Talking about Thuringian waterwhetstones for giving a superior final finish to a straight razors
edge isn’t possible without mentioning one company, which has surely been the most
famous among the whetstone trading companies in the Thuringian area for the last two
centuries: J.G. Escher & Co.
The company was founded 1789 in Sonneberg by Johann Gottfried Escher. He was a
salesman, dealing with the slate products from the Thuringian area, like slate pens and
plates and began around 1800 to produce whetstones.
J.G. Escher traded different whetstones for all possible applications: Hard oilstones that were
mainly used by engravers, goldsmith and jewelers, soft waterstones for barbers and straight
The soft waterwhetstones were mined in the area of Steinach/Thuringia by very small
companies, often familiar business and then sold to larger trading companies like Escher,
which were located mainly in Sonneberg, from the 20th century also in Steinach.
Until the end in 1953 the different companies were always hold by members of the Escher
In the late 19th century the company split into J.G. Escher & Co and J.G. Escher Sohn.
J.G. Escher & Co. founded together with other companies (i.e. Bösenberg & Trinks Co. )
1923 the “Deutsche Schleifmittel AG” in Sonneberg.
J.G. Escher Sohn was divided 1927 into J.G. Escher Sohn and JGES. Owner at this time
was Rudolf Schwarz, a great-grandson of Johan Gottfried Escher. Rudolf Schwarz also was
the last owner until the company was dispossessed in 1953.
JGES began around 1930 also with the fabrication of artificial sharpening stones because
the natural stones were getting rarer and the general demand of whetstones after WW1
raised. After WW2 the mining of natural whetstones came to an end. From this time on, only
artificial whetstones were produced.
The last natural whetstone miner in the thuringian area was Herman Luthardt. He ended
producing whetstones in 1966.
Thuringian waterwhetstones are slate stones or more precisely mud slate. These slates
consist of quartz – which is the abrasive material, clay, mica (glimmer) and chlorite.
The soft waterwhetstones were found in upper-Devonian age deposits.
Sizes and colors
The typical size of the Thuringian waterwhetstones is between 5 and 10 inch long and one to
two inch in width. The most common ones are the 5 inch and 7 inch hones.
Also larger stones exist (12 inches) but they are very rare.
The hones are typically classified in 4 colors:
The color states the different layer in the whetstone horizon from which the stones have been
broken. The color of the stones themselves is determined by the amount of chlorite and other
The yellow-green stones are more homogenous in material, the quartz-content is less and
the particle size of the elements - mainly quartz - is smaller than in the blue stones. The blue
color is caused by higher amounts of ore, opaque material and bitumen.
The finest and smoothest hones are those of the yellow/ green quality. These stones have
also been the rarest and most difficult to mine and were therefore the more expensive hones.
As a special appearance there are stones which have two different colored layers in one
stone, mostly a blue and the yellow-green layer. These stones were considered to be the
most expensive stones and were sought after and sold mainly to barbers (“Barbers Delight”).
Escher natural combination stone yellow-green/blue
In some stones the layers are not perfectly separated and the colors flow into another. This
leads to beautiful mixed colors in the stone and reminds from the appearance somehow like
clouds in the sky.
Also there are very special black mottled Escher hones of the late period of JGES company:
The following table from an old Pike catalogue gives an overview of colors, sizes and prices
at the beginning of the 20th century.
In the history of the Escher company the label on the hones changed a few times.
Beside some very old and special labels the most common once were:
1. the blue label “celebrated water razor hone” with the Escher cup
2. the Escher & Co label, showing the razor parlor (4 people) with some variances in
wording and signature
3. the Escher and sons label (razor scene with 2 people in some variations)
The labels mainly were printed in two languages, German and English for the export hones.
There are also a lot of other different labeled thuringian waterwhetstones, either from the
mining companies in Steinach themselves, from other trading companies (i.e. Deutsche
Schleifmaterialien Gesellschaft DSG; Apex, …), from Escher partner companies (i.e. Pike)
and from Solingen Razor and Knife fabrication companies that also got the stones from
Sonneberg and Steinach.
What is so special about Escher stones?
“The stones need no other recommendation to their quality than a single trial….” you can
read on some of the old Escher labels and that’s what it is.
Thuringian waterwhetstones are used for end finishing of a straight razors edge. They can be
used with or without slurry; however the last strokes should be done with water only.
The softness during honing, the sharpness of the edge after finishing and the smoothness of
the razor blade while shaving is what the thuringian stones made so famous.
Thuringian sizes and colors