Imperial Eagle Beaker: Was used in the Holy Roman Empire

Reichsadler Humpen. Author: Michail Jungierek. CC BY-SA 3.0

The Imperial Eagle beaker is a drinking vessel which was very popular from the 16th to 18th century in the Holy Roman Empire. The cup is made of glass, and its name comes from its decoration; a double-headed eagle which was the emblem of the Empire. The double-headed eagle is crowned and given a halo. These beakers became an essential medium in that time, showing the solidarity between the owner and the Empire.

The vessels were valued for their generous size, bright colors, and decorativeness. Also, there are the electors’ beakers, decorated with interpretations of electors and the Emperor himself, which were popular as much as Eagle glasses. However, the Imperial Eagle Beaker remains to be the most famous model of glass drinking vessel which represented the glory of the Roman Empire during that time.

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An example of a Reichsadler Humpen. Author: Michail Jungierek. CC BY-SA 3.0

In addition to the Eagle glass, similar vessels made of stove tiles, stoneware, and pewter were also produced. All of them carried motifs inspired by the Empire. One such beaker dating from 1571, which is on display in the British Museum in London, is considered to be the oldest example existing. There is also an exhibit from 1572, which can be seen in the ‘Württembergischen Landesmuseum’ in Stuttgart.

Imperial Eagle Beaker, probably Bohemian or possibly German, 1599.

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Imperial Eagle beakers were manually produced up to the middle of the 18th century in Saxony, Fichtelgebirge, Hesse, Bohemia, and Thuringia. They usually have a cylindrical shape with a capacity to hold three to four liters of liquid. Most of the vessels were made of colored or white glass which would be decorated using an enamel technique. This method blends the colors with crushed glass and this is painted onto the surface of the vessel, then the glass is heated in order to melt the colors. After cooling, the enamel hardens to achieve brightly shining finish. 

Imperial Eagle beaker from 1596.

The primary and most important decoration was the representation of the double-headed eagle. Traditionally, the eagle is represented with the holy cross, symbolizing the Christian foundation of the Empire. Sometimes a picture of a crucified Jesus may appear on the eagle’s chest, although this seems to be replaced with the Empire’s orb at the beginning of the 17th century. Since the rule of Leopold I during the late 17th Century, 56 coats of arms of ‘electors’ are represented and the Pope as well, next to the eagle’s head.

Double headed eagle glass, 1627. Author: Bybbisch94, Christian Gebhardt. CC BY-SA 4.0

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On the back side of the Imperial Eagle beaker dedications and explanations can be found, the name of the artist and the date of the production as well. On a glass from 1669 is written “The Holy Roman Empire; with all members in the year 1669 Hanß George Sommer“.

Toasting was an important custom in the early drinking culture. In the welcoming celebrations, toasting with the Imperial Eagle beakers was considered as an act of giving honor to the Empire. Historically, these glasses were mostly used by Patricians and in city guilds. Most of the beaker owners were guilds and craftsmen; only several exemplars were proven in baronial ownership.

Covered Tankard with Arms of the Holy Roman Empire, 1743 Glass. Author: Wikipedia Loves Art participant artifacts. CC BY-SA 2.5

The end of the 19th century was also the end of the Imperial Eagle beaker production. Many of the glasses are on display worldwide, placed in a significant number of museums. Well preserved examples of these vessels may achieve up to several thousand Euros at auctions.