on Etsy at

-- along with the cute casserole. What kind of vintage mysteries are you finding? I'd love to hear!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Put a Picture On It...The Odd World of Antique Souvenir China and Pottery

Balanced Rock Porcelain Slipper
 I have decided the world of vintage is more like a Universe of Vintage with untold galaxies of things people love. There is so much to be curious about Out There, I feel like an explorer of the cosmos every time I pick something up and wonder about why and how it came to be.

I am always to drawn to strange juxtapositions in old things, like a porcelain shoe with a picture of Balanced Rock printed on it or a tiny fragile tea cup that has a scene of Niagara falls on it—and ladies carrying parasols.  Why porcelain? Who collected these things and when?

Niagara Falls Tea Cup

Well…souvenir pottery has a long and storied history it turns out.  Before place-specific souvenir ware became the next hot thing, Josiah Wedgwood was producing dishes with views on them; places people would never most likely visit but that suited the romantic nature of the times. Dashing horses and carriages, soporific mill scenes, great English houses, you name it, and Josiah was all over it in the eighteenth century.
Other potters figured out this market and Inexpensive china souvenirs have been an important part of ceramics importers business since the nineteenth century.  The beginnings were what we now call "Historical Staffordshire,” pictorial blue and white ceramics rimmed in flower or fruit borders which was made specifically for export in the Staffordshire pottery producing region of England beginning in the 1820s and decorated with scenes of American communities and historical figures as well as dreamy romantic English scenes. These pieces are gorgeous and you can still find them, although they can be very spendy to acquire. The glazes on the early ware are cobalt blue because at the time that was the only glaze that could stand up to the high fire glost ovens. As technology advanced so did the ability to produce other colors and even full color in the next few years. 
Exquisite historical Staffordshire plate
The most awe inspiring souvenir china ever made has to be the “Frog Service”, a set of china with 50 complete place settings and all the serving dishes made for Catherine the Great. 1222 views of  British landscapes were painted on the dishes for Catherine’s summer place, which was situated in a marshy area filled with frogs, hence the frog on each piece of the china service.
A platter from the Frog Service of Catherine the Great
On a much smaller scale, Americans making the Grand Tour of Europe, those with money to burn in the 18th and 19th century often took home pieces of pottery and china with views on them as souvenirs. Souvenir is French for “token of remembrance”, and was first recorded in writing in that sense in 1773. 

Grand tour memento of London
 Pretty soon, smart merchants figured out they could brand and sell their own attractions in the USA, printing ceramics with things as esoteric as colleges, balancing rocks and hotels, along with views of the wonders of nature.

Glass slippers from Salt Lake City and Ontario,Canada.
The market was ready made as Americans were entering the age of affordable leisure tourism and intense civic pride. Leisure travel thanks to the railroads and civic pride because we were a brash young country.  Families were now able to go the mountains for a vacation or the seaside for the weekend and of course they wanted a souvenir to remember the event.  The Golden Age of souvenir pottery and china in America kicked off and ran from the 1890s to the 1930s.

American pride at its best, 1905, a Lewis and Clark Centennial Plate.
With the advent of World War II, production of this type of souvenir of hard paste porcelain, usually the kind you can almost see through, ceased. After the war,  the market was flooded with cheap Japanese made souvenirs, mostly plates and cups that were not the same level of quality and fit better into the kitsch niche. Everybody had a grandma with a few souvenir plates on the wall but not the same kind of doo dads available before World War II which primarily came from Germany, with some English and French contributions.
This is a Wheelock import from Germany, one of the top two names found on imported hard paste porcelain.This desirable plate is a view of the US Courthouse and Post Office in Seattle, Washington.
Merchants in the late 19th and early 20th century wanting to extract every dollar from the tourist visitor  and city fathers and mothers, were called on by traveling salesmen from china importers to provide them with custom-made pictorial ceramics of their hotel or balanced rock or other Point of Interest.

Little known things like the McKinley Stump where Roosevelt stood appeared on souvenir ware. You have to wonder what the market was for this kind of piece from a small Washington town.
Shapes were standard and you will often see the same little vase or shoe shape but any image or saying could have been transfer-printed from a decal made from a copper or steel engraving to make the piece unique. Most of the views used were lifted from postcards, probably what was in the racks when the salesman made the sale.
I love this one, the grand opening  of Stadium High School in Tacoma, Washington before Mt Rainier got renamed from its original Mt Tacoma moniker.
The artist making the engraving never saw the original which resulted in some confusing mistakes from time to time. From order to delivery, souvenir china Production usually took a year.
Another instance of civic pride, the Bastion at Nanaimo, British Columbia
Many of these fun collectibles are still around and prices run the gamut from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars depending on what they are and what the market is that is looking for them.
These say the State Capitol in Olympia, but that moved down the street a long time ago. The gorgeous building still stands as the headquarters of  the Superintendent of Public Instruction, making these salt and peppers rare and desirable.

Great State of Washington Souvenir Plate, turn of the century.
Interestingly enough, the first limited edition collector’s plate came from Bing and Grondahl in 1895 when Harald Bing instructed his artisans to smash the mould for their Christmas Plate, Behind the Frozen Window. He believed, that limiting the availability of the plate would make it more desirable.  He was right and Bing and Grondahl are still making desirable limited edition plates.
The very first collectible souvenir limited edition plate from 1895.

