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Antique German Beer Steins: Values and History

Reviewed by Antiques Collector Kate Miller-Wilson
German beer steins

The earliest antique German beer steins date to the fourteenth century, a time when earthenware was being improved, Germany was making new and improved brews, and Europe was ravaged with the bubonic plague. Replica and aged beer steins are still manufactured today, so you need to understand the history of these vessels to learn German beer stein values.

History of German Beer Steins

Beer steins evolved as a result of the laws passed in several German principalities stating that covers had to be on all beverage and food containers. The laws, and others related to sanitary conditions, were in reaction to the fear that a recurrence of the bubonic plague, also called the Black Death, would be caused by several invasions of flies throughout Central Europe in the mid to late fifteenth century. Up until that time, most common folk drank beer from mugs made of porous earthenware or wood. The well-to-do and upper class drank from glass, pewter or silver vessels, called beakers or tankards.

Mugs With Hinged Lids

The first steins were simply mugs with a hinged lid that had an attached thumb lift. As progress continued in the refinement of earthenware, a new material developed called stoneware. Chip and crack resistant, the new non-porous material was a perfect choice for holding beer.

Relatively expensive, the stoneware lidded drinking vessels soon became the subjects of Renaissance artists that added designs to make them even more appealing. Early German beer steins from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries often had:

  • Carved or applied decorations and decorative detailing
  • Carved or applied scenes including figurative, historical and Biblical
  • Carved or applied shields
  • A clear salt glaze
  • A chocolate salt glaze
  • A cobalt oxide blue glaze
  • A manganese oxide purple glaze
German beer stein

The Introduction of Faience

By the mid-seventeenth century, German beer and stoneware beer steins were in high demand. The elite members of the German society wanted elaborately decorated steins made of silver, pewter or glass which were made in Bavaria, Koblenz and Koln. However, there was also great attention paid to the beautiful porcelain Ming mugs of China. Although at the time European potters did not know how to produce porcelain, German potters produced a substitute for porcelain, called faience.

Beer steins made of faience, a type of earthenware that uses tin oxide to create a white porcelain looking glaze, quickly became popular in Germany. The German faience steins were:

  • Less expensive than the Chinese porcelain pieces
  • Adorned with beautiful decorative designs and motifs in late Renaissance and early Baroque styles rather than Chinese designs
  • Beautifully glazed since the German blue glaze was purer than the Chinese blue glaze, giving the steins stunning coloring and crisp lines

Porcelain Antique German Beer Steins

Many German beer stein makers continued making faience steins throughout the eighteenth century. At the same time, European porcelain had been perfected and the costly German porcelain beer steins were in demand by Germany's wealthiest families.

Besides porcelain, several other materials were used in the making of beer steins during this time period. Like the porcelain steins, beer steins made of the following materials were also very costly:

  • Enameled glass
  • Engraved glass
  • Silver
  • Ivory
Glass German beer stein

Steins of the Mid Nineteenth to Early Twentieth Century

The German beer steins produced from the mid nineteenth to early twentieth century saw a resurgence in the popularity of stoneware steins decorated with Renaissance designs and motifs. These steins were:

  • Made using clay from the Koln area, which has a distinctive white color
  • Decorated in the Renaissance style, often having relief decorations
  • Colored using a gray salt glaze
  • Topped with lids of inlaid porcelain

This era is also the beginning of molded German beer steins. The first molded steins were made in the region of Westerwald by Reinhold Hanke. Once molds were used and beer steins were being mass produced, the beautiful highly detailed carved relief work of the early steins was no longer unique. It appears on hundreds, if not thousands, of molded steins.

Vintage German beer stein

German Stein Values

Antique German beer stein values range from $50 to $5,000. Knowing everything you can about your stein and the current market for them with collectors can mean the difference of thousands of dollars.

How to Tell if Your German Beer Stein Is Valuable

To determine whether your stein is a valuable antique or just a cool collectible, you need to look for clues about how old the stein is, where it was made, and how it was made. The best way to find the value of your stein is to seek a professional appraisal from a stein expert.

Tips for Authenticating Your German Beer Stein

To start, you'll want to be fairly certain your beer stein is an authentic German antique, not a mass-produced promotional piece.

  • If the inside of the pewter lid is lighter than the outside, that indicates authenticity.
  • Hand-painted steins will have minor imperfections and feel raised. These are more valuable.
  • Hand-carved designs indicate authenticity, and those with a German patriotic scheme can be more valuable.
  • Scenes on the stein should tell a story. A design of Biblical nature or a historical event can be more valuable.
  • The design on the lid should correspond with the design on the stein to show that the entire piece is intact.

Tips for Dating Your German Beer Stein

Finding the period when your stein was made is important because older pieces will typically be more valuable.

  • Look for markings that indicate it was made in Germany. This was a requirement of exports after 1887. Phrases like "Gemacht in Deutschland" or "Made in Germany" are common.
  • Beer stein handles didn't get bumps on them until the 1920s, so the lack of a bump can help date your piece.
  • A number on the stein that starts with "17," "18" or "19 is not necessarily a manufacture date. If the number is behind the handle or imprinted in the base, it's probably just a form or mold number.
  • Pewter lids made before WWII used a three or four part mold, while more recent pewter lids are made in a single mold.
  • A stein marked as made in Western Germany indicates it was made between 1949 and 1990.
German beer stein

Stein Condition Impacts Value

Beer steins were made to be used, so finding faded colors, minor chips, and other small imperfections is expected with antiques. But the condition of your stein will affect its value. If your piece has many or all of these conditions, it will be more valuable.

  • All original pieces are intact
  • Very few chips, dents or cracks
  • No obvious repair work
  • Original decorations are clear
  • No unattractive discolorations
  • Little to no damage to the front
  • Working hinge on lid

Popular German Beer Stein Manufacturers

Stein makers often mark their work with easily identifiable maker's marks. You can search online databases such as Stein Marks to identify yours. Well-known manufacturer pieces can be more valuable. The following are some makers of German beer steins.

  • Albert Jacob Thewal
  • Diesinger
  • Dumler and Breiden
  • Eckhardt and Engler
  • Handgemalt
  • Hauber and Reuther
  • J. W. Remy
  • Marzi and Remy
  • Merkelbach and Wick
  • Mettlach
  • Rastal Werk
  • Reinhold Hanke
  • Reinhold Merkelbach
  • Smion Peter Gertz
  • Villeroy and Boch

German Beer Stein Resources

From books to websites, you can find plenty of resources from experts and avid collectors to help you identify a piece or start your own collection.

Collecting German Beer Steins

Although you will not find antique German beer steins made of early stoneware or faience in local antique stores or online auctions, there are many beautiful beer steins made in centuries past available to collectors.

Antique German Beer Steins: Values and History