Elias Greiner Vetter’s son & the story of ‘Ground Pontil’ Marbles

Elias Greiner Vetter’s son – The story of ‘Ground Pontil’ Marbles

The following material relates to the introduction and history of glass marble making in Lauscha, Germany as attributed to Elias Greiner Vetter’s Son.

The information below appeared in Urkundenbuch zur thüringischen Glashüttengeschichte (“Book on the history of Thuringian Glass Factories/Making”) by Herbert Kühnert, (1934, this book was reprinted by Franz Steiner Verlag in 1973). Mr. Kühnert had published works on industrial history in Germany starting around 1928 with Geschichte der Glashüttensiedlung Piesau im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert. (Coburg, Müller & Schmidt, 1928.) (“History of glass works/factories in Piesau- 17th and 18th Centuries”).

Elias Greiner Vetter’s son (1793-1864)

Septimius Greiner (1820-1877).

Photos from the Archiv der Farberglasshütte Lauscha GmbH

“May 16, 1850, Sonneberg

The Ducal Sachsen-Meining administrative department Sonneberg certifies for the factory owners Elias and Septimius Greiner in Lauscha, that their patent for the manufacture of glass balls in a factory built by them has been realized.

The Ducal Sachsen administrative department (signed O. Leuber) certifies officially upon demand by the factory owners Elias and Septimius Greiner in Lauscha that their patent for manufacturing artificial agate and precious balls has been realized and that official inspection showed the factory erected for this purpose is presently in operation and that a not inconsiderable supply of these agate and precious balls was found on the above premises.

Source- abstract from the records: “Application of Elias and Septimius Greiner in Lauscha for the grant of a patent for the manufacture of artificial agate balls and the construction of a glass furnace. 1849. “Archives of the Thuringian District Government in Sonneberg, +64, 5 top (now 1934, in the Thuringian States archives, Meining).

Remarks (to Laws 49, 51, and 55): Elias Greiner Vetter’s son was born in Lauscha in 1793 as the son of the glass worker Joh. Georg Wilhelm Greiner gen. Vetter or Bable (1761-1832). See the Greiner family tree in the appendix for other Greiner progenitors back to Hans Greiner-Schwab who was the co-builder of the Lauscha glass works in 1595.

While the last progenitor of Elias Greiner still possessed 50% of the glass works in Lauscha founded by him (6 of 12 stands), the inheritance distributed among the the children was reduced by repeated division to such an extent that the father of Elias Greiner, Georg Wilhelm, left only one stand to his sons Elias and Adam Wilhelm, so that each of the two brothers only had one half a stand.

In 1819, Elias Greiner married Johanne Willhelmine, daughter of the Lauscha house owner and glass worker Johann Phillip Muller, gen. Pertschensohn. She lived from 1795-1877 and bore her husband their only son Septimius (1820-1877) who married one of the daughters (louise) of the Lauscha glassblower Johanne Simon Wilhelm Müeller gen. Kleiner (1782-1837) in 1840.

While the old glass worker house owned by Elias Greiner’s father, passed on to the youngest son Adam Wilhelm Greiner after his death, Elias Greiner soon built his own house close to his father’s house in 1824 after having rented from the father-in-law after his marriage. This house was inherited later by his son Septimius.

Young Elias Greiner in his youth made his living first as a porcelain painter. He then started to make the colors required for glass and porcelain painting, which he ground in a mill of his invention, which was installed in his house. After inheriting the paternal stand in the village glass works in 1832 together with his brother, he used the colors made by him to color more delicate types of glass. In the meantime, Elias’ son Septimius received careful instruction in porcelain painting and all the necessary material knowledge by the painter Karl Schmidt in Bamberg and married in 1840. By this marriage he took possession in 1845 of one-half a stand in the village glass works in addition to a piece of property above the glass works located in the valley at the foot of the Tierberg where Elias and Septimius together built and operated a color grinding mil in 1841. Since the father and son each possessed one half a stand in the glass works they could more easily occupy themselves with the manufacture of better grades of glass wares.

They were particularly encouraged by business friends who told them that colored agate balls were manufactured in the region of Oberstein and Idar an der Nahe which they could possibly make of glass of various colors. The manufacture of such colored glass balls was made possible to the Greiners by the glass marble cutter, i.e. an instrument which was used already in a similar form in the manufacture of animal eyes and glass buttons over a lamp, which was invented by the step-brother Johann Christoph Simon Karl Greiner gen. Vetterle (1783-1851). The “cousins” now manufactured these glass marbles with excellent financial results in all possible shades and colors (marbled, agate, amber, lapis lazuli, topaz, etc). Marbles manufactured in the glass works from Greiner colors apparently were polished in a mill located first in Unterlausche.

