The “Mercury Mark,” used by Mettlach pottery from 1874-1909. It is usually stamped in green but also known to have used blue and black ink.
The Mettlach pressed mark used from 1882-1931. Notice the line drawing of the Benedictine abbey where the Mettlack pottery was located.
Collectors of pottery and porcelain really have it easier than collectors of other antiques, such as furniture, glassware or lamps, where determining a maker or even a date of production can involve a great deal of research. Even then, at times, much is speculation based on third-party attributions. Many potteries, on the other hand, make it very easy to determine what you are looking at with a great deal of certainty by the markings they use.
One of the easier potteries to identify and date is Mettlach from the general period 1874-1910. The company used variations of both the marks above for this period of production and a easy to identify date mark.
Mettlach was founded in 1809 by Jean-François Nikolaus Boch III (1782 -1858) in Mettlach, Saarland, Germany. The pottery itself was located in a 10th-century Benedictine abbey that still exists to this day.
The company became part of “Villeroy & Boch” as a result of a merger between Boch and Nicolas Villeroy in 1836. Their goal was to consolidate the market share against competitors. Mettlach, as an separate entity within the Villeroy and Boch enterprise, has produced a wide variety of household items in its history, such as tobacco jars, plaques, wine pitcher and plates. Mettlach is best known, though, for the beer steins it produced during its heyday, from 1885- to 1910.
The Mettlach products collectors are most familiar today were first exhibited at the 1885 World Exhibition held in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1885. During these peak years, from 1885 on, some references claim that Mettlach employed more than 1,250 factory workers. The number of types and sizes of just the steins produced alone numbers in the 1,500-2,000 range. This was not to last however, as the economic climate had begun to worsen and production dropped leading up to the First World War. To make matters worse, in 1921, a fire broke out in the pottery, destroying all the molds and much of the company reference material for glaze and colored slip formulas.
Like many, Mettlach did periodically change its company marks and used a variety of markings to identify its goods, such as a date code, mold type/numbers marks and, in the case of its steins, their liquid capacity. Along with the changes of pottery company markings, we sometimes also have other marks that are general indicators of age, like “Country of Origin” marks, such as “Germany” or “Made in Germany” that can be found stamped or printed on the bottom. Marks like these were used to comply with trade and tariff laws like the English Merchandise Marks Act in 1887 and the American McKinley Act of 1890, which required pieces imported to the United States be marked with their country of origin.
Here’s an example with the Villeroy & Boch “Green Mercury” mark used from 1874 to 1909 with a date code for 1891 (91) and a country of origin marking applied to comply with the British Parliamentary Merchandise Marks Act of 1887 (see below).
an example with the Villeroy & Boch “Green Mercury” mark used from 1874 to 1909
Date codes used from 1883-1887 are among the easiest to identify, as they appear with a stamped box, as can be seen in the “87” for 1897.
Typical markings on a Mettlach stein.
Here’s an example (right) to show typical markings on a Mettlach stein from top to bottom.
• At the top we have the impressed Abbey marking used 1882-1931;
• The marking “GEGEN NACHBILDUNG GESCHÜTZT” roughly translates to “Protected by Copyright,” indicating the design rights are protected by law;
• The number “1819,” which many confuse with the date the piece was made is actually the Form/Mold number;
• The date code number is actually the easiest to find; the number “90” on the bottom right stands for the last two digits of the year, in this case “90” stands for “1890”;
• The green numeral “1” and the number “17” are what’s often called a “mystery mark” by collectors of Mettlach, but might indicate the line in the factory where it was produced;
• Also note the lack of a Country of Origin marking. This means the piece was made before the McKinley Act came into effect and was not needed for export purposes.
Ok, now let’s have a look at this mark using the using the information above and see if you can determine the date range from any or all of the marks on the bottom of this stein:
Can you date this piece, based on what you learned above?
The answer: Well, with Mettlach, as long as there is a stamped date code number, none of the other markings are as accurate as the date code. If you determined the “02” represents the year “1902,” you are correct.
Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.
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