In an era where it’s far more common for German steinmakers to be cutting back on production in response to reduced demand and to competitive pressure from Latin America and the Far East, the opening of a new German stein factory is a rare event indeed. So why do the owners of PKT feel that they can succeed where others are struggling? The answer to that question can be found in a unique relationship with one of their neighbors in the town of Rudolstadt.
The PKT-Stahl Connection
One of the few recent bright spots for German steinmakers, particularly as it relates to steins being exported to North America, has been the enthusiastic reception given to the porcelain character steins produced by Albert Stahl & Co. The highly regarded Corona beer series (Prosit, September 1996), as well as the Budweiser Frog and the Bud Light Penguin (Prosit, March and June 1997), are just a few among many recent standout products.
That’s the silver lining. The cloud is the fact that Stahl has been producing only 14,000 to 18,000 beer steins per year (in addition to porcelain figurines and other products), and has not been able to increase stein production to meet growing demand. During the mid to late 1990s, this capacity limitation led to some serious failures to meet delivery requirements and even raised the prospect of potential legal action by U.S. distributors. In the middle of the conflict stood Tradex GmbH, the contractor/exporter that was ultimately responsible for product delivery.
Rather than accept the status quo and its possible unpleasant consequences, a decision was made by Stefan Schultheis, one of the principals in Tradex, to open and operate an additional plant which could take up the slack. What followed was an unusual cooperative effort between Stahl and the start-up company, PKT, to meet the rising demand by working together and sharing resources. PKT now operates in a building leased from the owners of Stahl, situated no more than 100 yards away from the Stahl factory. Purchasing of raw materials is currently done jointly and there is considerable exchange of information and resources between the two companies.
My guess is that this mutually supportive effort between potential competitors might be better understood and appreciated by those raised under the rule of the old East German DDR, where Kombinate (cooperatives) were the rule of the day. In any case, it appears to be working. Production resources (including even employees) are regularly shifted back and forth as requirements dictate. Recently, Stahl has begun to concentrate its efforts more and more on a popular line of bird figurines, with the natural consequence that PKT is often the producer of beer steins that were formerly manufactured by Stahl. As if to confirm the interdependent nature of its relationship with Stahl, PKT has even chosen to adopt a similar logo (see Figure 2).
PKT Character Steins
While stein production is regularly shifted between factories (more often from Stahl to PKT than vice versa), both companies retain their individual identities and proprietary rights to certain products. However, it would appear that PKT has now become the “official” maker of a number of steins that initially carried the Stahl logo. I’ve noted, for instance, that the three (yellow, chocolate and black) Labrador Retriever steins that together constituted the second edition in the popular “Man’s Best Friend” series, all of which were issued by Stahl before the new company came into being, are now being made at PKT and labeled as such.
Collectors of that series may also be interested to learn that the fourth and fifth Man’s Best Friend editions have already been announced. The fourth is another cigar smoking bulldog, this time dressed in a tux and holding a saxophone (big band bulldog?), which should be reaching dealer shelves in early summer. Fifth is a trio of Scottish terriers (black, white and grey), each dressed in a plaid kilt and playing the bagpipes. Look for the Scotties later this year.
All of these PKT steins, as well several others that were left out due to space constraints, are being distributed by M. Cornell Importers, Inc. You should be able to find them at collectibles dealers nationwide, including both “brick and mortar” locations and on the Internet.
Announced late last year, just in time for Christmas 1999, A-B’s “Santa Character Stein” (CS394, Figure 6) is a licensed product representative of the famous “Coca-Cola Santa”, created by artist Haddon Sundblom in the early 1930s. Santa is depicted perched on a pile of Christmas goodies, enjoying a short break and an ice cold bottle of Coke. The edition limit on this one is 10,000 copies and the suggested retail price is $270.00. That seems a little on the high side to me, but I would guess the Coca-Cola license didn’t come cheap.
As can be seen, in little more than a year of operation, PKT has gained substantial penetration into the contemporary North American beer stein market place, with its products being offered by both major U.S. distributors. Back on the home front in Germany, it’s probably fair to say that the relationship between PKT and Stahl is still evolving, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to eventually see a further shift away from beer stein production by Stahl. Should that occur, early PKT products already provide ample evidence that the future quality of Rudolstadt porcelain character steins is likely to remain at a very high level, assuring their place as prized collectibles for generations to come.
Thanks to both Stefan Schultheis (Tradex/PKT) and Henry Cornell (Cornell Importers) for their help in providing both information and stein samples.
*This is a revised version of an article that originally appeared in Prosit, the Journal of Stein Collectors International, Vol 2, No. 34, June 2000.
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