A brief history of steins and collecting information:
Steins: A Brief History:
The word "stein" is of German origin. The etymology of the word is either from "Stein Krug" (meaning stone jug/mug) or from "Steingut" (meaning stone goods). Steins are mugs used for drinking beer. They can be made of earthenware, pewter, wood, ceramics, crystal, porcelain, creamware, silver, or glass. They have a handle and a hinged lid; are decorated and sometimes hand-painted. Steins may be traditional, regimental, occupational (depicting one's occupation), character (figural), or relief (three-dimensional). They may be new, antiques, reproductions, or limited editions. Steins range in volume from .03 liter (1 oz.) to 32 liter (8.4 gal.), the typical volume being .5 (1/2) liter (16.9 oz.). Steins often have a theme such as Christmas, wildlife, dogs, military, sports, game fish, etc. There may also be several steins in a series, within a theme. Europeans often engraved dates on the lids of steins to commemorate specific occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, sporting events, weddings, and retirements.
The Origin of Steins:
Steins originated in the 14th century. As a result of the bubonic plague and several invasions of flies in Europe, Germany established laws to require beverage containers to be covered for sanitary purposes. Around the same time, techniques to improve earthenware by raising the firing temperature of clay, created stoneware. Thus, there was a presence of stoneware drinking vessels with attached pewter lids for the next 300 years. By the end of the 19th century, the stein was clearly defined as being made in Europe, primarily of stoneware and primarily with a permanently attached pewter lid. The history of steins includes the development and presentation of steins made with different materials. Pewter was the material of choice in some areas of Europe, especially England. Glass, porcelain and silver steins were introduced several hundred years ago. Many stein-decorating styles and techniques were developed over the centuries, offering further diversity to the stein. In recent times, the stein and tankard industry remained primarily represented by factories in Germany and England, where skilled craftsmen continue to create steins. However, during the 1980's, Ceramarte, of Brazil, became the largest producer of beer steins in the world. They specialize in promotional products for companies and organizations, primarily Budweiser. Some of the current producers of steins are:
Simon Peter Getz
Albert Stahl and Co.
Villeroy and Boch
Although Chinese porcelain figural vessels were produced as early as 200 B.C., and Greek figural items as early as 1200 B.C., character steins came into their own around 1850. Character steins have a shape designed to represent a person, animal, or object. You might say they are novel and whimsical. A more relaxed way of life, combined with a German artist's renaissance and a desire for beautiful, unique, and personalized drinking vessels, created the motivation to design, manufacture and use character steins.
The earliest known example of pewter-ware was found in Egypt and ascribed to the period of 1350-1580 B.C. Pewter finds have been made in Roman Britain dating from 200 A.D. Pewter became widely used in the 14th century when pewter trade guilds were formed in London and Edinburgh. The Worshipful Co. of Pewters, London, England, was granted a Royal Charter in 1473 to set standards throughout England. The development of new techniques in Sheffield at the end of the 18th century brought a revival of pewter. Resurgence occurred at the turn of the century because of Art Nouveau. Yet another resurgence occurred around 1970 as a result of the formation of the Association of British Pewter Craftsmen, which promotes high standards. Its members are required to touchmark their finished products - the touchmark being a symbol of quality and craftsmanship.
Stein Lids: The lid is one important factor in determining age, price, and quality of a stein. Lids can be categorized as:
A cone or steeple shaped lid is most common and least expensive.
Basically flat, made of pewter, and easily engraved.
These are always made of pewter and are currently the most popular for limited edition steins. They usually have a glorified conical shape and a finial (a figural representation or common design at the top), and feature detail and handwork.
Consists of a pewter rim, a pewter flange (lip), and a stoneware figurine or ornament inlaid in the center. The insert can also be made of glass, porcelain, or wood.
The lid is made of stoneware and held in place by pewter fittings.
