John McGregor

What do you know about Simon Peter Gerz I, and the Gerz factory? Just about nothing I’ll bet. We know that the factory was founded in 1857, but didn’t get government approval until 1862, which is why 1862 is the “official” founding date used by Gerz. We know that the factory was originally located at Kirchstrasse 5-7 (figure 1) and that sometime in the intervening years the street name was changed to Toepferstrasse. We know that a “jug in a triangle” (figure 2) is the most commonly recognized Gerz factory mark and that the mark, although changed a bit over the years, is still in use today (figure 3). We know that the company was originally located in Hoehr, was relocated to Sessenbach in 1966 and today is headquartered in Hillscheid.

fig. 1

fig. 2

fig. 3

It seems however, that the “jug in the triangle” wasn’t always the Gerz logo, and that Gary Kirsner’s date of ca.1900 for its introduction is approximately correct. What you are going to read here is the story behind the story and not at all what you might expect. It was the stein and mark seen in figures 4, 5 and 6 that started me down the road that led to this story. While Simon Peter Gerz I ran the factory, even though it was seldom applied, the “SPGI in the circle” was apparently the Gerz factory mark.

fig. 4

fig. 5

fig. 6

fig. 7

When I first encountered this stein, I was temporarily taken-a-back, because the ivory piece appeared to be very early. This is the first and only time that I have encountered this circle mark, and the style of the handle, as well as the pewter, a closed, five ring hinge, suggests a date of around 1875 (figure 7), which is a bit early for ivory stoneware (Elfenbeinsteinzeug). However, someone had to have been the first to produce ivory stoneware and perhaps it was Gerz. I therefore had to withhold any conclusions, until I better understood what was going on at the Gerz factory. The following is what I discovered.

Simon Peter Gerz I was born on September 13, 1830 in Hoehr. By the way, I don’t know why Simon Peter Gerz used the Roman numeral “I” after his name, because there was no Simon Peter Gerz II, III, or IV. So, for simplicity, I will drop the “I” and refer to him simply as Simon Peter Gerz. His family had been potters (Eulerei) for generations and had operated a small stoneware business since about 1810, so it was natural for him to follow in their footsteps.

Simon’s sister, Maria Luise was married to a mustard miller named Jakob Breiden. They were the parents of Albert Breiden, born June 12 or 13, 1860, making him the nephew of Simon Peter Gerz. The date of Albert’s birth is uncertain. His birth date is recorded in the memoir, by Frieda Krebs, as June 12, but in a letter to his daughter Paula, Albert says it is the 13th. Albert is a recurring player in this drama and will appear several times as the story unfolds.

From very early in life, Albert had a close friend named Peter Duemler. At fourteen years of age they began apprenticeships for their future vocations. Peter apprenticed as a modeler, or designer, with Reinhold Hanke and later with Simon Peter Gerz. Albert apprenticed in factory operations with his uncle, Simon Peter Gerz. As part of their apprenticeships they were required to master all facets of the stoneware industry and for young boys the work was very hard. They completed their apprenticeships ten years later, and in 1883, at 24 years of age, they founded their own factory, Duemler & Breiden.

On October 27, 1857, Simon Peter Gerz married a young widow named Anna Katharina Kalb. The marriage produced four children, three daughters and one son. The son, whose name is not mentioned, died at twenty-two years of age. After Anna Katharina passed away Simon married again, but no children came from that marriage.

After an exhibition in Wiesbaden in 1864, where they won a gold medal, Simon Peter Gerz was named “Hoflieferant,” or supplier to the court of the Duke of Nassau. In 1867 they exhibited in Paris, where they again won a gold medal. Over the next 30 years, business was good and everyone prospered. In 1872, Gerz invested 31,447 Marks in a “clay cutter,” a mill for processing the raw material into a usable product. In 1874 there were two factory buildings and two kilns. In 1880 and 1883 more factory space was added. Despite these large investments, or perhaps because of them, when his first wife passed away after 25 years of marriage, they had accumulated a personal fortune of 189,116 Marks. Today’s equivalent purchasing power would amount to 1.6 million Dollars. Then, on September 12, 1893, at 63 years of age, Simon Peter Gerz passed away, leaving no male heir.

After his death, the factory passed to Alfons William Loetschert, who had married Gerz’ daughter Luise. This is the logical time for the factory mark to have changed from the circle to the triangle. By 1897, Loetschert had acquired a partner, the Muellenbach & Thewalt Pfeifenfabrik (pipe factory), which provided 110,000 Marks in operating capital.

During the height of the Art Nouveau period, 1900 to ca.1914, Paul Wynand, Albin Mueller and Fritz Hellmut Ehmcke did design work for Gerz. Ehmcke worked exclusively for Gerz. By 1911 Gerz had added two additional partners, Reinhold Hanke and Reinhold Merkelbach.

