Friday, August 27, 2010
Hunting for Hugo Thuemler
In the early 1980s as a collector of ceramic whiskey jugs, I bought a canteen-shaped porcelain bottle advertising Puritan Rye, a whiskey from D. Sachs Company of Louisville, Kentucky. On the base was a round pottery mark for the Thuemler Manufacturing Company. It took me more than 20 years to research this firm and its founder, Hugo Thuemler.
During the hunt I discovered something quite unexpected. Thuemler made only a limited number of whiskey jugs -- perhaps as few as four -- but designed and produced scores of different beer steins and mugs for the American brewing industry. He also created them for root beer makers, fraternal groups, tourist attractions, and conventions. Because the company ceased with Thuemler’s death in 1908, every one of these ceramic drinking vessels legitimately can claim the status of antiques.
Hugo Thuemler was born in 1847, almost certainly in Germany. During his youth German manufacturers had developed a process of transfer printing that allowed more mass production of decorated steins. Exactly when Thuemler arrived in the U.S. is unclear, but he brought with him the Old World knowledge of decorating both pottery and glass.
In 1894 when he was 45 years old, he is recorded as living in Rochester, Pennsylvania, a town not far from Pittsburgh. His occupation then was listed as “salesman.” Four years later an area directory carried a notice for the Thuemler Manufacturing Co., a business that described itself as a “manufacturer of novelties, decorators of china and glassware,” This theme was repeated in its billhead. A number of early Thuemler items carry a Rochester mark.
By 1901 Hugo had relocated his operations to the Pittsburgh suburb of Sewickley where he employed a number of skilled decorators. He also maintained a second address, probably a sales office, in Pittsburgh. Subsequently his wares bore a “Pittsburg” (the official spelling for a short time) pottery mark.
Thuemler’s firm filled an evident need for American breweries. In the past decorated advertising mugs and steins had to be ordered from German suppliers with added cost and delay. Hugo’s ceramics, some of them shown here, solved that problem. I am particularly fond of the blue and white stein produced for the Fred Sehring Brewery of Joliet, Illiniois, and the patriotic themes created for Pabst of Milwaukee and the American Brewery of St. Louis. The handle of many steins, like the one from Sprenger Brewing, featured a ceramic portrait of King Gambrinus, the mythical German king who is the unofficial patron of beer and brewing.
Although earlier it appeared that Hugo Thuemler appears to have lived a bachelor’s life, information has come to light in 2015 indicating that he may have had a wife and daughter. Further, there is some evidence that he kept a residence in Berlin. In Sewickley, we know he lived at the Elmhurst Inn, a boarding house that originally was a private mansion. According to a newspaper obituary Thuemler died there on September 1, 1908, at the age of 61. Cause of death was listed as “acute indigestion.” After Hugo’s demise, production ceased and all references to the firm disappeared. More than a century later, however, Thuemler items are being avidly collected and prices have risen steadily.
For a decade or more I have kept an ever-growing list of Thuemler products that have come to my attention. It now numbers some 90 marked items and an additional few that are unmarked but may be attributed to Thuemler. The list does not contain prices. Anyone wishing a copy may write me enclosing a self-addressed stamped envelope: Jack Sullivan, 4300 Ivanhoe Place, Alexandria VA, 22304.