Here’s one of those items which initially looks a little out of place in any selection of antiques with its clean lines and uncomplicated modernist design, but a little background information will enable you to place it in context at the heart of one of the late 19th and early 20th centuries most significant art movements, and thus very much deserving of its place.


It was produced by the extravagantly named Württembergische MetallwarenFabrik AG, which was based in Geislingen an der Stiege to the south east of Stuttgart in Germany. The company is now a huge concern, which from its inception in the 1850’s involved a constantly evolving tapestry of acquisitions and mergers, bringing together utilitarian and industrial metal-working concerns alongside a more creative Art Studio which spawned a domestic glassware manufactory – albeit one which was mostly concerned with a patented, iridescent metallic-style product range marketed under the name Myra Kristall.


You’ll no doubt be mindful of the fact that the 19th century was a ferment of new design ideas and briefs, with artists constantly looking to break free from convention and set new standards. There’s a litany of terms for this ideological expansionism, from the broad-brush of the Arts & Crafts movement to far more specific genres such as the Nabis artists of Paris or Symbolist literature and poetry. WMF, as they were to become (helpfully) known fitted a brief which would have had them labelled as a Secessionist concern, in so far as not only were they moving away from the intricate baroque and neo-gothic styling of earlier Victorian styles as an artistic statement, but – because of the nature of their manufacturing facilities – were also adopting designs which better suited if not mass-production, then certainly the more streamlined processes of factory-bench based craftsmen, rather than artisan handiwork. So, you can see why the abrupt angles, straight lines and smooth faces of their cigar box – for that is the purpose of our piece – sits so comfortably within its niche as an example of a design which was pared back for both aesthetic reasoning and creative expedience. Specifically, dating to 1906 as it does, our cigar box can be said to fall under the remit of Der Jugendstil (Youth Style) brand of Secessionism, as formalised by the Munich or Darmstadt schools, both of which sought to expound a degree of creative practicality which would “bring together designers and industrialists to disseminate ideas”.


As an example of WMF work there is, though, one slightly disappointing aspect to our piece in that it is not marked with the slightly aberrant ostrich device which so often appears as a constituent part of the company’s suite of identifying marks – although this is by no means the only trademark attributed to them. This is a throwback to one of the very first proprietors of the formative company which was to evolve into today’s manufacturing behemoth, one Daniel Strauss, who’s surname means just that – ostrich!