The following year, 1912, saw the founding of “Steinzeugwerke Hoehr Grenzhausen GmbH,” by the partnered companies, Simon Peter Gerz, Reinhold Hanke and Reinhold Merkelbach. There is no mention of Walter Mueller. The “golden days” were gone, fortunes were dwindling and then, in 1914, the First World War broke out and things got so bad, that the Gerz factory had to suspend operations completely, in 1917 and 18.

Peter Duemler passed away in 1907, at 47 years of age and six years later in 1913, Albert Breiden sold his share of the factory for 50,684,33 Marks. With this money he purchased a piece of property he had always wanted and built a house and a new factory, on, or near, Ferbachstrasse. This new factory produced very little because of the war and by 1918 was completely idle. That same year it was sold to one Peter Trees III, for an undisclosed sum, leaving Albert to pursue other activities. Those activities included taking over the management of the Gerz factory.

After the war ended, Albert found a partner, one Johann Uebelacker, who had 90,000 Marks to invest in the company. In addition to the money, Uebelacker was industrious and enthusiastic, which is just what the company needed. In 1919, Albert’s wife Kunigunda passed away and to help mask his grief, he threw himself into the factory operations with a vengeance.

Albert’s two sons, Adolf and Hermann, who had returned from the war, helped out at the factory and soon they were operating in the black. Albert had hoped that at least one of his sons would take over the management of the firm, but at that time, both declined. The recovery after the war was short lived due to the economy and Albert was forced to sell 75% of the company to a lawyer from Cologne named van Erkelenz.

The inflation of 1921-23 soon began to take its toll and they went from comfortably well off, to survival mode in no time at all. At the height of the inflationary period a month’s wages equaled 16 trillion Marks. For more on this period, see my article in the December 1997 issue of Prosit titled “ Inflation and Notgeld and How They Relate to Stein Collecting.”

Finally, in November of 1923, a monetary revaluation took place and one new Reichsmark, replaced 1 trillion old Marks. So, in early 1924, Albert Breiden literally couldn’t afford to buy beer and on April 12, 1924 he wrote to his daughter Paula who was now a housekeeper in Cologne. “Dear Paula, I received and now reply to your letter of March 8. Katarina, Frieda and Hermann are still here with me. Katarina is busy in the house, Frieda in the factory office and Hermann also works in the factory. Due to the monetary depreciation we were forced to suspend operations last April (1923), but in January (1924) we were able to slowly start up again.

A modest living can be made, but profits are eaten up by enormous taxes and tariffs. No one has any money. Money cannot be borrowed from the banks because the interest rates are 20-30%. I personally own only my house and Ľ of the Simon Peter Gerz I factory. All the cash money was lost to the inflation.

I will be 64 years old on June 13 and must work daily in the factory, in order to be able to live. I know I haven’t been to see you in Cologne, but it is 5 years since I have even been to Coblenz. I travel only if I must. If you wish to come here to visit us for a while, I would like that. We still have some goats and chickens and just acquired two lambs. For Easter we will slaughter one. The chickens are old and too few. We must get a laying hen.

Uebelacker no longer has the two von Reder factories and both lay idle. Von Reder wants to sell them. Liebhaber would like to buy them, but there is no money.

As concerns me personally, everyone one here is still healthy, but I had the misfortune of falling in the garden four weeks ago and I broke my foot. It is still painful. We have done little with the garden. We still have snow and cold rain. After Easter the weather will be better. I wish you a happy holiday and remain your loving Father.”

In May 1926 Albert Breiden died and his son Hermann evidently took over the management of the factory. Business slowly increased until approximately 1940 when the export market again disappeared and on February 4, 1942, Dr. Gottfied Poeppinghaus purchased the factory for, believe it or not, thirty (30) Reichsmark. The factory was damaged in a bombing in November, or December, 1942 and a fuel house burned down. A second attack on Hoehr-Grenzhausen left the factory without further damage.

After the war the factory once again began production and in 1966 moved to Sessenbach where 300 people were employed. In 1986 the old factory on Toepferstrasse was torn down to make way for new construction.

Today the company is headquartered in Hilscheid. In 1997 the Gerz factory declared bankruptcy and the rights to the Gerz factory mark, were purchased by Oliver Sahm and Manuel Weisbender, who, in partnership with Domex GmbH, Domex USA and A. Bay Keramic are continuing the Gerz tradition.


Simon Peter Gerz I,

Muellches Albert, a memoir by Frieda Krebs,
Fries, Heribert, Alt-Hoehr-Grenzhausen, Selbstverlag Hoehr-Grenzhausen, 1986

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