The pieces in this blog entry are primarily from Washington state (where I live) and several of them are actually available at the Finders Keepers antique mall in Olympia. As for me, I'm keeping Niagara falls with its tiny ladies and parasols and the miniature Maid of the Mist. Who knows what other odd and lovely wonders are waiting for me to discover in the wild? 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Life is Just Grate!

I am a self-confessed aficionado of vintage kitchen implements. I have found in case after case that newer and snazzier is not always better. The best example I know of to demonstrate this point is kitchen graters. The kind we use to grate cheese, cabbage, carrots for carrot salad and occasionally knuckles.
Early American Knuckle Grater

I have, in my more than 50 years in a kitchen, tried every type of grater I can get my scraped knuckles on. I started young standing on a chair to stir a pot at the stove and never looked back. I have used box graters, round graters, flat graters and grater blades that fit on my Cuisinart.  I have sexy Microplanes with attachments.

A Microplane just for garlic

My own classic English box grater
I’ve thrown out tons of graters with barrels and cranks because they were more annoying than useful. I have found graters for garlic and porcelain graters for ginger; I have tiny graters for nutmeg and citrus zest. You name it, someone came up with it and in many cases I have tried it.

Nutmeg grater with Bakelite handle and a regular small nutmeg grater. Nothing tastes as yummy as fresh nutmeg!
Zester, a cousin to the grater and a handy tool indeed.

Which brings me back to the mother of all graters, (Insert angelic chorus of ahhhh! here) The Mouli Grater. If you are lucky enough to find or own an old Mouli, treasure it, love it, and hide it from those who would snitch it from your utensil drawer.

The Ultimate. Mouli Grater.
A little history  of the grater for you: The first cheese grater was thought to have been invented in France in the 1540s by Francois Brouillier and a pewter example is in the Musee de Havre in France. Cheese graters fell out of fashion along with hard cheese for many years all over the world and grater development languished.  A man named Jeffrey Taylor came up with a cheese grater concept in the 1920s in the USA. His model was the grate from the bottom of a shower. We can only hope he washed it first. From there we got the plethora of the doo dads collectors love to collect today,  but then came the Mouli.
Original all metal Mouli
Mouli was the brain child of Jean Mantelet who founded the company in France in 1932 with the invention of a hand cranked food mill that was the precursor to the food mills we know today. The company grew and thrived and in 1957, was renamed Moulinex to catch a ride on the coat tails of their first successful electric coffee grinder.
The 'box' where you put the cheese to grind
As time went on a lot of the parts of the graters went to plastic and the company went through a series of fiscal disasters and was sold several times in a slow downhill slide. There may be a Moulinex or Mouli on the market today but these are NOT in any sense of the word, the old school quality Mouli grater or Mouli Julienne that are such amazing work horses in the kitchen. If you see a Mouli with a plastic body or casing, lay it down and walk away. Keep hunting until you find the real deal. An all metal Mouli with a wooden turn crank on the handle. Okay, that much plastic you can have. One button, but that’s it.

It holds shut easily with one hand

 I buy every Mouli I can find because they are becoming rarer by the day. I have given one to each of my children who are all excellent cooks and I have a pair and a spare standing by just in case. I have been known to give them as wedding gifts WITH a complete explanation as to why this is such an amazing gift. Picture the puzzled bride opening a gift wrapped box to find a grizzled old grater and understand why the gift of explanation and a few recipes really matter.
So what is this thing called Mouli and why is it fab? I like grating cheese quickly and a box grater takes forever and removes knuckles along the way if I don’t focus, it takes forever and makes a mess too. The Mouli has a barrel with a crank that drops into a device that lets you put a chunk of cheese in the top, firmly hold the thing in your hand and turn the crank.  It doesn’t bend or twist or make a mess and it cleans fast and easily.  I love that, something so simple and so perfect. My own Mouli has two different sized barrels for cheese but you’ll usually find them with just the finer barrel which is great for hard cheese. And then we graduate to the Julienne.

The Mouli Julienne grater

cheese in the hopper
All done!
Now we hit the big time. This looks like a metal three legged scorpion to me. To use it, the round rotary cutting blade of choice is inserted, the crank is dropped in to hold it in place, the item to be ground up is dropped into the hopper-- be it carrots, cabbage or cheddar cheese—the lid goes down and the crank is turned. Voila, out the bottom comes perfectly shredded or sliced bits and bites.  Again, even a light weight can use it and it’s easy to clean. Why on earth did they stop making these?
Size comparison between the Julienne and the King-sized Salad Maker

A friend recently gave me the crème de la crème: The Mouli Salad Maker, still in its original box. This is like a tiger compared to a house cat and the first thing it did was bite me. It has folding legs and I won’t show a picture of the pinched thumb I managed to give myself in the process of setting it up.  The sexy instruction book that came with it says I can even grate ice cubes and peppermint sticks with this baby. Well, maybe not together but still….

Still in the box with instructions and recipes for the handy 50s housewife
This unit is called “King Size” in the brochure and it was made in New Jersey in the 1950s and it’s still as sturdy and viable today as it was over 50 years ago. I don’t think everyone needs this giant pre-Ron P. Salad Maker version, but I’m glad I have it. If you can find the smaller cheese grater invest in this vintage delight. Just do it! The Julienne model that looks like a scorpion is equally cool but much harder to find but worth the hunt for excellent carrot salad making and slicing lettuce into delightful shreds for sandwiches. And when you do find one of these? Use them, love them and hide them from your friends.
Look at all those attachments!
Mouli, king of graters