Items made in Germany are known to have high levels of craftsmanship. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Take beer steins, for example. These antique German beer mugs are fraught with mass-produced fakes.
Antique German beer steins are a thing of beauty. Designed to insulate your drink’s heat and cold, stoneware steins can be valuable if you know what you’re looking for.
What Is an Authentic German Beer Stein?
These beautiful beer steins get their name from the German word “Stein Krug,” or stone mug, or “Steingut,” which means stone goods. Funnily enough, they can be made of ceramic, porcelain, glass, wood, and pewter lids.
Authentic German steins contain intricate, hand-painted pictures and range in size from 1 ounce (29.5 mL) to 8.4 gallons (32 L) in volume, with the most common size being 16.9 oz (500 mL).
From the taverns and inns of the medieval era, the antique German beer stein has accompanied every Oktoberfest and drinking event in Germany’s rich history, becoming a valuable collector’s item.
PRO TIP: The older antique German beer steins are, the more valuable they are.
You will need to look at the markings found on your German stein to determine its authenticity, age and value.
Some History of German Beer Steins
These valuable German beer steins have a rich history in Germany and Europe. Their rise and decline can be traced to centuries of strife, innovations in production, and even war.
A beer stein is a beer mug made in Germany that dates back to the 14th Century, accompanying developments in stoneware technology, German beer, and even the bubonic plague.
Long before the founding of the German Empire, laws were passed regarding hygiene and preventing the spread of plague across the principalities of Germany.
Regardless of background, the poor (who drank from wood or stoneware mugs) and rich (from tankards made of silver, glass and pewter) would all need to drink from containers with hinged lids.
Popularity in Europe
Long after the threat of the black death dissipated, German steins continued to gain traction, becoming a major mass-produced European product in the 19th Century.
Stoneware stein production rose steadily until the 1850s, with Frechen, Siegburg and Kreussen being production centers. The pewter lid gave way to more precious materials.
Unfortunately, the onset of World War I spelled the end for the production of older German steins. They would never again reach the same level of popularity or use.
Stein production continued after World War II. Modern production and reproduction methods have made them widely available for tourists, especially in Western Germany.
It is difficult to determine if these beautiful steins have original markings, are hand-painted, or even made in Germany.
German Beer Stein Ages
German beer steins have been around for centuries. Their monetary and sentimental value will depend on what year and what era they’re from. Let’s go through the periods where steins were present.
- Early (Antique German Beer Steins): From the 1500s to 1800s
- Old Beer Steins: From the mid-1800s to the early 1900s
- “Jugendstil” (Youth Style): From 1900 to the 1920s (The Art Nouveau Period)
- Third Reich (World War II): From 1933 to 1945
- Contemporary: The Cold War (East and West Germany) to Today
These periods were characterized by the shapes of the steins, the materials used for the lids and bases, hand-painted steins vs. machine-painted ones, and the mark found under each stein.
There is usually a 4-digit mold number on the side or base of these beer mugs. These are not to be confused with their production dates or the dates they were given as gifts.
Types of German Beer Steins
Each stein comes in various shapes and sizes. They also tell a unique story. Those who collect steins will be able to identify the ages of such steins by their features. Let’s go over a few distinct features of each stein.
Ivory steins evoke the classic Greek and Roman sculptures and murals, giving you highly detailed sculpts of great heroes and animals in pure ivory white.
Ivory is highly appreciated and sought after, especially when used on something like a beer mug. However, ivory often comes from at-risk animals, so you will need to check the legal status of your beer stein.
Carved steins are often made of wood, evoking the old Germanic tribes and having intricate patterns, folk tales (like Sigfried) and battle scenes painstakingly carved in.
An expert craftsman spent days and months creating this German beer stein, being a labor of love more than any pewter, porcelain or glass design. They’re sure to leave their mark on your heart and countertop.
The gold standard among German beer stein manufacturers Villeroy and Boch Co. Of Mettlach, Germany produced the finest beer mugs in Europe from 1880 to 1910. Their mugs have stood the test of time.
These steins are found in every shape, size and design. Any collector would be chomping at the bit to add a Mettlach beer stein to their collection, and they continue to keep beer cold and fresh to this day.
Their styles include The Traditional, Bavarian, Potbelly, Tavern, Hourglass, Chalice, Smokestack, Hofbrau, Lodge and Barrel-style German beer steins and mugs.
From the Roman defeat at Teutoberg Forest to the rise of Prussia, Germany’s been a nation of martial tradition and customs, with Napoleon Bonaparte even claiming “Prussia was hatched from a cannon-ball.”
This led to unique military traditions like commemorating a soldier’s career with a personalized beer stein. These German beer steins contained a soldier’s name, rank and status.
This simple token becomes a meaningful family heirloom passed down through the generations. Nothing says “thank you for your service” like hand-crafted steins.
Glass-Blown Beer Stein
These pieces are perhaps the earliest kinds of beer stein still found on the market. They’re made by true experts in their craft and can be found in various colors like red, green, cobalt and brown.