Pewter fittings often help in the dating and pricing of the stein. Prior to 1680, they normally consisted of a domed lid with a tiered finial (a figural representation or common design positioned at the top of the stein), a large, closed, five- ring hinge and small thumblift mounted over the hinge. Soon after 1680, fittings became more massive with large ball-type thumblifts, lid rings, handle reinforcement straps, and five-ring hinge. From 1690 to 1748, fittings had footrings, lid rings, large fancy lids, large ball-thumblifts, and handle reinforcement straps. During the period 1850-65, pewter fittings were reduced to small diameter hinges, lids made of thin rings holding glass or ceramic inserts and fragile thumblifts. From 1875-1914, less expensive steins (stoneware and glass) had fancy pewter lids and thumblifts, while the more expensive ones (like Mettlach) were still made with ceramic inlaid lids. The closed hinge was used mostly until 1875, when the open hinge came into general use. A shortage of tin and pewter during WWI and WWII, caused many steins to be made with nickel-plated metal lids. Many kinds of hinges and fittings are being used today. Most pewter lids dating from 1960 to present have a velvety, sandblasted texture.
The conception of regimental steins was a result of the Franco-Prussian War (1840-1871). After the war, the newly organized Imperial German Armed Forces was broken into six divisions (Infantry, Artillery, Cavalry, Technician Troops, Colonial Guard, and Supply Train), plus the navy. Military service was compulsory and considered an honor. The successful completion of a reservists period of active duty was something to commemorate. Steins were produced for this purpose and competition developed within the stein industry to provide the soldier with his choice of stein, decorated to his individual specifications. Decorations usually depicted training or combat scenes. The pewter work was usually elaborate and meaningful.
The Mettlach steins are probably the most well known or prestigious of steins. Early ones were produced by the Villeroy and Boch Co. of Mettlach, Germany and usually carried the mercury, old tower, or castle trademark. Their golden age was from 1880 to 1910. They became famous for their etched and hand-painted steins. A great fire caused a 50-year lapse in the production of steins. Most Mettlach products were made from stoneware. A white glaze was applied to the inside of most steins, except some marked BAVARIA, which were gray inside and out. The same type of stoneware was used to decorate the etched, relief, and mosaic items. Mold lines generally were not visible, due to careful cleaning. After 1970, collections of Mettlach steins have been started at major museums in the U.S., Hamburg, Munich, Bonn, Amsterdam, and Zurich. Avid collectors will want to consult reference sources for information on trademarks, marking systems, and distinguishing characteristics to help determine age and value of Mettlach steins. Starting in 1976, steins produced at Mettlach are well marked as to year of origin.
Stein Value and Authenticity:
In some cases, emblems, hallmarks, and trademarks, are used by factories to identify their steins as being authentic. Steins can be dated to a time period through the study of their markings, pewter fixtures, handles, body styles, designs, type of manufacturing, and artists signatures. The value of a stein depends upon authenticity, condition, uniqueness or degree of rarity, age, and quality of workmanship. Other factors that help determine the value are patent marks and the reputation of the manufacturer and distributor. Further, identifying steins as being etched, incised, relief, molded, blown, enameled, etc., aid in the process of valuation. Its unusual handles, hinge mounts, signatures, subjects, and materials enhance the value. Consult reference materials or experts for particular information to aid in identification, dating, and valuation. Most reference books on steins contain pictorial presentations. Steins are collectible, decorative, functional and true historical art forms. They tell stories, represent cultural eras, and often represent historical events.
The reasons for purchasing or collecting steins vary. For some, it is the stein that identifies a hobby or interest. For others, it is a simple matter of decorating a particular room, table, mantle, or bar. For the serious collector, it is an avid interest and, if done with caution and the proper research, it can be a rewarding investment. Whatever your reasons for purchasing a stein, we hope you enjoy it for years to come.
Resources and Credits:
We would like to thank and credit the sources of information listed below. Much of our research was found in these publications and we highly recommend them to you.
Kirsner, Gary, "The Stein Book", 1984, Glentiques Ltd.
Kirsner, Gary, "The Mettlach Book", 1987, Glentiques Ltd.
Kirsner, Gary, "The Beer Stein Book", 1999, Glentiques Ltd.
Manus, Eugene, Dr., "Encyclopedia of Character Steins", 1976,
Wallace-Homestead Book Co.
Stevenson, James R., "Antique Steins", 1989, Cornwall Books, N.Y.
To learn more about beer steins, you should join Stein Collectors International. You can contact them through their web site:
Members receive a quarterly magazine and can obtain free current stein information, library services, annual advertisement, and an information kit for dealers. Members can participate in Local Chapter activities and attend Annual International Conventions.
See our "Links Page" for additional information on the above sources and other places of stein interest, clubs, and resources.
If you need help with information on a particular stein or would like an appraisal, we suggest you use the forums on the SCI website.