German beer steins are stunning to behold. They’re often elegant and beautifully crafted, with fascinating imagery. Many even look like they belong in a museum. However, the steins aren’t all alike. Some are worth a decent amount of money, especially those with valuable German beer stein markings. Others are nothing but cheap copies that aren’t worth much at all.
So, how do you tell the difference? Which features say that you have a valuable beer stein on hand and which are associated with modern mass-produced products?
There are a few features to look out for. First, authentic steins should have a mark that confirms they were made in Germany. Such steins should also feature hand painted designs that tell a story.
As you’ll see, there are other features to look for too, along with signs that your beer mug is a modern recreation instead. We’ll highlight those differences in this post, along with other factors that impact the value of your mug.
P.S. To get you even more in the mood, why not try some traditional German breakfast foods?
German beer steins aren’t what you might expect. For one thing, the term stein simply translates to stone, leading to confusion if you ever ask for a beer stein while in Germany. Better terms to use include Steinzeugkrug or Bierkrug, although these can also refer to other types of beer mugs.
Steins have been made in Germany for 600 years or even longer. However, many of the ornate steins that are collected these days come from the period between 1885 and 1915, as many steins were produced at this time.
German beer steins are famously made using stoneware, which makes sense, given that the word stein literally just translates to stone. The regularly collected steins are defined as having both a handle and a lid, with most also hosting beautiful designs.
However, the steins aren’t necessarily made from stoneware. Other materials can be used as well, including porcelain, pottery, and even glass. This leads to a wide range of styles and features, making steins a rich field for collectors.
You can drink beer from steins and many people still do (including some stein collectors). However, this practice is most common with modern mass produced steins, rather than historic hand crafted ones, given that the older steins have the highest value.
For that matter, many people don’t drink beer from elaborate steins at all. Germans and tourists alike more frequently focus on large stoneware mugs or glass mugs. These are more functional and are actually designed for practical use.
From the historical perspective, many beer steins would have been used for drinking beer. However, some were created mostly for display instead of practical use. This is particularly true for the very elaborate steins made using expensive materials and those given as commemorative gifts.
Some theories suggest that the covers on beer steins resulted from covering laws for food and drink containers. Such laws were designed to protect food and drink from flies and perhaps even bubonic plague.
There’s considerable debate about whether such laws existed and how relevant they are to beer steins. However, it’s still likely that the lids would have helped to protect the beer from insects. They would have also made it easier to transport beer without spilling it.
Types Of German Beer Steins
Modern definitions suggest that beer steins must have a handle and a lid. If it lacks the lid, then it’s considered a mug, while one without a handle would be a pokal instead. Steins also tend to have the elaborate designs you see in the images.
However, there are also many types, including the following:
These are the most familiar and popular types of beer steins. The most valuable types have been both hand carved and hand painted, often featuring traditional German events, people, or folk stories.
These steins are part of a military tradition, where soldiers received personalized beer steins in recognition of their service. Such steins typically contain the soldier’s name and rank, making them very special.
These steins are indeed carved from ivory. They often feature realistic figures from legends and stories, or sometimes animals instead.
The use of ivory makes these one of the most valuable types of stein, but buying and selling them isn’t always an option. You’ll need to check local laws before trading ivory steins, as there are restrictions and you may need a special license or to provide proof of the stein’s origins.
Mettlach steins come from German manufacturers in Mettlach, Germany and are some of the most desired steins available. Many of these were produced somewhere between 1880 and 1910. They remain sought after by collectors everywhere.
These are thought to be some of the earliest beer steins ever made. Rather than relying on stone, these are created from hand blown glass. They can come in a variety of colors, including red, green, and brown.
Despite the use of glass, these steins can still have beautiful designs. Some of these designs were achieved by including multiple layers of glass that the engraver could then cut through.
These unusual steins can be extremely creative. The key feature is that the entire stein is in the shape of the animal or character that it represents.
There’s considerable variation in the value of German beer steins. Some may be worth from $50 to $100, while others can fetch $5,000 or even more. The exact price is influenced by a collection of factors, including the history of the stein, the materials used, the age, and the condition.
Age is one of the most critical factors here. After all, modern beer steins made in Germany are still technically authentic – they’re just easily found and often not worth all that much.
How To Identify Authentic German Beer Steins
Authentic beer steins typically have high quality lids that have been made from a single cast. These lids often have markings that say they were made in Germany or that they’re 95% pure pewter.
