Stollwerck Chocolates

I’ve been seeing Stollwerck Chocolates cards around Twitter for a while now. They’re kind of like Liebig in that they consist of all kinds of 6-card sets. Unlike Liebig though the Stollwerck sets are predominantly 1897–1916 and tend to be wonderfully Jugendstil designed with beautiful artwork and fantastic letterforms.*

*They’re also smaller sized than Liebig. At 48×93mm they’re almost business card sized. A little too long to fit in 9-pocket pages but they fit fine in 8-pockets and would fit perfectly in 10-pockets. Unfortunately, by being 6-card sets they look best with all six cards on one sheet.

They’re hard to date but thankfully they list which album they’re part of and I was able to use the Stollwerck albums page to get an approximate date. The sports cards are often nice but with subject mater from all over I decided to bide my time and jump on a bunch of cheap sets which just struck my fancy.

I ended up with four sets and they’re all so beautiful that I scanned everything. This post will list them in chronological order by album.

Album 3, 1899

The first set is dedicated to the arts and features cards for baukunst (architecture), sculpture, malerei (painting), music, schauspielkunst (acting), and poetry. The scans don’t do them justice since these are actually printed in gold ink and still shine 123 years later.

I love everything about these. The lettering (which retain a hint of neoclassical sensibilities). The flowers. The fine details in the artwork in the circle and how the art being depicted is almost an afterthough to the composition yet remains an important part of the image.

The printing is super nice too. Besides the solid gold ink, these aren’t halftones but are instead a regular stipple pattern.

Flipping the over shows the tag a the bottom which indicates which album they go in. The way each card has different letterforms for the Stollwerck branding is amazing. Where there’s a certain painterly sensibility to the fronts, the backs are super-precise.

I started to translate these but they’re actually poems about each ancient art. Since the rhythm and rhymes are more interesting than the content, translating such a thing is way beyond my abilities.

It’s also worth noting here that all the text on all of these is  solidly on the Roman/Antiqua side of the Antiqua-Fraktur dispute. I’m not sure what exactly to make of this especially given the extremely-German content of  two of the sets in this post.

Album 4, 1900

I have two sets from 1900’s album number four. The first is one of the very German sets in that it consists of Grimm’s Fairytales. These, like the Fraktur black lettering, were often part of a movement to create a national German identity. Cards of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Frog Prince, Seven Swabians, Hansel & Gretel, and Snow White would presumably be instantly recognizable to German consumers.

While I bought these because I also know the fairytales, I was also just taken by the artwork (which also often features gold detailing which flattened during scanning). The drawings are great but the lettering and framing—especially on the first three cards—is what’s amazing. Sleeping Beauty with the thorns/plants literally covering the image and using flowers for the header is superb but the Cinderella card with the trees framing the image and the gold text on top of the foliage is even better. The way the text creates ST, OL, LW, and CK ligatures is just tremendous. It shows up better in the Frog Prince scan but in-hand the gold just shines.

I have to confess that I was unfamiliar with the Seven Swabians story. It’s kind of weird but anything that results in an image of seven men facing down a guardian beast with its nasty, big, pointy teeth* can’t be all bad. Also, including a Hansel & Gretel card as part of a candy promotion is nearly metacard-worthy.

*You’re darn right I’m considering this part of the Python PC

These backs aren’t as exciting as the 1899 backs and they continue with poems so I’m still not translating. It is however interesting to note story details which are different from the (heavily-Disney-influenced) versions I grew up with as well as just which moment from each story is depicted and described.

In Sleeping Beauty there’s a reference to flinging the magic spindle (zauberspindel) far away. The card is also only about her being rescued from the hedge of thorns (dornenhecken) and waking up, not about everything that led up to her curse.

Cinderella’s card is similarly about just the end of the story when she’s rescued by the prince and becomes a queen. The poem in this case is about the moral of the story and unpredictable nature of destiny with zero mention of the actual events in the tale.

The Frog Prince card pretty much tells the whole story with the frog retrieving the golden ball from the well, being thrown against the wall by the princess, and then turning into a prince. No kisses on this card, just violence.

The Seven Swabians card tells about their encounter with the “dragon,” how they were all scared, and only at the end does it reveal that it was in fact a rabbit. Having read the rest of that story I think the rabbit episode is clearly the best one to choose.

Hansel & Gretel tells about encountering the delicious gingerbread house while starving and then being turned upon by the witch. It’s explicit in saying that Hansel is terrified and Gretel is the one who turns on the witch and shoves her into the coals. Is interesting here that the card depicts encountering the house and none of the struggle inside since every other card depicts the scene that’s described on the back.

