Historical Reading List: The Lapidary Tradition of Idar-Oberstein


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The small town of Oberstein, taken from the magazine De Natuur, Vol. 3, (1883).

The area surrounding the small town of Idar-Oberstein, located in the Hunsrück Mountains of the Rhineland-Palatinate in western Germany, has been the center of the cutting and polishing of agates and other gem materials for over 500 years. The hills near the town were a source of agates and other types of chalcedony, and the Nahe and other rivers and streams in the area provided a ready source of water power used to turn large sandstone grinding wheels. Workers lying on benches polished the raw material by holding it against the rotating wheels. By the mid-1800s local sources had been mostly depleted, and manufacturers began to import gem materials from Brazil.  As described in the following list of articles, the lapidary tradition of this area continues to the present day.

“Collini auf seiner Mineralogischen Reise in Oberstein und Idar im Jahre 1774 und seine Beschreibung der Achat-Industrie” [A Mineralogical Visit to Oberstein and Idar in the Year 1774, and a Description of the Agate Industry], C.A. Collini, pp. 1-578, (1776).

Über die Agat und Granitschleifereyen in den Rheingegenden [On the Agate and Granite Grinding Mills in the Rhine Area], Unknown author, Neue Sammlung vermischer Ökonomischer Schriften, Vol. 12, pp. 30-51, (1797).

Beschreibung einer Reise in die Baumholder Berg-Reviere im Herzogthum Zweybrücken, und in die Gegend Oberstein; Über die Achat-Gebirge und den sogenannten Bohn- oder Nieren-Stein [Description of a Trip in the Baumholder District of the Duchy of Zweibrücken and in the Area of Oberstein: About the So-called Bean or Kidney Stones], R. Danz, Chemische Annalen für die Freunde der Naturlehre, No. 2, pp. 422-427, (1785).

Voyage Géologique à Oberstein [Geological Visit to Oberstein], B. Faujas de Saint-Fond, Annales du Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Vol. 6, pp. 53-80, (1805).

Account of the Method of Colouring Agates, J. MacCulloch, Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 341-344, (1819).

Description of the Agate Mills at Oberstein in Germany, Unknown author, Mechanics' Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 13, pp. 199-201, (1823).

Obersteiner Fabrikwesen [Oberstein Factories], A.E.J. Barnstedt, Geographisch-Historisch-Statistische Beschreibung der Grozherzoglich Oldenburgischen Fürstenthums Birkenfeld, No. 3, pp. 128-144, (1845).

The Agates from Oberstein, L. Feuchtwanger, Hunt's Merchants Magazine, Vol. 16, No. 5, p. 533, (1847).

Ob fossile Pflanzen im Obersteiner Achat? [If Fossil Plants occur in Oberstein Agates], H.R. Goëppert, Neues Jahrbuch für Mineralogie, Geognosie, Geologie und Petrefakten-Kunde, Vol. 15, pp. 716-717, (1847).

Oberstein an der Nahe [Oberstein on the Nahe River], J. Nöggerath, Die Entstehung und Ausbildung der Erde, pp. 50-67, (1847).

Achatgruben bei Oberstein [Agate Digging near Oberstein], G. Bischof, Populäre Briefe, No. 8, pp. 157-181, (1848).

On the Agate Quarries of Oberstein, W.J. Hamilton, Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 209-216, (1848).

Sur le Porphyre Amygdaloide d'Oberstein [On the amygdaloid porphyres of Oberstein], M.A. Delesse, Annales des Mines, Vol. 16, No. pp. 511-530, (1849).

On the Porosity and Colouring of Agates, Chalcedonies, etc., J. Nöggerath, Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, Vol. 48, No. 95, pp. 166-172, (1850).

L'art de Tailler et de Polir les Agates [On the Cutting and Polishing of Agates], Unknown author, Le Magasin Pittoresque, Vol. 24, No. 47, p. 376, (1856).

Die Achatschleiferei im Idarthale [On the Agate Grinding Mills in the Idar Valley], C. Dippel, Westermann's Jahrbuch der Illustrirten Deutschen Monatshefte, Vol. 3, pp. 557-561. (1858).

Achatindustrie in Oberstein and Idar [Agate Industry in Oberstein and Idar], Unknown author, Vorwärts! - Magazin für Kaufleute, Vol. 18, pp. 283-284, (1867).

