WMF - Württembergische Metallwarenfabrik
The original company that evolved into WMF was established by Daniel Straub in 1850 as the Maschinenfabrik Geislingen, a small repair workshop set up to construct railway tracks and manufacture mill turbines. Geislingen is a small town in the state of Wurtemberg in the Swabian Alb region of Germany. Straub joined with the brothers Freidrich and Louis Schweizer to form the firm "Straub & Schweizer" in 1853 and the company became Straub & Sohn when the Schweizers left in 1866. The firm mostly manufactured silver plated household items.
At about the same time, Carl Haegele and his brother-in-law Alfred Ritter had established the firm A Ritter & Co. in nearby Esslingen to manufacture electroplated goods, with great success. The firm expanded beyond its capacity to cope so that a merger was made with Straub and Sohn in 1880 to form the company to be known from then on as Württembergische Metallwarenfabrik. The Esslingen factory was closed and operations were moved to Geislingen the following year. Straub was succeeded by Haegele as managing director in 1881.
A glass-works was added in 1883 and a ceramics section a little later. The range of goods progressively expanded with the acquisition of several companies including:
- Plewkiewetz & Co factory in Warsaw which produced electroplated goods in 1886,
- Galvanoplastischen Kunstanstalt in Munich which produced ornamental objects and art replicas in 1887.
- Klumpp and Co in Munich who produced copper plated goods in 1889.
- Albert Kohler u Cie (AK & Cie), an Austrian metalwork company in 1900.
- Orivit AG company in Cologne which manufactured tin alloy products in 1905,
- Orion Kunstgewerbliche Metallwarenfabrik, another German metalware company in 1906.
Items marked "AK & Cie", "ORION" or "ORIVIT" are considered to be at the same level of those marked WMF.
Silver electroplating techniques known as "perfect hard silver plating" remains exclusive to WMF to this date. Techniques were developed to upgrade metals with experiments in chemical and thermal tinting of metals to produce the special "Ikora" finish. Exclusive rights were obtained to use the special steel developed by the Krupp factory to produce table and kitchenware.
WMF became strongly influenced by the Art Nouveau style at the turn of the century with Hugo Debach as director and Albert Mayer as artistic director. They experimented with new techniques to produce a great variety of decorative designs. The first world war ended the Art Nouveau era in 1914. This brief but golden time produced a great variety of most desirable artistic and functional wares from the WMF factory. Art Nouveau was popularly related to "Jugendstil" (Youth) in Germany, to Młoda Polska (Young Poland) in Poland, “Sezessionsstil” ('Secessionism') in Vienna, and "Modernisme" in Spain with Antoni Gaudí as the most noteworthy practitioner. The movement spawned the Ballets Russes and Liberty & Co.
By the start of the first world war there were more than 6000 workers with branches of the company throughout Europe. They enjoyed an unprecedented range of social benefits including health insurance, a hardship fund, a savings bank, and company housing and food products. The firm continues to operate to the present day.
The era after the first world war saw new advances in glass and metal ware in the “Neue kunstgewerbliche Abteilung” (NKA - New Division for the Applied Arts). The great recession of the 1930s required restructuring to concentrate on the domestic market and the second world war essentially halted all production. However, WMF prospered again after the war with re-establishment of outlets throughout the world. The principal factory is still at Geislingen with other factories in Hayingen and Riedlingen.
The "1906 - Art Nouveau Domestic Metal Work Catalogue" from WMF is highly prized and very rare. A reproduction in English – Art Nouveau Domestic Metalware - produced by the Antique Collectors Club is highly recommended.
Additional markings are:
MB - partly brass/Britannia-metal
B - Britannia-metal
O - extra thick silver coating
I/O - regular silver coating
OX - Oxidized.
as - antique silver finish
zg - fancy gilt
gg - entirely gilt
go - parcel gilt
bg - gilt base
ig - gilt interior
M - brass
N, NS - nickel-silver
brass, copper - export marks
ep - electro plated