Snow White’s card is about how the dwarves (or in this case perhaps gnomes since the German is gnomenmännchen) are taking care of her in the glass coffin until the prince finally appears. The last stanza though is about the mirror on the wall (spieglein an der wand) and wishing that the evil queen’s heart will burst.

The other set from this album consists of 66% of the Muses. So we’ve got Polyhymnia (sacred poetry), Melpomene (tragedy), Euterpe (flutes and music), Clio (history), Terpsichore (dance), and Thalia (comedy and pastoral poetry). And we’re missing Calliope (epic poetry), Erato (love poetry and lyric poetry), and Urania (astronomy). Sort of a shame since Urania would likely have made a great card.

These are very similar design-wise to the arts cards from 1899 although the letterforms have gotten much more fanciful as they nest vowels into adjacent consonants. The artwork also manages to suggest a lot with a bare minimum of space. You can barely see Euterpe’s flute but it’s there. And Terpsichore is clearly dancing even though all you can see is her head.

More poetry on the backs and a little more interesting design in the Stollwerck branding. I don’t have anything to comment on the poems though so instead I’ll use this space to talk about the information that Stollwerck says about itself. Like how it has factories in Cologne, Berlin, Bratislava (then Pressburg), and New York. And how it has branches in Berlin, Leipzig, Wrocław (then Breslau), Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Bremen, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, London, New York, and Chicago.

Another card has what I’m guessing is a list of prices for bar chocolate. The prices start at ℳ1.20 and increase to ℳ5 for a half kilo. Another two cards have cocoa powder listed at ℳ2.40 for a half kilo, ℳ1.25 for a quarter kilo, and ℳ0.65 for an eighth kilo. Yes I know that typically the ℳ comes after the number but I’m mimicking how it’s used on the cards.

To put these prices in perspective wasn’t easy. Since these are listed in German Gold Marks it’s hard to do any direct currency/inflation conversions because all the online calculators stop in 1948 when Deustche Marks were introduced. However, since Marks were on the gold standard* we can do a rough metal-based conversion to US Dollars. Five Marks are ~2.0g of gold at .900 fineness. Five dollars (using the 1900 Half Eagle coin for reference) are ~8.4g of gold, also at .900 fineness. Which means that I feel comfortable saying that ℳ1=$0.24. Dumping this into the US inflation calculator which says that $1 in 1900 equates to $33.68 in 2021 gives us rough conversion of ℳ1 in 1900 equalling $8.08 in 2021.

*Side comment. It’s also interesting to me that despite German unification being carried out via the Prussian army conquering everyone, after the the German Empire was established in 1871 they switched from using the silver-backed Prussian Thaler to creating a new gold-backed currency, the German Mark.

Looping back, this gives approximate modern prices of Stollwerck’s chocolate bars as starting at $9.70 and increasing to $40.40 for a half kilo while cocoa powder is $5.25 for an eighth kilo and $19.40 for a half kilo. Or for Americans who can’t handle metric, $36.70 per pound for bar chocolate and $17.60 per pound for powder.*

*I’m perfectly willing to hear why I did all this wrong but wanted to try doing something to put the prices in perspective.

Finally, one card mentions “Eichel-Cacao” which Google kicks out as acorn chocolate and, after digging through some book hits appears to be a chocolate powder made by removing fatty content and mixing in foasted acorns and some sugar. The Dr Michaelis branding along with the google books hit being a medical journal suggests that this was for medicinal purposes only.

Album 10, 1908

The last set I got is from 1908. A first I though it was a Nibelungenlied set but it turns out that this isn’t quite right. The first four cards all feature characters from that epic though with Siegfried (and Fafnir), Hegan (killing Siegfried), Brunhild (sleeping behind flames), and Kriemhild (mourning Siegfried). I say “not quite right” because Brunhild’s card depicts something that’s part of the Völsunga saga but not the Nibelungenlied.

The last two cards though are completely different sagas. One of Kudrun* and the other, Frithiof. I was unfamiliar with either of those stories before I got this set.

*Listed as Gudrun which really confused me at first because Kriemhild is also frequently called Gudrun.

I really like the paintings in this even though by this time it’s clear that Stollwerck had been templating their designs a bit to all use the same wordmark-next-to-image look. These cards are also printed using traditional halftones and the paper stock is both brighter and better-coated. Still very cool but not nearly as spectacular as the other sets.

The backs give a nice summary of the stories. Siegfried tells about him as a youth, being sent to battle a dragon (it does not name the dragon),  and how after his battle he noticed that its blood created a “callus” on his finger which prompted him to bathe in the blood, leaving him invulnerable except for where a linden leaf had fallen on his back and giving him the nickname “Der Hürnene” (the horn-skinned).