“Die Halbedelsteine aus der Familie der Quarze und die Geschichte der Achatindustrie” [The Semiprecious Gemstones of the Quartz Family and the History of the Agate Industry], G. Lange, pp. 1-100, R. Voigtländer, Kreuznach, (1868).

Die Achat-Industrie [The Agate Industry], Unknown author, Das Ausland, Vol. 41, No. 20, pp. 464-467, (1868).

Idar en Oberstein in het Vorstendom Birkenfeld [Idar and Oberstein in the Principality of Birkenfeld], Unknown author, De Volksvlijt Tijdschrift, Vol. 21, pp. 277-283, (1874).

Geschichte und Rechtsverhältnisse der Achat-Industrie im Fürstenthum Birkenfeld [History and Legal Relationships in the Agate Industry in the Principality of Birkenfeld], J. Nöggerath, Zeitschrift für Bergrecht, Vol. 15, pp. 193-218, (1874).

Die Achat-Industries im Oldenburgischen Fürstenthum Birkenfeld [The Agate Industry in the Oldenburg Principality of Birkenfeld], G.A. Nöggerath, Sammlung Gemeinverstandlicher Wissenschaftlicher Vortrage, Vol. 11, No. 264, pp. 979-1010, (1876)

Agates and Agate-Working, F.W. Rudler, Littell's Living Age, Vol. 132, No. 1705, pp. 434-442, (1887).

Die Brasilianische Achatansbeurte und ihre Beziehungen zu Deustchland [The Brazilian Agate Industry and its Relationship to Germany], Unknown author, Das Ausland, Vol. 54, No. 49, pp. 975-978 (1881).  A similar article appeared in Kunst und Gewerbe - Zeitschrift zur Förderung Deutscher Kunstindustrie, Vol. 16, pp. 207-211, (1882).

Die Achatindustrie [The Agate Industry], R. Raab, Über Land und Meer, Vol. 48, No. 50, pp. 999 and 1002, and No. 51, pp. 1022-1023, (1882).

Oberstein en zijn Agaatslijperijen [Oberstein and its Agate Grinders], F.W. Krecke, De Natuur, Vol. 3, pp. 18-24, 57-59, 74-75, 125-126, 167, and 229-231, (1883).

Agates and the Agate Industry, Unknown author, Jewelers' Circular and Horological Review, Vol. 15, No. 8, pp. 259-260, (1884).

Idar und seine Steinschliefereien [Idar and its Stone Grinding Mills], Unknown author, Monatliche Mittheilungen des Naturwissenschaftlichen Vereins, Vol. 3, No. 6, pp. 81-86 and No. 7, pp. 101-104, (1885).

Die Achatindustrie in Idar-Oberstein [The Agate Industry in Idar-Oberstein], C. Goerig, Kunstgewerbeblatt, Vol. 3, pp. 109-112, (1887).

Die Rheinlandisch-Birkenfelder Achat-Industrie [The Rhineland-Birkenfeld Agate Industry], W. Kellner, Das Handels-Museum, Vol. 3, No. 14, pp. 161-162, (1888).

Die Achatindustrie zu Idar und Oberstein [The Agate Industry of Idar and Oberstein], Unknown author, Berg- und Hüttenmaennische Zeitung, Vol. 48, No. 17, pp. 150-152, (1889).

Die Achatindustrie in Oberstein [The Agate Industry of Oberstein], Unknown author, Die Gartenlaube, Vol. 37, No. 7, pp. 219-222, (1889).

The Vale of Idar, S. Weisse, Blackwoods Magazine, Vol. 148, (July), pp. 75-96 and (August), pp. 208-222 (1890).

Die Idar-Obersteiner Achatwarenfabrikation [The Idar-Oberstein Agate Products Manufacturing], O. Beed, Velhagen und Klasings Neue Monatshefte, Vol. 5-2, No. 1, pp. 84-95, (1891).

Die Achatindustrie im Fürstenthum Birkenfeld [The Agate Industry in the Principality of Birkenfeld], H. Theen, Prometheus, Vol. 3, No. 130, pp. 405-409, (1892).

Oberstein und seine Industrie [Oberstein and its Industry], D. Saul, Über Land und Meer, Vol. 69, No. 16, pp. 342-344, (1893).