Character Beer Stein
A German character, stein, is perhaps the most unique and creative of all stein designs. They go from being a simple vessel for drinking and become wacky art pieces that tickle the imagination.
The personalized stein can be made in the shape of any person, animal, structure, and set of items.
Stein Markings: Identifying Real Beer Steins vs. Fake German Beer Steins
Having gone through the eras of the German stein and even the different stein designs to choose from, we can now go through markings that tell the story of your stein and whether you have a fake or the real deal.
Country of Origin
The German beer stein is a German invention, and you would want to see “Made in Germany” or Gemacht/Hergestellt in Deutschland. This is not always the case.
Historically, you might see “made in West Germany,” which automatically dates the product to the Cold War. Not seeing a manufacturing country at all may even tell you that it’s from before the late 1800s.
You will need to check the side or base of the beer stein for these markings. They’re often pressed into the clay before they dry or are stamped on.
They will tell you where and what year your stein was made.
A German stein is the pride of its manufacturer. In addition to imprinting their country of origin, they also have their manufacturing details that can be found on official databases.
The Merchandise Marks Act enacted in 1887 ensured that all export stein makers marked each mug’s country of origin and maker. Most steins sold locally, however, didn’t need marks.
You will see everything you need to know about a manufacturer and even the period by looking at the marks under the stein.
Condition of the Lid
The lid is the most effective way of identifying a stein’s age, price and quality. This is why you may find an antique lid on a new Chinese stein. Don’t be fooled, though. There are ways of telling.
Original metal lids are cast as a single piece instead of fusing on replicas. They are often lighter and heavier on the outside, made from silvery metals.
A stein lid will also darken over time with exposure to the air.The darker it is, the older it is. Unfortunately, counterfeiters often apply a darkening agent to artificially age it.
Fortunately, you can tell if a stein is a reproduction because darkening agents stain your lid to be an unnatural color. You can also look for a thumb lift found on every German beer stein.
These are the kinds of stein lids to look out for on the market:
Pewter lids are some of the most popular because they are easy to manufacture and engrave.
Also made of pewter, ornamental lids exhibit exemplary handiwork and, in limited runs, can be high-value pieces that elevate any room they’re in.
These lids are the cheapest, most widely-available lids and are arguably the most iconic designs of any beer stein.
These lids are known for their ornate porcelain, glass or wood figures inlaid and surrounded and reinforced by pewter.
Beer steins are cultural icons as much as they are drinking containers. Other steins may depict novel ideas or have distinctly modern gimmicks, but a classic stein should depict something meaningful.
A valuable stein should tell a story and paint a picture. It usually depicts great heroes, historical events, cultural symbols, and even theological figures.
A stein with no decorations is most likely a cheap tourist-y fair, while an intricately-designed stein is the mark of a true piece. They are made for the mantle as much as for your hand.
Bumps on Beer Stein Handles
Ergonomic bumps and ridges are a relatively recent innovation. The older steins didn’t have any bumps, instead of having straight handles that were easy to grip but didn’t have grooves for the fingers.
A valuable German beer stein will not have these handle bumps, as they were only introduced to this antique design in the 1900s. If they have grooves, they won’t be worth much.
A true stein is painstakingly hand-painted, meaning it won’t be perfect, but it will be quality. Modern steins made with machines are too perfect and don’t hold much value.
You will need to inspect your steins for the design and the quality of the interior and outer paint. A Stein will have some imperfections that indicate that real people made them.
Steins also depict grandiose events and figures with modesty. They will never have nudity and tell stories of eras past. Older designs depict Biblical, Mythical and historical figures and battles.
Materials and Pewter Fittings
Original beer stein mugs are hefty. You can feel the quality in your hand. They weren’t made with polymer clay like they are nowadays. Rather, they were made with expensive metals like silver and pewter.
They also used decadent materials like porcelain, glass, carved wood and even ivory. Pewter and silver pieces are valued based on the amount of metal used alone, but they increase in price the older they are.
A Pewter lid and fittings used to be all the rage during the 19th Century and were included to protect the German beer stein from damages. They are another mark of age, as a new stein no longer uses pewter fittings.
Values of German Beer Steins
Vintage and authentic German beer steins can sell for anywhere between $50 and $5000. They can even reach six figures if their storied background and lineage can be authenticated.
They will usually sell for between $100 and $500. A beer stein’s value will depend on the factors previously mentioned.
It will depend on the mark left by manufacturers, the included lid, and the materials used, whether glass, wood or metal.
The value of originals also depends on how intact they are; a piece, no matter how old or rare, will lose value if it’s crushed and dented beyond repair. Not even a museum would want it.
You will thus want your rare stein to be relatively whole without too many nicks and bumps. It should not have discolorations or repair marks, and its lid should have a working hinge.
Combining all these factors will ensure that you own or buy the most authentic, excellent and rare stein possible.
German beer steins are for more than just drinking beer. They tell the story of Germany’s history, being culturally enriching pieces for Germanophiles, drinkers and historians alike.
Valuable German beer stein markings can tell you what year your steins were made in, their country of origin, and their monetary value. They can make an ordinary gulp of beer extra special. Prost!
Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.