Discocer the golden age of Mettlach Ceramic


Mettlach - Historic events

Anyone who does not have a relation to ceramics will not be able to understand the term "Mettlach". And frankly, until my visit to the Ceramics Museum , Mettlach was for me a very normal idyllic provincial town where a well-known manufacturer ( Villeroy & Boch ) produces ceramic products. I really did not know about the importance of the company in the nineteenth century and since I am very curious by nature, I concerned myself with the literature on the company and researched diligently on the Internet. In the following I summarized the most important historical events from the 19th century.


In Mettlach a stoneware factory was already established in 1809 by Jean Francois Boch-Buschmann (the nameJean Francois Boch "Buschmann" he had adopted by marriage with Rosalie Buschmann in 1806) in order to put his knowledge acquired from the "Paris Ecole des Sciences" into practice.

As building served an old Benedictine abbey which he had acquired in April 1809 for F 22370 by a certain Jacques Leistenschneider (book printer in Trier). One can now ask the question how a book-printer could buy such a (huge) abbey. To do this one must know something about the history (not necessarily my strengths). The building complex belonged before the sale the french government which managed it as so-called "national property". The monks living there were expelled from the monastery after the French Revolution (1789) and the subsequent expansion of a man named "Napoleon". This abruptly put an end to the monastery time in the Mettlacher valley which stretched over 1100 years.

One of the reasons for this location selection for the young company founder was the river "Saar" , which was navigable at that time and was of strategic importance for the supply of basic fuels and for the transport of finished products. But also the proximity to the coal mines around the town "Saarbrücken" were an important argument for this choice, since the wood prices at that time were very high and the hard coal was recognized as an alternative fuel for the kilns.

However, the lack of suitable workers was unfavorable for this choice of the company location and the surrounding area were only sparsely populated. However, Jean Francois Boch succeeded in forming a permanent staff because he took "old" employees from the factory Septfontaines (Luxemburg) to Mettlach which belonged to his father. Over the decades, the company's labor market deficit has changed as the growing success has attracted more and more people to Mettlach and the surrounding area. But also the initial restraint of the locals became less and less and a a lot of them dared now the step of an employment in the company.

John Francois Boch met Nicolas Villeroy from Wallerfangen (who ran a faience there) through a wine trade which he had a short time near his manufactory (~ 1818). Very quickly, both entrepreneurs agreed on a cooperation. For a few years Boch had his supplies of Mennige (Mennige = red powder) delivered by Villeroy from Wallerfangen but also the shared use of a glass mill in Saarhölzbach is proof of the progressive approach.

In 1836 the company then took the step of merging the works in Mettlach and Wallerfangen . Together with the Boch factory in Septfontaines (founded in 1767), the company " Villeroy & Boch " was founded. The works of Mettlach and Wallerfangen, together with all of its existing buildings, belonged to the company. The plant in Septfontaines was one half each involved.

From this point onwards, Jean Francois Boch saw a partner and no competitor in Nicolas Villeroy. Orders and production divisions were split up and the foundation for the future success of the company was laid.

The following years were marked by a number of important events which I would like to briefly mention below

  • from 1840 onwards, water was replaced by a 4-horsepower steam engine at the Mettlach plant In 1841
  • a faience was founded in France
  • in 1844 a ceramic museum was founded in Mettlach
  • in April 1851, Eugene von Boch (son of the founder of the company) established a drawing school
  • in 1853, ovens with indirect lighting were used
  • from 1855 the restoration of the " Old Tower " in Mettlach began
  • in 1859 the colored impression process, the chromolithography , was introduced
  • on the 26th of May 1860, the railway line between Saarbrücken and Trier was opened, which led through the park behind the abbey in Mettlach and had a great significance for Villeroy & Boch for the further expansion of the company

All these improvements in production, and particularly the excellent training of the staff, enabled the company to participate in the great (world) exhibitions of the time.

  • Paris 1855, 1867, 1878 and 1900
  • Antwerp 1885
  • Vienna 1873
  • Philadelphia (USA) 1876
  • Melbourne (Australia) 1880/81
  • Chicago (USA) 1893

The exhibitions in the USA also made the products known overseas.

Mettlach and the World Exposition in Chicago (1893) and Paris (1900)

Participation at the Chicago World Exposition in 1893 was discussed in Villeroy & Boch's executive suite for a long time. On the one hand, the little positive or stimulating experiences with regard to the expected sales of the goods after the World Exposition in Philadelphia (1876) and Melbourne (1880/81), but on the other hand the fact that the business in the USA is handled through domestic importers. Since Villeroy & Boch also had an importer based in the USA at the time, the company did not want to annoy him through a direct presentation of products at the world exhibition. The participation in this event hung therefore in the balance. Why, in December 1891, the management of the company argued for the participation, is not known. Perhaps it was the conviction that such a large export market as the US could not simply be left to the non-American competition (which also had to suffer under the same conditions) or the irritation of the importer was not soParis1900 important (if the event was a success for the company).

If you look at the list of the German exhibitors in the industrial building in Chicago in 1983, you can see that Villeroy & Boch was assigned to Group IX (pottery and mosaics). On the ground plan for the ground floor of the industrial building, there is a number 37, which was assigned to the company as an exhibition area. The base area was 11.8m x 13.8m. The royal Bavarian porcelain manufactory Nymhenburg (number 34), the Royal Saxon porcelain factory Meissen (number 35) and the Royal Prussian porcelain manufactory Berlin (number 36) belonged to the same group. Villeroy & Boch received an award at this world exhibition in addition to the companies from Berlin and Meissen.

