Steins have been around since the 13th century. They are beautiful pieces of art and fun to collect. In this article we are focusing on beer stein differences and their characteristics.
These steins are made of stoneware and range in size from 1/4 liter to 4 liters in size. They are the most well known and range from just a couple hundred dollars to many thousands depending on the type, size and rarity. They usually are etched, hand painted or have a type of “print under the glass”. After 1970, collections of Mettlach steins were started in many major museums in the United States, Hamburg, Amsterdam and many other other well known places. They can have either ceramic or pewter lids and are all beautifully decorated. They are highly sought after today.
There are many look-alike Mettlach Steins out there. These are also beautiful, but if you are only interested in the genuine ones, then here’s a couple of things to look for…
- One way to tell the difference between a real Mettlach stein and a look-alike is the glaze. If you look closely, you will notice that the real Mettlach will have kind of a matt type finish (that rarely crazes) where as the knock offs seem have a thicker shinier glaze.
- Another way to tell if you have an authentic Mettlach stein is to look at the fluid level marking. Usually right next to the incised liter size, a Mettlach stein will have a “painted on” fluid mark in the form of a somewhat straight line. On a knock off it will usually be an “incised” line.
There are several other ways to tell what you really have too, but can get quite detailed. The above two methods I mention are two of the “quick tell” ways and one of the first things collectors will usually look for.
These steins reflect the time period between 1870 to 1914 and are mostly made of porcelain. These steins were the result of the Franco-Prussian War (1840-1871). After the war, the Imperial German Armed Forces was broken into six different divisions (Infantry, Cavalry, Technician Troops, Artillery, Colonial Guard and Supply Train) and the Navy. This is where the scenes you see on these types of steins come from. Military service during this time was considered an honor and when a reservist’s time of active duty was finished, they were sold one of these steins. The soldier would receive one of these steins of his choice and decorations which usually reflected the division he was in. After that, they became valued family heirlooms.
Many of these steins will have a translucent picture, called a “lithophane,” in the bottom of the stein which when you are drinking the last of your beer, you will see some sort of picture on the bottom.
Today, authentic regimental steins (the reproduced ones) are made in Bavaria and can cost from a few hundred to thousands of dollars depending on the rarity and condition. Steins from medical, airships and railroad units are considered more valuable than those from infantry, cavalry or machine gun units.
These steins are unique, desirable and fall into the same price ranges as the regimental steins. You will usually find these in the shapes of faces, animals, towers, buildings or whatever the artist decided to make. Usually, the head or the roof is the lid. Most of these types of steins are made from porcelain, but you can also find stoneware and even some made of pewter. A lot of the porcelain steins also have lithophanes in their bases just like the regimental ones do. They are more of a novelty type of stein.
Stoneware Westerwald (Western Forest) Steins
These are the bluish type stoneware steins that are made in the Western Forest part of Germany just southeast of Cologne. The Western Forest is famous for its quality stoneware and the steins that you see from here are the heavy-duty steins that they use in the Munich beer gardens and bars all over Germany. These steins have become Germany’s most popular souvenirs and you can find these at reasonable prices which can be anywhere from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars.
Steins have also been made out of wood, ivory and believe it or not, coconut shells. Then there’s the gold, silver and pewter steins which have been made for centuries.
Many people enjoy collecting steins as there are so many different types all at different price ranges. Whether you are a beginner or an expert, there’s always something that’s sure to catch your eye!
Here are some great resources on beer steins and collecting:
If you have ever wondered what all that German means on your stein, here are some resources that may help you out. They are in pdf format.