In 1748, German businessman François Boch founded a pottery workshop in the duchy (or “dukedom”) of Lorraine, which straddled the French, German, Belgian and Luxembourg borders. His business succeeded and soon Boch opened another factory in Luxembourg, then (in 1801) another one in the Western German village of Metlach—in a former 10th Century Benedictine abbey along the Saar River. Saarland enjoyed plentiful coal deposits, a necessity for firing the kilns of ceramics production.
In 1836, “Boch et Freres” merged with his competitor (and imitator), Nicolas Villeroy, who owned a nearby ceramics factory. Together, they reasoned, they could better compete against the English imports flooding into Germany. And succeed they did. Through the rest of the Nineteenth Century, Villeroy & Boch flourished, employing as many as 1250 factory workers—at the Metlach location alone—at its peak (around 1900). One of the company’s best-known products was ceramic beer steins, now considered amongst the best-made and highly-collectable. Villeroy & Boch had as many as 2000 designs, some of them inspired by Wedgwood Jasperware, Neopolitan cameos, even Rookwood (transfer ware).
The former abbey building, thoroughly restored when Boch bought it in 1801, was the inspiration for the iconic Metlach pottery mark (sometimes mis-identified as a castle) and is still the home of the company today—one of Germany’s premier brands and a company with a worldwide reputation and distribution.
The piece above, made during the German Jugendstil period, is a nice example of Villeroy & Boch’s Art Nouveau offering in the early Twentieth Century.