The term "Escher" is used to describe a type water hone known as a Thuringian mined by Escher & Co. (and subsequent companies with "Escher" in the name) between the late 1700's and the mid 1900's in the Thuringia area of Germany. Escher was, and still is, widely known as the producer of the best-quality Thuringians ever produced with exceptional quality control of the hones that left their facilities.
Generally speaking, in order for a Thuringian to be classified as an Escher it must bear the label of either J.G. Escher, one of the subsequent Escher companies, or a known company that J.G. Escher produced hones for.
Known Escher hone brands:
- Escher & Co. (E & Co.)
- J.G Escher & Sohn(s) (JGES)
- S.R. Droescher, Inc.
- The Genuine Water Hone
- The Celebrated Water Razor Hone
- Karl Bracher Jr.(s)
- Fox Cutlery (The Fox No.44)
- Bosenberg Trinks & Co (B. T. Co)
- Schleifmittel AG vormals Pike & Escher/ Sonneberg in Thüringen
- Star Brand
Escher & Co. was founded by Johann Gottfried Escher in 1779, though many of the Escher labels indicate that the company began in 1780. Though the name of the company changed through the years it was always owned and operated by the Escher family. In 1953 the company's mining operations ceased and so did production of natural Thuringian Escher hones.
Though the honing characteristics of Escher hones vary from stone to stone, during production the stones were typically labeled as one of 4 different colors which represented not only the observed color of the hone itself, but presumably fineness, speed, hardness, and other honing characteristics within the given color range. The colors assigned by Escher & Co. were as follows:
- Dark blue (blau)
- Blue-green (blaugrün)
- Light green (hellgrün)
- Yellow-green (gelbgrün)
There has been long-time debate as to whether it is proper to describe a hone with familiar dimensions and characteristics to an Escher, but without a visible label, as an Escher. To date, without the label it is impossible to prove that an unlabeled Thuringian hone was produced by Escher & Co. It has been found that dimensions, color, and even saw marks on a Thuringian stone that match known Eschers are still not proof that an unlabeled Thuringian was produced by Escher & Co.. Since mining techniques (and as such, dimensions and saw blades) were fairly uniform across Thuringian hone producers at the time these are not exclusive characteristics to only Escher and Co. hones.
One thing regarding the market of Escher hones is certain, however. Thuringians that bear the label of Escher & Co. or the brands that it was known to produce command a much higher price than an unlabeled Thuringian even if it has been proven to produce Escher-like edges.
The counter-argument for calling Thuringians of Escher-quality "Eschers" is that during the time of Escher production and use, barbers (who were the majority consumers of such hones) would often soak an Escher before first use in order to remove the label from the stone. Supposedly this was done to make the stone easier to use and make both sides of the stone available for honing. At the time, barbers gave little or no consideration for the long-term collect-ability of the stone and the demand for the label hundreds of years later. The hones were merely a tool of their trade. Because of this, there are certainly many hones in circulation today which were produced by Escher & Co. and are fine examples of Thuringian hones but bear no mark of an Escher.
Escher stones are were generally labeled in one of two (or both) languages that reflected the main consumers of the stones themselves. Examples of German and English labels can be found for Escher hones as well as many brands that Escher & Co. produced stones for. Some labels for companies that Escher & Co. produced hones for are very similar to the house-branded Escher hones. S.R. Droescher hones are a good example of such hones. While other companies preferred to design their own labels to match their individual brand such as Biber.
Regardless of what the labels looked like, if the stones were produced in the facilities of Escher & Co. they are likely to be fine examples of Thuringian hones.