Beer steins date back to the 1500s in Germany. Used for drinking hot and cold beverages--mainly beer--these decorated steins originally featured images of highlights of the major cities along the Rhine river. Steins would be decorated with glazes, pictures, enamel work, etc.
Beer Stein Decorations
The images on the early beer steins showed cityscapes, important castles, churches, or other architectural sites of a particular German city. Some steins hosted military insignia or battle scenes. Others were in the form of animals or figures. And, there were many steins that put forth German phrases about fellowship and patriotism. Like shaving mugs, only certain patrons would use a particular stein when frequenting a local bar or tavern during the early days of beer stein use.
In the middle part of the 19th Century, beer steins became a popular collectible item throughout Europe with production factories established in Dresden, Mettlach, and Westerwald, among other places. In addition to the steins' usefulness as vessels, many beer steins were sold as collectibles or travel souvenirs from famous and even little known cities and regions. They were also desirable as decorative ornaments which were displayed on mantles, bars, and bookshelves.
By the turn of the 20th Century, German beer steins were imported into the United States and widely traded. While most popular beer steins are ceramic with pewter lids, the materials for beer steins vary including earthenware ceramic, glass, carved wood, silver, pewter, etc.
By World War I, the beer stein industry took a downturn. Most seasoned beer stein collectors look for beer steins from the pre-1918 era. Good examples can command several thousands of dollars on the antique market.
What to Look For
Look for early beer steins dating from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, before 1918, made in Germany.
Good condition is essential to high values when it comes to beer steins. Look for pieces with no dents, cracks, chips, or repairs. Since beer steins were functional objects used regularly, it is difficult to find examples in pristine or mint condition.
Most early collectible beer steins are unmarked, but that does not mean that these unmarked steins are not valuable. With beer steins, understanding pottery marks can prove helpful as some steins are marked on the underside or base with the city of origin or with the name of the manufacturer.
Seek out steins that retain their original decoration or figural shape that are in good condition. Names of famous military figures on steins and those steins in the shape of an animal, person, or famous building with original metal or ceramic lids will command high values. When assessing the value of a beer stein, those examples that suggest historical information about a town or event via the decoration or imagery on the stein command big bucks.
Get an online appraisal of your beer stein from Dr. Lori.