In 1849 Elias Greiner bought a strip of meadow at the so-called Ranzenburg between the Steinach river and the Tierberg from the miller Christoph Abraham Heubach in the Goritz mill belonging formerly to the Donop Obersteinach iron foundry. On September 5, 1848, Elias and Septimius Greiner (owners of the glass and porcelain factory, Lauscha) received the exclusive concession for 6 years for the region of the Dukedom Sachsen-Meiningen for the manufacture of “synthetic agate and precious stone balls”. On May 15, 1849 they received a patent for their invention from the Royal Bavarian government of Oberfranken in Bayreuth. It contained the provision that the Bavarian patent is to be considered expired unless the Greiners can furnish proof to the Ducal Ministry in Meiningen up to May 15, 1850 of an actual realization .In this connection the Sonneberg Administration could officially certify for the two Greiners on May 16, 1850 that their invention of manufacturing synthetic agates and precious stone balls actually had been realized and furthermore that the factory which was built for this purpose, is in operation today after official inspection and finally that a not inconsiderable supply of these agate and precious stone balls intended for sale was found on the premises.

It was Greiner’s further aim to manufacture the glass in their own foundry. However, this intention caused violent opposition of his foremen in the Lauscha village foundry because they not only feared the competition from a new glass plant but also a curtailment in the old foundry wood privileges. Consequently, the official permit for the Greiners could only be granted when they [Greiners] promised to equip their own glass factory for coal firing and if they agreed to limit themselves to the production of fine glassware and thus not harm the glass production of the village foundry. Evidently, it was the Greiner plan first to build the new glass foundry with a polishing section on the “Ranzenburg” mentioned already in the above in Unterlauscha which previously was the site of the former Hüttensteinacher or Obersteinacher blast furnace. The Greiners finally obtained the so-called fire rights concession from the Ducal Administration Department in Sonneberg on March 12, 1852 which stated that Elias Greiner was permitted to build in Unterlauscha a grinding mill and a glass furnace with bituminous coal furnace for the manufacture of synthetic agate balls and precious stone balls according to the Ducal patent of August 30, 1848 (of September 5, 1848). Elias Greiner now attempted to amend the granted concession in the County Government of Meiningen to allow him in the future to manufacture also other fine glass products (for example, “Bohemian” hollow glass, colored glass, luxury and art products) in his future glass works in addition to glass marbles. He justifiably referred to the fact that glass marbles were manufactured already in numerous glass works in spite of the granted patent and that he would have to assure his future by a sufficiently broad concession. His attempts finally resulted in the concession of May 15, 1852 given in the Register No. 51.

The plan of building the fundamentally granted glass works with coal firing below Lauscha on the Ranzenberg must have been dropped soon by the Greiners. Excited protest of glass foremen in Lauscha, Ernstthal, Piesau in addition to adjacent property owners reported already in July 1853 that Elias Greiner was building a glass works in the Oberen Grund between the Obermühle and the Lauscha glass works.

The new works must have been completed in September 1853. It evidently only had four crucibles and was expanded to 10 crucibles only later. Since it was the intention of the village works masters to contest Elias Greiner’s originator claims for the production of glass marbles with the government and to limit him solely to the production of glass marbles, the accused explained to the government his own standpoint in detail in an excellent address sent on May 15, 1854. His letter to Sonneberg for forwarding to Meiningen was accompanied by two small boxes with glass ware samples so that the administration could be convinced by actually seeing the value and the novelty of the glass wares manufactured by him (for example, colored glass-coral pearls). It was Greiners special desire to have his concession expressly extended also to the manufacture of glass tubes and solid glass rods. He was also successful in this as results from the contents of the concession amendment of February 22, 1855 stated in Register No. 55. From the footnote made to Register No. 55 it can be seen further that Greiner finally was successful in having the prerequisite of coal firing on which all his partial concessions were based, deleted by the government itself. Greiner operated his glass works in 1854 for 16 weeks and, on the basis of the work sheet, he consumed 868 buckets of good bituminous coal (at 370 fl. including hauling) and 30 cords of firewood and logs. Greiner bought the wood from the Schwarzburg district and from the forest of Hasenthal. The Neuhäuser coal was found to be unsuitable and Greiner refused to pay the fee for the amended concession of February 22, 1855 until he obtained the decree of April 6, 1855 according to which he was allowed to operate his glass works experimentally with wood for a period of 3 years. It is evident that the government quietly dropped the requirement that the Elias Greiner glass works were to be fired exclusively or predominately with coal, particularly since the glass works founded by August Müller in July 1854 in Köppelsdorf turned out to be a bankrupt business. During a conference of the government department with the Lauscha glass manufacturers called by the Meiningen Administration in January 1862 the problem discussed primarily concerned the supply of wood for glass works including the two new glass works (Elias Greiner and the concession to Julius Hoffman of Eisfeld and Louis Robert Greiner-Beck in Lauscha). During this conference the two owners of the two new glassworks emphasized the fact that improvements of their plants could only be considered if they could be assured of a supply of suitable wood in the amount of 200 to 300 cords from state forest over a period of 10 years. Coal as a heating material would be too expensive and the results are still doubtful. If coal is used then the heat energy corresponding to a cord of wood would amount to about 11 fl. And the type of heating therefore would be too expensive.

