J.L. Knoedgen Revealed

by Frank Loevi


Fig. 1
For years stein collectors struggled unsuccessfully to identify the “jug-in-hexagram” mark shown in Fig. 1 at the right. At least one early observer was convinced that the owner of the mark was Mathias Girmscheid, based largely on characteristics exhibited by steins bearing the mark that were similar to those of confirmed Girmscheid pieces. By 1999, that conviction had been formalized with the publication by Stein Collectors International (SCI) of a “Supplement to Prosit” entitled Beer Stein Marks, which had been “complied by Les Hopper”, the observer in question.

However, over the next decade serious doubts were raised regarding the Girmscheid identification as multiple steins displaying the jug-in-hexagram mark were discovered bearing the same model numbers as totally different confirmed Girmscheid designs. Ultimately the evidence became so overwhelming that SCI published an article concluding that there was no longer any serious basis for the belief that the mark belonged to Girmscheid.1 At least in part, the conclusions in that article were based on research conducted in the course of compiling the Matthias Girmscheid Stein Catalog for the Beer Stein Library. Unfortunately, while at that point it had become reasonably clear who wasn’t responsible for the mark, there was virtually no available evidence pointing toward who was.

The Knoedgen “Rosetta Stein

Fig. 2
The term “Rosetta Stone” is widely recognized today as the name of a popular language training program, but was first applied to a stone tablet containing a decree issued in 196 B.C. on behalf of King Ptolemy V. What made the tablet so important is that the decree was written in three languages — Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script and Ancient Greek — thereby providing the key (i.e., linguistic cross-references) allowing for the interpretation of Egyptian heiroglyphs by modern scholars.

Fig. 3
Fig. 4
So how does that have anything to do with identifying the jug-in-hexagram mark? For the answer to that question, it must first be understood that the mark had earlier been seen in at least a couple of instances in conjunction with the “D.R.G.M.” mark shown in Fig. 2. One of those steins, seen on the left in Fig. 3, featured imagery typically associated with the Adolph Diesinger factory, while the second, pictured to its right, could easily be mistaken for a Dümler & Breiden design, so it’s not hard to appreciate the confusion that had built up over the years regarding the jug-in-hexagram mark.

Fig. 5
In any event, though there appeared to be little about the two steins that would distinguish them from thousands of others, the “D.R.G.M.” (Deutsches Reichsgebrauchsmuster) mark was an apparent indication that some aspect of the designs had received patent protection under German law, so at the time of their discovery they seemed to hold the key to the mystery. However, when an inquiry was sent to the German Patent and Trademark Office requesting the identity of the patent holder, their response was that they had no record of a patent having ever been issued bearing the number 1000.

Back to square one, and that’s where things stood until early 2014 and the appearance of the “Rosetta Stein”.

Shown in Fig. 4, the breakthrough stein was discovered in an eBay auction. Having no particularly noteworthy design features, not to mention a base chip, and an opening price set somewhat above market value, it went largely unnoticed by collectors, receiving only a single bid (i.e., mine). What attracted me to it were the two marks appearing on its base. One was the “D.R.G.M. No. 1000” discussed above, and the other, seen in Fig. 5, showed the initials “JLK”. Much like the clues to translating Egyptian hieroglyphics provided by having the same text in multiple languages on the ancient Rosetta Stone, the proximity of one mark to the other on the base of the eBay stein ultimately provided the key to identifying the elusive jug-in-hexagram mark.

A brief search in the indispensable Keramic-Marken Lexikon revealed only a single Westerwald beer stein producer with the initials JLK — Jakob Leopold Knoedgen (or Knödgen) GmbH & Co., located in the town of Ransbach (now Ransbach-Baumbach).2 However, after some preliminary research produced the conclusion that no German company had operated under that name for at least the prior two decades, the problem then became one of confirming the thesis that the newly discovered JLK mark, and hence the jug-in-hexagram mark, had been applied a century or more earlier at the Knoedgen factory.

To make a long story short, with the help of my good friend Hans Günster, Geschäftsführer (CEO) of steinmaker KING-Werk in Höhr-Grenzhausen, contact was made with Leo Knödgen, the now-retired grandson of the original J.L. Knoedgen, who was able to confirm that both the JLK and jug-in-hexagram marks were indeed indicative of Knoedgen designs.3 Mystery resolved!