“Die Idar-Obersteiner Industrie [The Idar-Oberstein Industry]”, L.T. Hisserich, pp. 1-178, Grub Verlag, Oberstein, (1894).

Die Idar-Obersteiner Achatindustrie [The Idar-Oberstein Agate Industry], C. Schlenther, Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik, Vol. 18, pp. 632-641 and 810-824, (1899).

Die Achatschleiferei im Fürstentum Birkenfeld und im Ural [Agate Grinding in the Principality of Birkenfeld and in the Urals], A. von Hamm, Westermann's Jahrbuch der Illustrirten Deutschen Monatshefte, Vol. 85, pp. 356-372, (1899).

Die Idar-Obersteiner Achat- und Edelsteinschleifereien [Idar-Oberstein Agate and Gemstone Grinding], F. Heineck, Verhandlungen des Naturwissenschaftlichen Vereins in Hamburg, Vol. 14, pp. 70-71, (1906).

Idar-Oberstein und seine Industrie [Idar-Oberstein and its Industry], Unknown author, Journal der Goldschmiedekunst, Vol. 28, No. 27, pp. 193-198, (1907).

“Die Achate [The Agate]”, R.E. Liesegang, 118 pp., T. Steinkopff Verlag, Dresden, (1915)

Die Oberstein-Idarer Industrie [The Oberstein-Idar Industry], M. Leyser, Deutsche Goldschmiede Zeitung, Vol. 21, No. 27/28, pp. 139-141, (1918).

“Chronik der Stadt Oberstein [History of the City of Oberstein]”, W. Lueg, 158 pp., Nahetal-Bote, Oberstein, (1921)

Geschichte der Idar-Obersteiner Edelsteinindustrie, [History of the Idar-Oberstein Gemstone Industry], H. Reichelt, Beitrage zur Geschichte der Technik und Industrie, Vol. 21, pp. 74-78, (1932).

Der Achat und die Idar-Obersteiner Industrie [Agate and the Idar-Oberstein Industry], F. Heineck, Aus der Natur, Vol. 2, No. 21, pp. 641-648 and No. 22, pp. 694-699, (1997).

Die Schmuckstein-Industrie im Nahetal [The Jewelry Industry in the Nahe Valley], A. Eppler, Die Gartenlaube, Vol. 60, No. 14, pp. 300-302, (1910).

Zur Geschichte der Idar-Obersteiner Edelsteinindustrie [The History of the Idar-Oberstein Gemstone Industry], W. Fischer, Der Aufschluss, Vol. 3, pp. 49-59, (1956).

Idar-Oberstein today, C.L. Wells, Gems and Gemology, Vol. 9, No. 9, pp. 259-263, (1959).

Achatschleiferei und Wasserschleifen am Idarbach [Agate Grinding and Water-Powered Grinding Mills on the Idar], K.T. Reidenbach, Raiffeisenbank Idar-Oberstein, (1986).

The Steinkaulenberg in Idar-Oberstein, S. Frazier and A. Frazier, Lapidary Journal, Vol. 42, No. 8, pp. 23-35, (1988).

500 Jahre Edelsteinregion Idar-Oberstein (1497-1997) [The 500-Year Gemstone Region of Idar-Oberstein], H. Bank, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Gemmologischen Gesellschaft, Vol. 46, No. 3, pp. 129-152, (1997).

Achat – Der Edelsteine aus dem Idar-Oberstein entstanden ist [Agate – The Gemstone that Arose from Idar-Oberstein], ExtraLapis, No. 19, 96 pp., C. Weise Verlag, Munich, (2000)

Vorkommen von Achaten in rhyolithischen bis dacitischen Vulkaniten Deutschlands und deren historische Gewinnung sowie Nutzung - Teil 1 [Occurrences of Agates from Germany hosted with Rhyolitic and Dacitic Volcanic Rocks and their Historical Mining as well as Utilization - Part 1], G. Holzhey, Gemmologie - Zeitschrift der Deutschen Gemmologischen Gesellschaft, Vol. 57, No. 3/4, pp. 77-102, (2008).

Gem virtuosos: The Drehers and their Extraordinary Carvings, R. Weldon, C. Jonathan and R. Tozer, Gems and Gemology, Vol. 53, No. 4, pp. 404-422, (2017).

Dr. James Shigley is a distinguished research fellow at the Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad, California.