These markings can be small and you may just find one or the other, not both. So, you’ll need to look closely.
In contrast, lids from mass produced steins are often made from other types of metal and may involve multiple casts that have been pieced together. You’ll often be able to see the edges between the casts, which is a sign that the product is of low quality.
Lids from authentic German beer steins will often be darker due to air exposure. This often leads to a different color inside the lid versus the outside. Modern beer steins haven’t had as much exposure, so their lids tend to be lighter and more consistent.
Inauthentic German beer steins are often made using cheap material, leading to a much lighter stein. If you’ve held authentic beer steins before, it should be easy to identify a fake one from weight alone.
Pay attention to the interior of the stein as well. Newer products tend to be more uniform and perfect, while older ones often have imperfections, including a slight raise at the base.
Modern steins often have ergonomic bumps on their handles, which make them easier to use. These bumps aren’t present on older steins, making their presence or absence a good sign of the stein’s age.
In particular, any steins made before the 1920s should have a smooth handle, while those produced later probably won’t.
The illustration on a beer stein is another factor to consider. Older steins tend to have high-quality images hand painted, while modern steins often forgo hand painting in favor of mass production.
This difference is sometimes difficult to spot, as some modern reproductions focus on high quality artwork as well. Looking for inconsistencies can help here, as hand painted steins will often have small flaws, while mass produced ones typically won’t.
Hand painted steins often have brighter colors as well, while the colors of mass produced stein artwork are generally lower in intensity.
The subject of the artwork is relevant too. Steins frequently depict an important event or person. Stories from the Bible or from mythology may also be used.
The marks on the stein’s base provide valuable details about the stein’s age. We’ll talk more about these and their significance shortly.
What Determines The Value Of A Beer Stein?
Beer steins are a complex collector’s item. Their value is influenced by a large number of factors, including the ones listed below.
For a beer stein to be valuable, it needs to be authentic. This means that it was made in Germany, ideally using traditional practices. This is an important feature, given that beer steins are now being mass produced in other countries.
There’s also the material to consider. Steins made using more valuable materials, like ivory, pewter, or silver, will be worth more than those made using simple stoneware.
Beer steins are worth more when they’re in good condition. This means being free from any damage, including discoloration, cracks, and dents. Any evidence of repair work will automatically decrease the value of your stein.
Steins tend to be worth more when their history can be traced. This includes tracing the manufacturer and materials used, along with the meaning of any illustrations or special markings.
This process isn’t always easy, as historical records are often missing, especially from the 1800s and 1900s. As a result, some steins are more of a mystery than others.
The craftsmanship of a beer stein is relevant to its value as well. An important aspect of this is whether the beer stein was mass produced or whether it was made by hand.
Some mass produced beer steins are surprisingly high quality, but you’ll often be able to tell from the consistency of the images and other features. Essentially, mass produced beer steins are often just too well made.
You’ll need to pay close attention here, as some manufacturers do everything they can to make their beer steins seem authentic.
As a general rule, the older a beer stein is, the more it is going to be worth (as long as it is in good condition). The markings on the stein can help you to determine its age, along with other features like the materials used and the style of the imagery.
Some design elements will be worth more than others, such as the specific illustrations on the body of the mug, the style of the lid, the presence of a ceramic insert, the particular thumb lift, and more.
For example, the images on the body of a beer stein often tell a story or are related to a specific event. Some of these will be worth more than others.
As we’ll discuss shortly, the specific markings on a beer stein influence its value as well. However, this is a complex field, as there are many types of markings and these are not all well-understood.
Many steins are produced as part of a limited run, where only a certain number of pieces are produced before the mold used is destroyed. This approach makes some steins rare, especially if some pieces in that production run become lost or destroyed over time.
Factors like authenticity, materials, and age all contribute to the value of a beer stein. However, this doesn’t mean that older and more authentic beer steins are necessarily more valuable. Some newer products could be worth more if their combination of features is just right.
As a result, beer stein collecting really is an art form.
Valuable German Beer Stein Markings
While markings aren’t the only factor signifying the value of a beer stein, they’re extremely important. The marks are typically found at the base of your stein. They highlight whether the stein is authentic, while also pointing to who created the beer stein and other aspects of the mug’s history.
Care is needed when considering these marks, as shady manufacturers may reproduce them in an attempt to make their products more valuable.
