If Only I Could Ask Her… But Which Grandmother to Ask??

Who Owned the China?

When my father passed away in the summer of 2008, he left a list directing who should receive what. I use the word “list” instead of “will” because I truly don’t know for sure he had an actual will. There weren’t a lot of family heirlooms other than photographs to mark the lives of his parents and grandparents – his mother’s lamp, a chair, some china… are a few of the items I recall.

Along with some items that belonged to my father, I received a pair of gold plates and a partial tea set which, reportedly, belonged to my great-grandmother. On Dad’s list, he denoted that the items belonged to his grandmother. No name. That’s a problem. Which grandmother?? Henrietta Ostermann, his father’s mother? Or was it his beloved maternal grandmother, Estelle Byk? I have no idea.
The “partial” tea set
Porcelain Maker’s mark
on back of tray

Beautifully gilded plate
Porcelain Maker’s mark
on back of plate

As I am trying to record the provenance of “Our Stuff”, it would be helpful to know. My opportunity to speak with either of my paternal great-grandmothers is long-gone. Henrietta passed away in 1956 and Estelle in 1948. How could I determine who had owned the pieces which now sit on my dining room buffet?
Since all the items were produced in Europe maybe I could determine which grandmother’s family might have brought them to America.
The tea set (with its chipped spout and without the sugar bowl) was made by the Stara Role (Altrohlau) pottery works, originally established in 1810 by Benedict Haßlacher in the areas of Prague, Vienna, and Pest.[1] The china mark on the bottom of tray places the time of manufacture somewhere between 1909 -1922. By then, the firm had been bought by C.M. Hutschenreuther and since then the MZ Altrolau mark was used.
Barnett “Barney” SAMUEL

Henrietta, also known as “Hattie” was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1883. Hattie’s husband, Barnett Samuel was born in Jamaica, New York in 1882. His family has been in the United States since 1859. (By the way, it’s Barney’s fault I even do genealogy! Dad told me he was “Barney the Red,” born in Ireland. Looooooong story, short answer: NOPE!)
So, clearly, that family didn’t bring the tea set to America from Europe. Hattie and Barney married in 1904 – too early to have received the tea set as a wedding gift.
Harry George KESNER
Estelle BYK
1885- 1948
How about Estelle and her husband, Harry George Kesner? Both Brooklyn born; Harry in 1875 or 1879 and Estelle in 1885. They married in 1906. Again, this family couldn’t have brought the set from Europe since it was made after 1909. Their 1906 marriage was too early to have received the tea set as a wedding gift.
So – that was a bust. Maybe someone went on a trip and brought the set back? Or it was a gift? Or whoever owned it purchased it at a shop? Maybe I will never know. But at least we know it was either Hattie or Estelle. I guess that’s something.
Turning to the beautiful plates, created by the porcelain factory Heinrich & Co. in Bavaria (Germany). The photos don’t do them justice. The gold encrusted rims are beautifully designed with a lacy pattern. I only have two plates, which makes me wonder if there was originally an entire set.
The china mark dates these plates as probably being made around 1901. Again, too late for any of my great-grandmothers’ families to have brought them from Europe. However, it is possible that the plates could have been purchased as part of a bridal trousseau or received as a wedding gift. But for which couple?
Both pairs of my great-grandparents married a few years after these plates were made so I can’t say definitively, but I do have an “educated” guess. Let’s look at their financial status to see if that helps narrow things down.
Click on the family tree to enlarge.