Hagen’s card is not only about how Hagen treacherously spears Siegfried in his vulnerable spot while Siegfried’s back was turned and he was having a drink, but also includes that he did it on behalf of Brunhild and why she was so upset. It doesn’t go too much into the story of Siegfried deceiving and subduing Brunhild on behalf of Gunther but it mentions enough to explain why she’s both angry and ashamed.

Brunhild’s card, instead of being more about her deception, explicitly tells her story according to “the Norse version of the Nibelungenlied” (ie. the Völsunga saga). It explains how she was one of the valkyries who was charged with transporting fallen heroes from the battlefield to Valhalla until she crossed Odin. Odin took her divinity, sunk her into a deep sleep, and surrounded her with a ring of fire that could only be breached by a true hero. That hero was Siegfried who crossed the fire, woke Brunhild, and led her out.

It’s also worth noting on Brunhild’s card that Stollwerck is now offering mocha at prices of 10, 25, and 50 pfennig (100 pfennig per Mark). No idea what the sizes are here to even guess at how much mocha you get for that price but those prices are all much much cheaper than the prices from eight years earlier (using the previous calculations, 50 pfennig in 1908 is ~$3.75 in today’s money).

Kriemhild’s card tells about how she had premonitions about Siegfried’s death and asked “the treacherous” Hagen to watch over him—going so far as to mark the spot on his back where Siegfried was vulnerable. It continues by describing the scene when she discovered Siegfried’s body after it had been retrieved from the forrest and how she mourned over it for three days and three nights.

Kudrun is a fun one. Always nice to learn about something new and as the Wikipedia article says, it’s an interesting story to compare with the Nibelungenlied with the way the women have more agency and choose reconciliation over retribution. This card in particular contains the outline of Kudrun’s story, her becoming engaged to Herwic, her abduction by Hartmout, her 13 years as a captive because she refused to marry Hartmout and instead was forced to wash clothes by the sea as a maid. The image on the front depicts an episode on the beach where a beautifully colored bird brings her news that Herwic is near and that she would soon be freed.

Frithiof is another new one to me. Compared to Kudrun and the Nibelungenlied it’s much much shorter plotwise—to the point where most of the plot actually fits on the back of the card. How Frithiof, a bond’s son, and Princess Ingeborg grew up together but were forcibly separated after the king’s death. Frithiof sent away while Ingeborg was married to Old King Ring. Frithiof returned and fought with Ingeborg’s brothers, burned Baldr’s temple, became a famous viking, and returned to marry Ingeborg after Ring’s death. The image on the card front depicts the young Frithiof and Ingeborg as he returns from a hunt and she crowns him with flowers.

And that’s that. Only took ~2000 words to get through two dozen cards. But that’s what’s fun about pre war stuff. In many ways every card can be a blogpost.

Stollwerck still exists today* but unfortunately no longer has the same Jugendstil esthetic. A shame since this kind of visual legacy would be awesome to be able to lean on nowadays. It doesn’t appear that they make cards anymore either which is kind of a shame.

*They also have some history in New Jersey with a factory in Camden that supplied chocolate to Tastykake and Whitmans.

As beautiful and affordable as these cards are though I’m not really looking for more. Very very happy to have these four sets and I love them in the binder. But I’ve said similar things in the past and gone back on my word. With sets like this where the subject matter can be literally anything I have no clue what’s out there and what might strike my fancy.

I also couldn’t help myself and whipped up these customs to fill the last two slots in one of my 8-pocket pages. Once I saw the Nibelungenlied/Volsungs cards I had no choice but to kill the wabbit. Yes I know that the Seven Swabians card is literally about hunting wabbits but the simplicity of the 1908 design lends itself perfectly to customs.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

5 thoughts on “Stollwerck Chocolates”

  1. Didn’t have time to read this post. It’s close to my bedtime and I’m starting to doze off.
    But I gotta comment and say… these cards feature some gorgeous artwork. And as usual… fantastic job on your customs.

  2. I had a seen a few of the cards from the fairy tales set before, but everything else here is new to me. Most of these are very pretty, and it’s not hard to see why you would’ve been drawn to them. I don’t know if I’ll ever need any of the information, but I still appreciate the amount of time that you must’ve spent doing the research for this post; and of course the time that it obviously took to write as well.

    1. A large part of the appeal of pre war cards for me are the research rabbit holes they send me down. I’d look this stuff up even if I wasn’t blogging. At least if I’ve blogged it I have a chance at remembering what I found.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: