The Artistic Contribution of Otto Hupp to the Manufacture of Stoneware in Mettlach*

by Therese Thomas

Figure 1
In the specialized literature about Mettlach, one never finds the name Otto Hupp. This text is based on the talk I gave at the SCI convention in San Diego 1986: until that time, I didn't know that this artist was to be seen in relation with the Mettlach factory and its stoneware production. Hupp is a well-known artist and heraldist in Germany, but nobody ever combined Hupp and Mettlach. Who has ever seen his typical signature or sign on a stein or plaque? It can be found on coats-of-arms, on book illustrations and on book-plates. But on steins?

Otto Hupp was not only a heraldist, he was an engraver too, a publicity designer, a ceramist; he designed book-bindings, postage stamps, and bank notes. This is just a brief view of his great talent and of his artistical activity. What is especially important for beer stein collectors and Mettlach fans is that he designed ceramics and that he worked for different breweries and vineyards. When he was only 25 years old, in 1884, he created a trademark that is still used today by Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu in Munich. Almost all stein collectors have seen that sign on coasters and glasses in German pubs. The emblem has existed for over one hundred years now and gives proof that Otto Hupp was really an excellent artist.

Hupp was born in Düsseldorf on May 21, 1859. His father was an engraver and medalmaker. Otto got his interest for painting at home, but he didn't learn from his father. In 1878, Otto left for Munich, where Neo-Renaissance was making great strides. Rudolf Seitz took young Otto Hupp in his workshop to learn painting. He married Franziska Eilhammer during the summer of 1882 and shortly after that, they built their own home in Schleifßheim, on the outskirts of Munich. He was interested in every technique, in every material. He learned to engrave, to gild, and to polish with his father; to paint with Rudolf Seitz; he learned to abrade metals and stones, to carve ivory and bowood; he rediscovered the embossing of leather. One can hardly find an artist — although he never considered himself as more than a good craftsman — who applied so many artistical techniques with as much talent as Otto Hupp did.

What did he look like? We found a portrait (figure 1) taken when he was aged 36 years, in 1895, at the time when he was already working for Villeroy & Boch in Mettlach, as he was in the late 80s that he designed steins and plaques. Later, in the beginning of our century, he made some ceramics himself on the potter’s wheel. But his biggest activity, also his oldest one, was heraldry, as the very first work he made was a pewter plate in 1877, with the coat of arms of the city of Düsseldorf, where he was born. He was also a collector: his interest for heraldry began when he was very young and he had a terrific collection of family and city coats-of-arms, so he could contribute to the five volume Coats of Arms and Seals of the German Cities, Places and Villages, that grew to a great encyclopedia of the German aristocracy and to the Müncher Kalender (1885- 1936). In addition to his ornamental talent, Hupp had an excellent relation to letters and letter types: his alphabets, published in 1900 under the name “Neudeutsch” are of high aesthetical quality. He brought a new aspect to characters.

His work is enormous: more than six thousand different heraldic figures; paintings; graphic art pieces, including labels for bottles, postage stamps, bank notes, posters; and other artistical creations — we come to a total of ten thousand different creations and that is fabulous, even for a man who died at the age of 80.

An important year for Hupp’s activity in relation to Mettlach was 1888, year of the German national exhibition of handicrafts in Munich. Eugen von Boch (1809-1898) wrote to his friend August von Cohausen (historian, architect and archeologist, 1812-1894) about the participation of the Mettlach factory in this fair. The letter is dated May 29, 1888: “We did a big effort for Munich and for this purpose we offered the artistical direction to a painter, who you may know, Hupp, from Munich.”

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Included in this exhibition was a vase, designed by Hupp, known among collectors: it has the emblems of the four Evangelists. The cross-section of this item is almost square with rounded corners. On each side is a panel with: St. Mathew as a human being, because his gospel starts with the human generation of Christ; St. Mark as a lion, because he tells about St. John the Baptist’s preachings, comparing him to a roaring lion; St. Luke as an ox, because he reports about Zacharia, priest and sacrificer of the Old Law; and St. John as an eagle, because he flies up to the eternal God. This vase was on display at the 1888 exhibition, but it is rather difficult to discover it on the old photographs because it is in a rather dark corner.

On March 18, 1888, Otto Hupp wrote in a letter to an historian of art in Mainz, Dr. Friedrich Schneider: “The work for Villeroy & Boch is going forward, but I should have more eyes, more hands, more time. Ten thousand Marks, as Mr. Boch thinks, is a good amount of money, but it is in no relationship to what it means in work. I don't know how I could ask more than three thousand; I wrote to him and mentioned that price. I hope he will agree ... I sent the drawing of the columns to Merzig; at the end of this week I hope to have the tableware ready for Mettlach, so that I can start with the mosaic for the floor and the picture for the wall.” His daughter has kept some drawings with the artist’s inscriptions: “Pattern for a tableware set, produced by Villeroy, Mettlach.” Included were scenes with deer, bears and a rabbit, boars, smaller scrolls for smaller pieces, but a big one with a huntress seated on her horse, two falcons and lots of emblems related to hunting; a couple of scenes with the fox and fishes exist; also a big sketch, possibly made for a large fish plate showing a harbour scene, boats and fish, and also two lobsters.

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Figure 7
Before we start discussing beer steins, there are two sketches by Hupp, that show “Mater Felix” and “Venator” (Happy Mother and Hunter). These are the designs for two plaques with centaurs, Nos. 2740 and 2741, rather dark in coloring, with a combination of green and brown — a pair of plaques that is very rare. (The Ceramic Museum in Mettlach has prototypes).

There isn’t much to say about the sketch of the St. Florian stein that every collector will recognize as stein No. 1786 (figure 2). In Germany, St. Florian is the patron-saint of the firemen: “Help thou, St. Florian, we start the second extinction.” The way the letters are made and harmoniously displayed, the proportions those have, the rather typical “A” with two wings at the upper side: those letters are a kind of sure way to recognize Hupp’s work. This well-known Florian stein exists in two sizes. It was made of “etched” and glazed stoneware and has an elaborate handle.

Another sketch shows a series of lids: six lids that belong to the book steins (Nos. 2001A-L). We cannot imagine that he could have been the designer of only the lids, or that he created only six steins out of the whole set. From the shape of the letters, giving the authors and titles of the respective books, we are sure that he created the whole set.

In a kind of diary, speaking about the year 1900, he wrote: “In March, I designed some beer steins for Villeroy & Boch, with the attributes of different professions: baker, tailor, shoemaker, goldsmith, etc.” And so we know that he designed the occupational steins, that were first mentioned in the sales catalogue of November 1901: Nos. 2719 and 2720 for bakers and tailors; Nos. 2721 and 2722 for cabinetmakers and shoemakers; Nos. 2723 and 2724 for carpenters and masons; Nos. 2725 and 2726 for artists and goldsmiths. The numbers 2727 and 2728 were dedicated to the bookbinders and the brewers: Hupp had a very special way to display the eagle on the body of a stein. The last ones in the dozen are Nos. 2729 and 2730: one illustrates the work of smiths and ironworkers, the other that of the butchers. This set of twelve occupational steins, as well as the eleven book steins are now identified: that means that, with the vases, almost thirty Mettlach items are known that were certainly designed by Otto Hupp. But there is more.

There are other popular items out of the stoneware program of Mettlach that we are able to identify. Interrupting the steins series for a short while, we look at two eagles created by Otto Hupp. The first one is signed O.H. and is rather new: it was created in 1924 for the Ernst Jungkenn winery in Oppenheim. It is a label for a wine bottle that has been used for years, with typical letters, a typical eagle and a distinctive disposition on the little piece of pape . The same can be said for the other one, an eagle that was published in 1894 in the first volume of Hupp’s work, Coats of Arms and Seals of German Cities, Places and Villages. With those two eagles in mind and with a sketch that belongs to Maria Hupp, one will recognize immediately the pattern for stein No. 2075, dedicated to the railways; but by the same token, one realizes that Hupp also designed the stein No. 1856, called the postman’s stein (figure 3). And it is likely that he also is the author of stein No. 2204. Without having a proof, one compares some details of the eagles, such as claws and one can assume that Hupp’s hand was at work. The shields, with production numbers 2010 and 2011, have no signature either; the sketches don't seem to be kept, but by comparison of the heraldic motifs with those seen just before, they can be ascribed with 95% of certainty to Otto Hupp. Eagles were really a subject for him!

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In his notes, he wrote: “designed the target stein.” This stein, No. 2717, was created around 1900 (figure 4), as it was already mentioned in the sales catalogue of November 1901. Remembering the bookbinder’s stein, with an eagle as main motif and a view over houses or over a city, there is for sure a certain similarity with the target stein: the target with the figure of an almost naked young lady, whose heart is touched by the arrow from little Cupid, looking very innocently, is shown overlooking a city that depicts the background. Once again, the letters and their proportions are very typical.

Just from the feeling and without absolute proof, the following ceramics can also be ascribed to Hupp. The stein No. 2002 with the Münchner Kindl. (figure 5). It is the Hupp alphabet, his special way of displaying the decoration, and one of his favorite subjects: the emblem of the city of Munich that he used almost each year on the cover of the Munich Calendar. Speaking about this attractive motif of the Münchner Kindl, it is the right place to say that he designed the wonderful plaque No. 2739; in his notes he added: “also a big wall plaque with different views showing buildings of Munich” — a nice, sought-after plaque showing the National Museum, the Marienkirche and the Künstlerhaus, the Michaelskirche and the Peterkirche, the Hoftheater, the Rathaus, and written in gothic letters, the Royal Hofbräuhaus. The emblem of the city is in a curved central medallion.

The pair of plaques Nos. 2187 and 2188 (figures 6 & 7), Habsburg and Hohenzollern, are very “Hupp-suspicious”. These are two excellent plaques, with realistic and exact anatomy of the horses. The shields and the heraldic part were created by somebody who had experience. The same can be said for the stein No. 2053, called the Four F stein (frisch, fromm, fröhlich, frei). because of the disposition of the pattern, the good design of the coat-of-arms, and of the presence of the emblem of Spatenbräu on the barrel. Another work that has a 97% chance of being designed by Hupp is the big plaque, No. 2013, one of the most attractive ones for the collectors. Who could have done this like Otto Hupp? It was really a choice morsel for him.

A drawing at Hupp’s daughter’s home shows a square with decorative border. At the lower side two roosters are fighting on both sides of a heart with an arrow. At the upper part a verse says: “I am Amor (Love), the best archer; many hearts were touched by me. I have much power here on earth, over poor and rich men, over young and old people.” There is a faience type stein, No. 5028, whose pattern corresponds to the sketch of the square, though the verse has been divided over two lines. But it is certain that Hupp’s drawing was the pattern for the 5028 stein. We can also ascribe the music stein, No. 2097, to the same artist, considering the letter types and the very good display of the pattern on the body, also the so-called Cornell stein, No. 2871.

There are also two excellent steins, that are Hupp’s children for sure. One has a longer story, the other a short one. Maria Hupp has a couple of prototypes of Mettlach steins that her father created: among others, like the postman’s and some of the occupationals, as well as the chess stein No. 2049 (figure 8). A very noble and rare stein, an excellent design that didn’t remain in the production program for a long time. Was it too expensive in the production because of the gold? The lid has the inscription “Ludus ludorum” (the game of games), and on the body we read “Schach dem König” (chess to the king). It was offered in the sales catalogue of 1894 and was already taken out of the program in 1899.