About the Company

Sadly, although the Ransbach factory continues in operation today as Römertopf Keramik GmbH & Co., a maker of ceramic cookware, no Knoedgen historical documents (catalogs, etc.) appear to have survived the transition. That’s not to say they don’t exist, but it can be stated with some degree of certainty that they’re not to be found in the hands of either Römertopf or any known Knoedgen heirs.

According to the Keramic-Marken Lexikon, the company was founded by J.L. Knoedgen in 1892 as the “first Ransbach stoneware and terracotta products factory” and by 1910 the firm had grown to employ some 45 workers.

Fig. 6
Fig. 7
We also know that for a brief period subsequent to World War I, beginning circa 1920, Knoedgen participated in marketing partnership with a nephew located in Beilefeld, Germany, a small city about 150 miles to the north of Ransbach4. The partnership was relatively short-lived, terminating circa 1925, but during that period items made to be sold through the joint trading company received the “Knoedgen & Trees” base mark shown in Fig. 6. That mark has so far been observed only on steins bearing model numbers in the 700s, which is also true of the similarly configured mark shown in Fig. 7. In all likelihood the two marks were being applied simultaneously, depending on whether or not the items in question were intended for sale by the joint trading company, but in any event we now know that Knoedgen steins with model numbers in the 700s can be dated to the immediate post-war period, with obvious consequences for dating those with both lower and higher numbers.

Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Following Knoedgen’s death in 1935, management of the company was turned over to his son Richard, who continued producing beer steins until 19505, at which point production was shifted to other ceramic household items more in tune with Germany’s post-WWII requirements.

Subsequent to the May 1949 creation of the Federal Rupublic of Germany (or “West Germany”), Knoedgen introduced a new marking system, an example of which is shown in Fig. 8. The two part identifier (i.e., nnn/nn) uses a system adopted by several Westerwal manufacturers during that period, showing the model number above the line and below it the height of the item stated in centimeters. The model numbers applied to articles produced during this period are unrelated to those found on Knoedgen’s pre-WWII beer steins.

I have so far seen only a single stein marked in this manner, and given the limited period of time during which it could have been applied before Knoedgen got out of the stein-making business (i.e., May 1949-1950), my expectation is that few additional examples are likely to be discovered.

Be that as it may, by 1995 the company had been sold, and that’s pretty much all we currently know about the history of J.L. Knoedgen.

However, before leaving this topic it’s worth pointing out that at least one additional base mark has been associated with the firm. The mark seen in Fig. 9 is credited to Knoedgen in the Keramic-Marken Lexikon6, with stated usage dates of 1910-1927. Whether or not the mark was ever applied to beer steins is currently unknown, but it can’t hurt to keep it in mind, just in case….


In addition to base marks, another highly reliable tool for determining the origin of a particular beer stein is the handle. Although it’s possible to find some overlap between manufacturers, that’s a relatively rare occurrence, so as many Beer Stein Library members have discovered, if the handle can be identified, it’s effectively as good as a maker’s mark. Some of the handles that have been encountered on J.L. Knoedgen steins are shown in Fig. 10, below. A more current and comprehensive look at known Knoedgen handles can be found in the online Westerwald Beer Stein Handle Gallery.

Fig. 10

Each of the handles pictured here has been seen at least once in conjunction with one or more of the confirmed Knoedgen base marks, and so may be assumed to be an accurate JLK identifier.

Knoedgen Figurals?

Fig. 11
A few months after the identification of the Knoedgen jug-in-hexagram mark had been announced,7 an article appeared in Prosit claiming to have discovered yet another Knoedgen mark (Fig. 11), this time pressed into the sides of a series of figural (character) steins.8 A couple of examples of the steins in question are shown in Fig. 12. Note particularly the tilted heads, a somewhat distinctive trait present in the majority of the more than a dozen different configurations currently known to exist.

Fig. 12
The basis for the author’s conclusion, while solely intuitive, is none-the-less compelling, in that the acronym “JLK/R”, if read sequentially, matches up perfectly with J.L. Knoedgen/Ransbach. However, the author was admittedly unable to come up with any “direct proof” to support his assertion.