Let’s begin with ‘Made in Germany’. This marking doesn’t make a beer stein valuable, but it’s one of the first markings to look out for, as it points to where the beer stein was made.
Some older steins will have the marking ‘Made in West Germany instead’. Such steins will have been made between 1949 and 1990, which influences their value. While most authentic German beer steins should have this mark, there are exceptions, particularly for old steins.
Some steins will have a date that indicates when they were produced. When present, this date makes it easy to identify the age of the stein.
However, some steins will have numbers that start with 18 or 19 that look like years, but aren’t. Other factors will always be used to verify the date of a given stein.
This is an indication of how many steins were produced within the production run. You may see two markings here, one that tells you the number of total steins (e.g. 2,500) and another that tells you the number of your particular product (e.g. 195).
Many manufacturers have their own specific mark to indicate that they produced the stein. There’s a huge list of these on the site Stein Marks, while some other marks have yet to be identified.
These marks allow you to trace a stein to a particular manufacturer. You may then be able to learn more about this manufacturer, including whether they’re associated with valuable steins, when they were active, and how many steins they produced.
Identifying the manufacturer may also help you determine your stein’s age, as some manufacturers were only active for specific years.
The above markings are the most relevant when considering the value of a beer stein. However, there may be other markings present as well.
For example, some manufacturers record the size of the stein, which might be as simple as the numeral 1 (for a 1 liter stein). Some manufacturers also have their own internal classification system, leading to numbers that look confusing to collectors.
Buying And Selling German Beer Steins
Some people focus on beer steins solely from the collecting angle. Perhaps you want a few beautiful authentic steins to display or want to start a collecting hobby. But, what if you want to buy and sell beer steins instead?
To do so, you’ll need to consider where to buy and sell the beer steins and whether there is any market for them. The short answer is that you can make money, but doing so certainly isn’t guaranteed.
If you simply want a beautiful beer stein that was made in Germany, there’s no shortage of places. You can buy them online from specialty sites like germansteins.com, or find them in tourist shops, on eBay, in local markets, and on Amazon. You can even find some in stores in the United States.
Finding old and valuable German beer steins? Well, that takes a lot more work.
Some such steins will be sold on Amazon and eBay, but there you’re competing against many other collectors, all looking for the same thing. It’s also difficult to fully verify a beer stein online, even if there are photos of the markings. After all, you can’t get a sense of how the mug feels or the quality of the materials from a handful of photographs.
You’re most likely to find authentic mugs by engaging with collectors, like those from Stein Collectors International. Club chapter meetings can be a fantastic place to talk about steins and find new ones for your collection.
Before you try to sell your beer stein, you’ll need some idea about its worth, which includes getting the stein appraised by an expert.
Selling your beer steins involves connecting with people interested in authentic steins and knowing what they’re looking for. Chapter meetings for Stein Collectors International and similar clubs are a great place to begin, particularly if you have a rare stein.
eBay is an excellent option as well and many people sell their beer steins this way. You’ll need high quality photos of the stein (from all angles), plus as many extra details as you can provide. After all, buyers will want to be certain the stein is authentic before they purchase.
Some sites also facilitate beer stein sales. For example, Stein Center has a Beer Stein Consignment section. Through this, they will appraise your beer stein for you and sell it via their antique section.
Companies like this make it a little easier to sell your beer steins. However, you’ll generally need to pay fees and a percentage of your sale (20% in the case of Stein Center). This decreases your profit margin considerably.
Local antique stores are an option too, along with local auctions. These locations work best if the stein is truly valuable and you have an appraisal you can provide as documentation.
Finally, if your beer stein isn’t worth much, you might want to sell through a yard sale instead or put it up at a low price on eBay.
German beer steins can be worth a decent amount, with some selling for around $5,000 or even more. However, many more fall somewhere between $100 and $500. This means that the average collector won’t make a lot of money quickly.
It can be difficult to value your beer stein too, as there are so many factors to consider. This may be frustrating if you see a beer stein at a local market and need to quickly decide whether you could sell it for a profit.
Even if you do find one that’s truly worth money, you need to find someone willing to pay what the stein is worth. This can take a while, as collectors will often be interested in some steins and not others.
This may be why many people focus on collecting authentic beer steins, rather than buying and reselling them. Still, if you develop an eye for German beer stein markings and enjoy the hunt, you might be able to pick up low priced authentic steins and sell them to collectors for a profit. Hopefully you will also have some fun along the way.