Friday, June 3, 2016

Through the Years with Fred Sehring Beer Ceramics

Never before or since, to my knowledge, has a brewery over a span approaching a decade issued a series of dated steins and mugs.  The Fred Sehring Brewery of Joliet, Illinois, from 1900 through 1908 annually commissioned Hugo Theumler of Pittsburgh to provide it with a new items for gifting to favored customers.    By that time, brewery founder Frederick Sehring, an immigrant from Germany, shown here, had died.  His son, Louis, took the reins of management and may be assumed to have given the orders for the ceramics, and likely approved the designs. 

The first in the series, a stein, celebrated the Turn of the Century.  Nationally the 20th Century had been ushered in with great fanfare and Louis had caught the spirit. “Prosit! - 1900,” it reads.  This was a traditional German toast, indicating “to your good health” with a tankard raised high.  The decor also has the trademark of the Sehring Brewery, a shield with a foaming stein marked with an “S” rampant.  Stalks of wheat and sprigs of hops surround the shield.

The following year Sehring adopted a calendar motif.  The elaborate label includes, as shown here, a woman whose twisted body indicates a flamboyant mood as she lifts high a foaming goblet while straddling a wooden keg.   A monkish figure graced the other side of the 1901 calendar.  He has his arm around a beer keg.  The elaborate transfer-printed design is typical of the artistic and technical capacity of the Theumler factory.

For some reason I have been unable to locate a 1902 Sehring issue.  In 1903 the company replaced the stein format with a beer mug.  This one bears an illustration of the Joliet brewery, replete with dark smoke coming from a stack.  While such a picture today might indicate air pollution, at that time such plumes indicated that the brewery was operating full out.

For the 1904 version, Sehring decided on a dark brown glaze surrounding the same brewery logo seen on the 1900 version.  Although Theumler provided the design of the transfers on his ceramics, he did not make the actual vessels.  Those were purchased as “blank” ceramics from a variety of potteries in and around Pittsburg, decorated and often stamped with his own mark.  In 1904 Sehring also issued a mini-mug cum match striker, shown below  It carried a design similar to the 1903 mug.
In 1905, the front of the stein was a repeat of the 1904 stein.  The obverse, however, held portraits of lovely young women displaying considerable cleavage and a saucy manner.  In a departure from the past these Sehring steins were trimmed in gold with gold handles.  I am particularly fond of the woman at right who seems to have “bee-sting lips” and  two purple camellias in her hair.  Very fetching, indeed. 

The 1906 mug had an unusual label.  The lead word is “Gezundheit,”  literally meaning “God bless you,”  usually said when someone has sneezed.  This raises the issue of whether Fred Sehring Brewing Co. thought their beer would make people sneeze.  This mug carries the same glaze and logo that bedecks the offerings for 1904 and 1905.

My personal favorite among the Sehring offerings is the 1907 stein.  It is decorated in a Chinese blue and white motif that features a number of idealized flowers of varying sizes. If it were not for the Fred Sehring logo and “Joliet” to guide us, we might thing ourselves back in the late Ming Dynasty.   It is a truly elegant cup from which to drink beer. 

The last stein in the series is celebrates the anniversary of the firm, founded by Frederick Sehring in 1868.  It was issued by the brewery in two styles, one with the letters spelling “Sehring” in deep red, matching the familiar logo and a second   in which the letters are hollow.  Both stein wish “greetings” to the drinker, perhaps not as compelling as “prosit,” but better than “gezundheit.
In contemplating this array of steins and jugs I am curious about the decisions that went into approving the designs for each, year by year.  As to why the series stopped in 1908, we might look to the death of Hugo Theumler in September 1908 apparently of “acute indigestion.”  With his passing production in Pittsburgh ceased and and all references to the firm disappeared.  Nonetheless, the Sehring brewery has given us a unique series of stein and mugs.  Happy the collector who can line them up, year by year, on a display shelf.

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