Vintage German beer steins
How to identify a vintage German beer stein
Vintage German beer steins are highly decorative, lidded vessels that were used to store beer from the fourteenth century onwards.
Many vintage German beer steins have been around for hundreds of years and were considered to be an aesthetically pleasing, as well as a hygienic way to store beer (the lidded vessels kept contaminants from the brew). Vintage beer steins, especially in Germany, were status symbols, and wealthy Germans would have large collections of finely decorated and elaborately lidded steins.
Beer steins came in a variety of materials including pewter, wood and glass.
It is rumoured that the beer stein began life in fourteenth century Europe, as diseases such as Bubonic plague swept across the continent and people increasingly feared the spread of infection. Their designs are traditionally imbued with folkloric, regimental or occupational connotations. Over the centuries, the design of vintage German beer steins evolved and diversified until anything of personal significance could be engraved on the lid.
In the late nineteenth century, Budweiser became involved in making steins.
Military designs are generally the most popular with collectors and these types of steins can sell for upwards of $1,500. Military, or regimental steins as they are sometimes called, were made to honour a soldier's services to his regiment and were usually illustrated with images and scenes that would have been significant to that individual's career. Metal elements of the these steins are usually extremely fine.
- Early Kreussen beer stein
These seventeenth century steins were entitled 'Apostle' and are particularly elaborately decorated - each one with a different apostle. Made in Kreussen, Germany, they are considered priceless objects. There are, however, many reproductions still on the market.
- Hunt stein
Like the 'Apostle' stein, this stein was made by the Vest family in the same location, albeit twenty years later. The Hunt stein is decorated with animals (primarily foxes and dogs) and landscapes associated with hunting. The stein is thought to be worth approximately $5000
- Nineteenth century steins
Nineteenth century steins do not command the same prices at auction as antique steins. They are generally less finely decorated and do not have the pewter lids of the older models. They do, however, often bear pretty, almost fairytale-like vistas embellished with castles and kings. On average, they achieve between $50 and $400 when they come to auction.
All original vintage German beer steins will be stamped with either “Made in Germany” or “Gemadnt in Deutschland”. Stamps can be found on the base of the stein, often aside the name of an artist or manufacturer (such as Mettlach). Unstamped or differently stamped steins are not genuine vintage German beer steins.
A vintage German beer stein should have an ornate metal lid, decorated in a similar way to the mug of the stein. The outer edges of the lid might have oxidised and be slightly darker in colour than at the centre. Steins should feel weighty and stolid – many counterfeit steins are manufactured using cheaper, lighter materials and therefore lack the heft of a genuine vintage German beer stein.
When looking inside the mug, there should be evidence of the lithopone pigment having been hand painted. Natural variations in brush stroke texture and direction will be visible inside a bonafide vintage German beer stein. Counterfeit steins, by contrast, will appear almost completely flawless inside as pigments will have been applied using machines. Perfection, in this respect, is a sign of forgery.
Illustration can be used as an effective guide as to whether or not a beer stein is German and vintage or not. Unlike more modern steins, vintage, German-made steins were never decorated with lude or lascivious designs. The paintings should clearly appear hand painted and exhibit a good degree of detail. Scenes are usually historical or related to the military in some way, and settings are generally local to the stein’s manufacturer. One specific detail to look out for is a name on a soldier’s uniform: genuine vintage German beer steins will only display the rank on a uniform in a painting, never a name.
Approximately 80% of imposter steins feature a bump on the handle. Authentic German beer steins feature no such bump.
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