The fourth world show in Paris in 1900 brought the "Grand Prix" to the company Villeroy and Boch (in addition to 2 other German suppliers) in class 72. Even though the Parisian show was dominated through the Art Nouveau, the company was able to score with the new "Phanolith" which was still associated with Histoism . His creator was the sculptor " Jean-Baptiste Stahl (1869-1932), who lived in Mettlach. In contrast to the Wedgewood ceramic, the decorations were made of porcelain ( Parian ), which has made the background translucent on the thinner sections and what the decor has given depth .


The number of employees grew up to 1898 to 1,251 persons. Of these were 130 persons were in copper printing, 47 in the stone printing department, 36 in the Delft painting and / or stoneware and 89 in the earthenware painting department.

What was missing in the first half of the nineteenth century? It was an independent style, as it was known from other periods. The religious and patriotic feelings which creative activity could have determined were missing. The French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic wars have left their marks on art. Virtually all artists used the stylistic means of the past, whether it was the ancient world, the Middle Ages, or the 16th to 18th centuries. And at Villeroy & Boch it was no different at this time.

When technicians from the Mettlach plant in 1872 succeeded in producing a very fine, hard and mouldable ceramic , and in parallel the Chromolith Process (= colored stone) could be invented or introduced over time, a new spirit was evident , in which one again recalled its own original expression. The decor of the Chromolith products consisted of different colored masses, which has not yet existed in this way. A black, incised line was used to emphasize the colored fields / figures.

Until the end of the 19th century, the motifs of the Mettlacher products continued to be dominated by motifs from the Germanic world of legend , scenes from popular and student life, and occasionally it was also religious and mythological . It was just the time. People liked this style and the Mettlacher company adapted itself, which is also legitimate for a profit-oriented enterprise.

Mettlach WerkstattIt was only with the advent of the art nouveau at the end of the nineteenth century that the angels and animal heads, fruits and flowers of the Mettlach ceramics disappeared. More emphasis was placed on the elegance of the forms and the usefulness of the object. The ceramic was generally simpler and the decorations often showed Japanese influences.

It was also the time when Villeroy & Boch Mettlach brought the two-color stoneware onto the market, which is called " Cameo" or in its highest quality as " Phanolith ". The illustrated decorative objects stand out brightly and more (with Cameo ) or less (with Phanolith ) relieved from a blue or light green background. It was a kind of imitation of the famous Jasperware of Wedgewood , but the production was perfected in Mettlach .

The introduction of the Chromolith and Phanolith techniques had an astonishing success for the company and the products were shown to a large audience at the great exhibitions of Philadelphia 1876 , Chicago 1893 and at the World Exposition in Paris 1900 . In Paris the company was honored with the highest distinction. What distinguishes Chromolith products (from other products) is their technical perfection, regardless of whether they are steins, wall plates, vases, etc. Although they often appear too colorful or overloaded, their mass is very fine, very hard and homogeneous. For the design under the glaze you could choose among 150 different colors, with the glaze itself again under 176 colors.

The various, often complex work processes have made the chromolith and phanolith particles expensive. Nevertheless, they were a besteller at Villeroy & Boch Mettlach and one of the forerunner of the rise to a world company.

Production (of beer jugs / steins) in Mettlach

The majority of Villeroy & Boch jugs / beer steins were produced in Mettlach . Only a few are known outside of that plant. Mettlach produced many products from a very hard, water-impermeable stoneware shard (homogeneously sintered), also called " stoneware ". This applies in particular to the Chromolith products. Most of the imprints and hand-painted articles , however, were made of earthenware .

The interior wall of almost all drinking vessels was covered with a white porcelain-like glaze. The so-called " BAVARIA jugs ", which have a gray color both inside and outside, are an exception. The handle has generally only been installed at the end of the manufacturing process of a jug.

The period of 1885 and 1910 can be regarded as the "golden age" of the Mettlach ceramics , even though the production lasted until around 1913 and still launched some beautiful objects. During this period, the goods were listed and priced in special sales catalogs.

The first world war and the devastating fire in the Mettlach plant in the night from the 11th to the 12th of August 1921, in which patterns, forms, sketches, etc. fell victim to the flames, brought the production of these magnificent articles to a standstill. An era of unique products in design and manufacturing technology came to an end.

In the years 1925 to 1929, the production of the goods from the Mettlachian period had been tried again for a short time, but with little success. The reasons for this were the (already known) high production costs and the lack of qualified personnel.

Mettlach and the Americans

It is astonishing for me to see how much enthusiasm in the United States has been collected the Mettlach products in the period of 1885 and 1910. A passion which, unfortunately, I could not recognize at same time in Europe. I have often asked myself what might have been the cause. Here you have to take a look at the history. America is a very young continent compared to Europe and everything that exists in America for more than 100 years is already considered "old". There are no epochs such as the Ancient , Renaissance , Gothic , Baroque , Rococo , etc., which have been experienced there, and so there is no emotional relationship at this time. This was different in Europe. Here, there were a variety of products that were older, more valuable and creative than what was produced in Mettlach (and other manufacturers) more than 100 years ago. More creative, because in the second half of the nineteenth century (with a few exceptions) the art style was taken up and glorified in earlier times .

Villeroy & Boch factories around 1899 (picture from the V & B price list of 1899)

Fabriken um 1899


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