Wednesday, April 29, 2009

New Finds: Clues to Two Monk Jugs


Sometimes traditions merge to form an artifact whose provence and purpose can be hard to understand. Among such items is a whiskey jug that is decorated by from top to bottom usually dominated by shades of brown and featuring a monk quaffing a beer. The motif has a distinctly German look. Indeed, similar items are found in antique stores and auction sites with German pottery marks.

Recently, however, two such jugs have come to light that bear the mark of the Knowles, Taylor and 

Knowles pottery that flourished in East Liverpool, Ohio, during the late 1800s and early 1900s. They produced a distinctive style of porcelain jug, used by a number of distillers for their whiskey. It features a snake handle and a “KT&K” mark on the base.
In order to decorate its whiskey jugs, the KT&K firm used a transfer printing process that first had been developed in England years earlier for mass producing an image on a porcelain or other hard ceramic surface.

In addition, KT&K frequently sold its jugs completely blank. Between 1870 and 1920, thousands of American women took up the art of decorating porcelain tablewares and other household objects with hand-painted overglaze. An entire industry sprang up to support this trend. KT&K obliged with its china jugs and hundreds of hand-painted examples are known.
The two monk jug shown here, however, are not hand painted and appear to have been decorated by a transfer process. In addition, the images are identical to those on beer steins made for the Paul Wuestoff Co., a brewery operating in Pittsburgh from about 1901 until 1916. Those steins bear the mark of the Theumler Co., a Pittsburgh firm run by Hugo Theumler, a immigrant who had learned his craft in Germany. His firm specialized in mass producing decorations on glass and ceramic items up until 1908 when he died. Theumler-marked beer mugs and steins are found throughout the East and Midwest.

Theumler was not a pottery and is known to have bought all its

 blanks from regional potteries. We are thus led to the conclusion that this firm created the monk jugs using stock bought from KT&K and applying its own transfers of imbibing monks. Since the jugs served only decorative purposes, however, it is not clear who ultimately was responsible for their merchandising. It is, however, possible to date them as more than 100 years old and thus eligible for status as antiques.

Note: The pictures of the monk jugs are courtesy of John DeGrafft.

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