The Samuels were “good people” as my husband would say. However, they lived a frugal life. Barney’s father, John Samuel was the son of cigar maker Aaron Samuel who emigrated to the United States in 1859. There wasn’t a lot of money. In fact, I found a notice in a London newspaper from 1854 in which Aaron was seeking relief from his debts. John worked as an elevator man and as a newspaper clerk. At the time of his marriage, Barney was also working as a newspaper clerk. My guess is this family didn’t have the money for fancy china.
Henrietta was a first-generation American. Her father, Eduoard Ostermann arrived in the United States from Germany in 1870. Her mother, Hanshon (Hannah) Goldschmidt was also born in Germany. Eduoard and Hanshon married in 1878, in Brooklyn, New York. So, it seems, too early for them to have been the owners of the china. Eduard worked as a “pr
ovisions dealer” – first as a butcher, then as a fish dealer. Probably a comfortable life, but did he make enough money to buy fancy china?

Byk – Kesner

Estelle’s family was a little more affluent than Barney’s. Her father, Moritz (Morris) Byk, emigrated from Germany in the mid-1800s and became a wealthy real estate dealer in Brooklyn, New York. Her mother, Paulina Falke, also emigrated from Germany in the mid-1800s. While they couldn’t have brought the china to America, they certainly had the means to purchase fancy china, especially as a wedding gift for their daughter.
Harry George Kesner was the son of George Ralph Kesner and Jessie Davis. Born in Pennsylvania in 1856, George made a good living as an insurance adjuster. His wife, Jessie was the daughter of Jacob Davis, a jewelry dealer from Poland.
As further evidence of their financial well-being, there was a story run in the New York and American Journal about Harry losing a pin worth $600 on the day he and Estelle were to be married. In today’s dollars, that’s equivalent to $16,740.[2]

My Conclusion

After researching the porcelain factories and my great-grandmothers’ histories and financial statuses, I have decided the china belonged to Estelle Byk. In addition to the “intel”, I gathered, I also know that my father had a very special bond with his maternal grandmother. So much so, that he ran away at age three to go visit her! I only wish I could go back in time and ask her myself!

The “Take-Away”

As I record the stories about “Our Stuff” this year, I am reminded about the importance of doing so. If Dad had simply written “Two plates that belonged to my grandmother, Estelle,” I could have spent the last several hours very differently! You don’t have to write a book or a long blog post. Just a simple phrase will do the trick. Just remember to be specific when labeling. You might know who “Grandpa’s neighbor” or “ Mom’s best friend” is but will your descendants?

More About the Porcelain Factories

MZ Altrohlau[3]
The Stara Role (Altrohlau) pottery works were established in 1810 by Benedict Haßlacher. It was then bought by Augustin Novotny in 1824. Under his management employment rose to 100 workers. He also established three warehouses in Prague, Vienna, and Pest. In 1836 Novotny started manufacturing porcelain. The factory production was constantly rising. In 1870 it employed 800 workers. 
The MZ Austria marks were used by this porcelain factory since it was bought on auction by  Moritz Zdekauer Bank. The company exported products to North and South Americas and the Dutch colonies.
In 1909 the firm was bought by C.M. Hutschenreuther and since then the  MZ Altrolau mark has been used. The Altrohlau Porcelain Factories operated until 1945 when it was nationalized.  The company still operates in the Czech Republic under the name Starorolsky Porcelan Moritz Zdekauer in the town Stara Role near Karlovy Vary.
Heinrich& Co.[4]
The manufacturer, Franz Heinrich first worked as a porcelain painter. In 1896 he built a melting pot in the parental house in Selb. Initially, he bought whiteware from local porcelain factories. From 1901 he produced porcelain himself.
Under his leadership, the Porzellanfabrik Heinrich Selb developed into one of the most important manufacturers in Germany. During the heyday, almost half of the German porcelain production came from the Hutschenreuther, Rosenthal, and Heinrich factories. Around 1930 his company had 500 employees, at the beginning of the 1970s over 800.
After the Second World War, Henry was the first porcelain producer in West Germany to resume production and sold his company to the English Slater Walker Group. In 1974 the English Bowater Group took over the company. In 1976 the Heinrich Porzellan GmbH was integrated into the Villeroy & Boch-Firmenverband.[5]
~This is the 4th post for Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge. This year, I am focusing on telling the story of “Our Stuff.”~

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