Ordovician Thuringian Hones Part I: Wurzelberg – The Escher Quarry

Ordovician Thuringian Hones
Part I: Wurzelberg – The Escher Quarry

by Peter Buhlmann – hatzicho –

Stones found in Ordovician age rocks represent a special class of Thuringian whetstones, which are harder than the well-known soft Thuringian waterhones (i.e. the Escher labelled hones), found in upper Devonian slate layers.

The Ordovician age stones have been traded in Europe from the early Middle Ages on. They have been found along the ancient Slavonian trading routes through Germany and in ancient European trading centers like Haithabu (a main center of the Vikings around the 10th century), Berlin Spandau (Slavonian settlement during the 8. – 12. Century) and Ralswiek (important Slavonian haven and trading center). In addition, stones of this kind have been also found in at least one Celtic oppidum in the Thuringian area that existed 500 to 100 BC.

There are several quarries in the Thuringian and Frankonian/ Bavarian area. Stones from these different quarries vary in hardness, fineness and therefore also in their usage in older times. One very famous quarry of the Ordovician whetstones was hidden deep in the Thuringian woods on a mountain called Wurzelberg.

The quarry itself is located at an altitude of 771m above sea level and if somebody tries to get to it from the next town down below, it is a hard and steep climb of an hour or more. So it was hard work in the ancient times, not only to mine these very hard stones, but also to get the stones down from the hill to the production site in Sonneberg, which is about 30 km to go. This is interesting also because it is reported that, at least during the first part of the 19th century, when Johann Caspar Escher managed the company, he personally mined the stones together with his daughters during a few weeks in the summer month. Johan Caspar was the son of Johann Gottfried Escher, the founder of the famous Escher Company.

The history of the quarry began somehow in the 17th century or even earlier. Members of the Escher family rented the quarry from the year 1764 on; Johann Gottfried Escher signed a contract for rental in 1804. From this time on, the quarry was always in (rented) property of members of the Escher family.

After 1870, the company Bösenberg and Trinks & Co appear as renters. In 1925, the quarry was closed after an accident in which two miners had been killed. The company Otto Brächer and again JGES (Johann Gottfried Escher Sohn) rented the quarry later in 1937 and 1939 but without opening the quarry again.

The stones are very hard oilstones, somehow comparable to hard/ translucent Arkansas stones. Because of their red spots that, according to the literature, only the best stones had, the miners gave them the name “Troutstones”. There are also white, gray, yellow and green stones without spots that are quite of good quality. However – the stones were sold by the Escher company under the name Saxonian oilstone (“Sächsischer Oelstein”).

Since the material is very hard and stable nearly all possible forms like slip stones, files, form stones and also disks could be cut from the stones.

With respect to honing razors, the stone is a very fine endfinisher. When raising a slurry with DMT it is also quite fast and could be used in the honing progression after bevel-setting. Finest endfinishing results are obtained with oil.


Schwämmlein, T. (2003):
Wetzsteinbergbau und Wetzsteinherstellung im Landkreis Sonneberg. Geschichts- u. Köhlerverein , Nr. 8; Mengersgereuth-Hämmem.

Volk, M. (1958):
Wetzsteine.- Hall. Jb. f. Mitteldt. Erdgesch ., 3(1):
61- 67; Halle.

Weise, G. (2005):
Die Nutzung thüringischer Gesteine zur Herstellung von Wetzsteinen. Beiträge zur Geologie von Thüringen, H. 12, Jena


© text and Pictures
Peter Buhlmann, Schmitten
Germany 2015

released: 26.01.2016 /edited: 26.01.2016