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There is a bookplate that each stein collector should recognize immediately. This motif comes up on a Mettlach stein, a very good and interesting one: the David and Goliath stein, No. 2718 (figure 9). This item, with an unusual handle, is one of the rare Mettlach steins with a political sense. Of course, the two men facing each other have been taken out of the Bible, Book of Samuel, verse 17. David, the little shepherd who would become the king of Israel, was used to walking around without weapons, so he had only five stones and a sling shot. In front of him stood a giant, Goliath, member of the Philistine army completely prepared for the battle. The first stone thrown by David hit Goliath on his forehead and he died almost immediately. The stein tells more than just this story. Both figures stand before a deep blue background, David half as tall as Goliath, who is hurt by the stone. The inscription says “Merk die Lehr” (notice the lesson). Goliath’s shield has three British lions and the slogan “honi soit qui mal y pense” (evil be to him who evil thinks), the British device. Next to him is his helmet and on top of it a crowned, roaring British lion.

The stein must have been designed in 1900 to be available in 1901. At that time there was an important political event that concerned Britain especially. In 1879, the Britons, who owned the Kap and Natal at the coast of South-Africa, annexed the states of the Boers, but in 1881, after a revolution, this country was free from British occupation again. Cecil Rhodes, Prime Minister of the Kap, still dreamed of an Africa that would be British from Kap to Kairo. The War of the Boers lasted three years, from 1899 till 1902. The Boers were not numerous, but they had some success at the beginning of the hostilities. Krüger, President of Transval, couldn’t get any help from Europe, though many European countries seemed to show the Boers some sympathy.

It was very difficult for the British to control the situation again, but they could regain the cities. In the country, the Boers started with guerilla warfare. The British practiced a scorched earth policy and brought the people into camps, provoking a big protest in Europe. The Boers accepted the peace of Pretoria — they lost their independence, but could keep their language. This stein was designed during the War of the Boers. Goliath is a symbol for the strong British people, and little David who fought without weapons, represents the minority of the Boers, who fought for their right. An inscription on the lid (figure 10) says “mein gutes Recht” (my good right) and it shows a clenched fist.

As he designed the stein, Otto Hupp might have thought that, like in the Bible, the feeble would win anyway. The opinion, maybe the hope of the artist, is reflected here. This stein is not only an excellent ceramic item and a very aesthetic one, but it carries also a political message. That is important, because it is exceptional in the Mettlach production.

What is new in our knowledge? It is absolutely certain that Otto Hupp is the designer of the twelve occupational steins, 2719-2730; the eleven book steins, 2001A-L; the plaques with the centaurs, 2740 & 2741; the Florian stein and the target stein, 1786 & 2717; the railroad and the postman’s steins, 2075 & 1856; the big plaque with Munich and the Münchner Kindl, 2739; the faience type stein, 5028; the chess stein, 2049; the David and Goliath stein, 2718; and at least three vases with: the Evangelists; the Virgin Mary; and with Christ.

This means thirty-six items, important and very good ones, that we can say for sure Otto Hupp designed, even if they are not signed.

In addition to that, he was responsible for tableware with hunting scenes produced by Villeroy & Boch in Mettlach. With over 95% certainty, he also made the stein with the Münchner Kindl, 2002; the four F-stein, 2053; the heraldic plaque, 2013; the music stein, 2097; the Cornell stein, 2871; the eagle stein, 2204, also 1732 and 1956; and the plaques with Habsburg and Hohenzollern, 2187 & 2188.

I think that this discovery is really exciting, as Otto Hupp’s name had never been seen in connection with steins and with Mettlach. He created excellent, sought-after ceramics, that belong to the best of the Mettlach program. Hupp died in 1949 in Schleifßheim, when he was eighty years old. If a design can still look modern after one hundred years, like the emblem of the Spatenbräu or like the ceramics we have commented on here, then a master was at work. Otto Hupp was a master.


We want to express our gratitude to Otto Hupp’s grandson, who was very cooperative in providing the documents.


*Reprinted by permission from Prosit, the Journal of Stein Collectors International, Vol. 2, No. 11, September 1994.

Editors Note: Figures 2-5 and 8-10 have been replaced with more clearly defined photos than were available from the original article.