Shortly after I was made aware of the article, an image of the JLK/R mark was sent to Leo Knödgen in Germany, along with photos of a half-dozen of the figural steins in the group on which it had appeared. His response9 came back as follows (translated):

Fig. 13
“I am not aware that J.L. Knoedgen/Ransbach has ever produced such figural steins. Sorry I cannot help further.”

Since Herr Knoedgen had been able to attest to his firm’s use of the jug-in-hexagram and other JLK base marks dating back to essentially the same time period, the fact that he failed to recognize the steins that carried the JLK/R mark, and by inference the mark itself, at the very least casts some serious doubt on the assertion that the mark was applied at the Knoedgen factory.

In the similar vein, it’s also worth noting that all of the steins in this group have the relatively plain handle shown in Fig. 13. That handle has, so far at least, not been seen on any confirmed Knoedgen beer stein.

Another thing to consider is the fact that the maker’s mark on antique beer steins is rarely found anywhere other than on the base. In better than 17 years spent compiling the catalogs in the Beer Stein Library, and substantially longer as a collector, the only manufacturer’s mark I can recall seeing on the bodies of antique beer steins appeared on a handful of early (i.e., circa 1883) Dümler & Breiden pieces — a practice that was quickly discontinued.10 Moreover, it’s a typical, if not universal, characteristic of monograms that the last name of the owner is represented by the dominant initial, so in this case it seems likely that the owner had a last name beginning with “L” rather than “K” (i.e., “JKL” as opposed to “JLK”).

All that being said, it’s important to point out that each of these arguments suffers from what logicians would call the “negative proof fallacy”. None of them necessarily disprove the contention that the JLK/R mark belonged to the J.L. Knoedgen company. However, taken together they certainly point to the conclusion that acceptance of that contention as fact without additional evidence would, at best, be premature.

An Online J.L. Knoedgen Catalog

Once the jug-in-hexagram mark was initially identified, we began working toward the goal of developing a Knoedgen catalog that could eventually be added to the Beer Stein Library. As this is written, I’m pleased to report that the goal has become a reality, and that Library members now have access to the first and only J.L. Knoedgen Stein Catalog. Of course, at this stage it’s only a beginning. Readers who own steins displaying any of the base marks or handles shown above are urged to support this ongoing effort by submitting photographs to [email protected]. If you can help, please don’t sit on the sidelines.


1 “I can’t tell you who made it, but...This is Not a Girmscheid Mark”, Walter Vogdes, Prosit, Vol. 2, No. 71, September 2009, p. 4.

2 Zühlsdorff, Dieter: Keramik-Marken Lexikon (Ceramic Marks Encyclopedia); Arnoldsche, Stuttgart; 1994. p. 591.

3 Fax to Johannes Günster from Leo Knödgen dated 25 April 2014.

4 Reported telecom between Johannes Günster and Leo Knödgen, 15 January 2015.

5 Fax to Johannes Günster from Leo Knödgen dated 25 April 2015.

6Zühlsdorff, Dieter: op. cit. at page 345.

7 “Mystery Mark Identified!”, posting on the “What’s New” page in the Beer Stein Library, 5 May 2014 (since removed).

8 “Manufacturer Discovered”, Arvid Frende, Prosit, Vol. 2, No. 91, September 2014, p. 3.

9 Fax to Johannes Günster from Leo Knödgen dated 8 October 2014.

10 Collector’s Guide to Dümler & Breiden Beer Steins, Frank Loevi, Beer Stein Library.


Many thanks to:

Hans Günster for his efforts in tracking down and establishing a communications link with Leo Knödgen, grandson of the founder and last CEO of J.K. Knoedgen, GmbH & Co., and of course to Herr Knoedgen himself for taking the time to respond to our inquiries. Without them both, the mystery of the jug-in-hexagram mark would still be unresolved;

John Hataloski, whose extensive collection yielded the two steins shown in Fig. 3, which ultimately provided a critical link in the discovery process; and

Ron Fox, editor of Prosit, for providing the images appearing in Figs. 11, 12 and 13.


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