‘Herzlichen Glückwunsch!’ Best Wishes on Starting a German Beer Stein Collection

A collection of German regimental and reservist beer steins. These steins can be difficult subject for novice collectors due to the high number of reproductions that are out there. However, novices shouldn’t be discouraged, as there are ways of distinguishing the copies from the real deal.

Collecting something new can usually be overwhelming. When I first started collecting and selling beer steins, I was amazed by the vast variety available.

A large majority of the antique steins you will find out there are low-priced “souvenir” steins. These types of steins generally don’t hold much value or collectability. Beginning collectors will usually start off collecting these types of steins due to their availability and price. However, once you start learning the various differences and what to look for, you’ll be able to start weeding through these lower-priced souvenir steins and looking for something that is worth your time and money. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to come across some truly great quality and artful pieces.

A typical antique Mettlach stein, circa 1904. You can see the form number, 2833C, in the marks detail photo on the right.

Now, don’t get me wrong; there is absolutely nothing wrong with collecting these souvenir steins. Especially, if you are just getting into the hobby or they just flat out appeal to you. These steins were generally mass produced for tourists to take back home and the oldest of them can date to around the turn of the 20th century. Most of these steins have very generic themes, such as scenes of eating or drinking, amongst other things. Generally speaking, these steins can usually be had for $20 or so in today’s market and are the most common antique stein you will likely come across.

If you’re looking for a stein with a bit more quality, craftsmanship and value, then there are several popular types that you can focus on. Steins such as Mettlach, reservist/regimental, Cold War, or character steins would all be good choices. These types of antique steins are very much in demand, so they can command a premium. Once you are able to identify these different types of steins, you will be able to take your collection to the next level and might even find some bargains.

Mettlach Steins

Mettlach steins are a very good choice for novice collectors. These steins are known as Mettlachs due to the location of the factory that produced them (Mettlach, Germany). The factory is one of the most well-known of the old manufacturers of steins and one of several that produced steins for Villeroy & Boch, which is one of the most well-known of the old manufacturers of steins. These steins are good for novice collectors because there are many books written on these steins, including price guides. The steins are identified with form numbers on their base so you can easily look up their value in these price guides or to see which ones you are missing from your collection. These steins can go for as little as $50 or as much as $2,000 or more for the rarer or larger steins!

A regimental stein from a German infantry regiment, circa 1908.

Reservist & Regimental Steins

Another popular collecting choice would be reservist or regimental steins. In the late 1800s through the end of the First World War, it was common for a reservist in the German military to have a stein made to commemorate their service time. These steins feature ornate lids that are usually topped with pewter soldier figures. The steins usually display various military scenes and are highly patriotic. The majority of these steins will feature a lithophane image in their base. A lithophane is an image that becomes visible when you hold the stein up to a light source and look into the open stein.

The value of these steins is usually dictated by the rarity of the German regiment featured on the stein, as well as condition. For example, steins from the infantry are the most common and therefore generally the cheapest to acquire. Most infantry regimental steins that are in good condition can be had for a few hundred dollars. However, the rarest of regiments, such as those that were stationed in China or ones which involved bicycles or automobiles, to name a few, can command prices in the thousands of dollars. Regimental steins can be difficult for novice collectors to collect due to the high number of reproductions that are out there. However, novices shouldn’t be discouraged, as there are ways of distinguishing the copies from the real deal, should the collector be motivated.

An identical pair of anti-aircraft Cold War steins, circa 1953.

Cold War Steins

Regimental steins aren’t the only choice when it comes to collecting military based steins. Although not true antiques, “Cold War” steins are gaining in popularity. Shortly after the Second World War, these steins began to be produced in Germany for the Allied troops who continued to occupy the country. These steins became very popular with American and British troops. So much so, that they were regularly produced for soldiers up until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

They are a similar to the earlier regimental steins, they still have the somewhat ornate lids that are also usually topped with pewter soldiers, planes, vehicles and other things, and they still feature lithophane bottoms. However, the scenes within these lithophanes are generally of a crude naked woman. The earliest of these steins can be very desirable to collectors and can feature highly detailed and hand-painted cartoon artwork. These examples fetch premium prices and are the most sought-after of Cold War steins.

A Schierholz character stein, this one known as the “Heidelberg professor.” The Musterschutz stamp (on the right) is the German equivalent to “copyright.”

Character Steins

If military steins aren’t your thing, character steins are a great choice to start collecting. A character stein can be defined as any stein that is shaped to look like a person, animal or thing. A stein designed to look like a skull or shaped like a bowling pin, would both be examples of character steins. There are many different manufacturers of character steins, but one of the finest and most collected steins come from a manufacturer known as Schierholz & Sohn. These steins are also commonly mistakenly identified as “Musterschutz steins,” due to the word being printed on the bottom of the steins. However, the word doesn’t identify the manufacturer; instead Musterschutz is the German equivalent to the word “copyright.”

These Schierholz & Sohn steins can be identified by their exquisite craftsmanship and usually have a blue cross-hatch on the bottom of the base. Established in 1816, a majority of Schierholz & Sohn character steins were produced around the turn of the 20th century. Their stein designs varied from popular military figures, several different types of animals, to even Uncle Sam and others. A novice collector should be wary should he see an unbelievable deal on one of these steins. Always check the base of the stein for manufacturer information, as some of these steins have been reissued in the modern day by a company called Rastal.

The different types of steins listed within this article are just a small subsection of the many different types available. No matter what type of stein you decide to collect, you really can’t go wrong. Whether it’s the fine wares of Mettlach or Schierholz & Sohn, the history rich military steins, or something else, they all can be rewarding choices.

In the end, collecting really comes down to what appeals to you. After all, you will be the one who will have to look at your collection, so make sure you collect something you enjoy looking at. With this advice in mind, collecting beer steins can be a very rewarding hobby and a fun experience.

Joe Christensen owns and runs Grand Antiques, an antique stein business. He is a power and top-rated seller on eBay. He not only sells steins, but is also a second generation collector. Joe developed a love of collecting steins from his father, Bill, who has been collecting them for more than 35 years and has an impressive collection of regimental steins. Joe is also an active member of Stein Collectors International.

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