Elias Greiner Vetter’s son died in 1865 and his son Septimius Greiner died in 1877. After his death the Elias Greiner Vetter’s Son Company was continued by his sons Albrecht, Elias and Herman (1848-1914). A son of the latter, Otto Greiner Vetter’s son, is the present owner. Due to a gas explosion, the glass works of the company burnt to the ground in April 1894; it was rebuilt as a solid brick building which went into operation on January 10, 1895, e.g. 300 years after the construction of the first Lauscha glass works, and is still in operation a such.”

The Farbglashütte.

So what does the above material tell us?

From the above information it may be gleaned that Elias was an expert glass and enamel colorist or chemist. This point is driven home even further by the mention that Elias was supplying other glass works with “glass tubes” (for blowing ornaments), and “solid glass rods”. These are very specialized types of products which require a strong technical background and broad color pallet. Just look at what contemporary German companies offer today in this line: Kugler, Reichenbach, Lauscha, etc. These are definitely skills that only a few master glass workers possessed.

There is a very important sentence in the 9th paragraph above in regards to what types of marbles were being produced by Elias and his son Septimius. It says that the marbles “were polished in a mill located first in Unterlausche” (quoted from the 1934 book: “Die in dur hütte aus Greinerschen farben hergestellten märbel wurden, wic es scheint, in einem zunächst zu Unterlauscha befindlichen schleifwerk geschliffen.”). The English translation here may be elaborated some more. The important word in the above German quote is ‘schleifwerk’. This translates as grinding work, not polishing work. The word ‘schleif’ simply means grind. The English translation above misses the boat on the significance of what the sentence is saying. The better word in German for polish is ‘polieren’, not ‘schleif’. In the English language there is a big difference between saying that I am going to polish this glass, or I am going to grind this glass. Grinding is the removal of material; polishing is the act of applying friction to the surface of glass and causing it to come to a glossy surface.

The important message that was lost in the above translation is that the marbles being made by Elias Greiner were ‘gound’ down in order to finish them off. This is referring to the removal of the rough spot or the “pontil” of these marbles. Mills like the one referred to above in “Unterlausche” are powered by water wheels. Water power is harnessed to rotate shafts which in turn power cutting wheels or like devices. Here is the proof for ground “pontil” marbles. Why else would the marbles be taken off site to be ground and finished? A glass item generally has a fire polished surface, in the case of marbles, the only part that wouldn’t have been fire polished was the “pontil”. That is where the mill powered grinding stone comes into play.

I could have simply changed the material above and not gone through this exercise of describing how the translation was off to begin with. The original translator had a hard job to complete in the first place. Anyone that has dealt with translations knows that certain subtleties and intrinsic qualities of a language are lost in a translation. My main objective was to show and present the material as I found it in the first place. If more proof is needed, find a German to English dictionary and look these words up on your own. The subject of “ground pontil” marbles is sort of controversial to marble collectors. I hope that the above information can help to paint a better picture as to the origin of “ground pontil” marbles. In other Kühnert materials referring to the above subject, he always uses a form of the word ‘Schleif” in reference to the finishing method employed by the Greiners on their ‘artificial agate balls’; not the word ‘polieren’.

So what did these marbles look like?

In Kühnert’s book it states: “The “cousins” now manufactured these glass marbles with excellent financial results in all possible shades and colors (marbled, agate, amber, lapis lazuli, topaz, etc).”. “These marbles were made to imitate colored agate balls (that) were manufactured in the region of Oberstein and Idar an der Nahe.”.

What type of marble looks more like a natural stone, a hand gathered imitation glass onyx marble or a cane made swirl style marble?

Natural Stone Agate Marble

Hand gathered imitation onyx glass 

Handmade cane cut swirl marble  

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this one out. It is also not a large leap to then claim that hand gathered handmade glass marbles pre-date handmade glass cane marbles in terms of initial introduction. In other words, all of the hand gathered glass marbles with ground pontils that people have in their collections are probably some of the earliest glass marbles ever produced. These are the same marbles that have been erroneously referred to by collectors as “ground pontil transitionals”, “Leighton transitionals”, “ground pontil slags”, etc. All of these names have no real meaning and should be dropped in favor of a name that really describes what they are: hand gathered imitation onyx marbles from Germany.

It is known that the Greiner’s did eventually make handmade cane cut marbles as well and I would guess that theses would have had their pontil marks ground down like the hand gathered types were. At least until this option was no longer cost effective.

Advertising card for the Farbglashütte.

The factory that was operated by Elias and Septimius Greiner lives on today and is still called the “Farbglashütte“. This means “colored glass house” in German. Another local nickname for the company is “Seppenhütte”.

Official catalogue of the New-York exhibition of the industry of all nations. 1853

“Imitation agate marbles in glass” E.G. Vetters, Jr.

Title: International exhibition, 1876. [Reports], Volume 8