In Germany, steins have a long and illustrious history but, while they formed the basic drinking receptacle for German beer drinkers, they have yet to be fully appreciated in their homeland. Prices are higher than in the UK but still not that high. Americans, on the other hand, can't get enough of them, so much so that they now produce more steins than anyone else.

The typical stein is made of heavy salt-glazed stoneware topped with a pewter lid and small thumbpiece sticking out for raising the lid as you drink. Salt glaze is a rudimentary technique where salt is thrown into the kiln during firing to react with the glaze and create the glass-like  coating. It leaves a slightly rough pitted surface, rather like orange peel. German steins were decorated using simple oxides to give purple and light blue colouring to the china while the base colour of the china was greyish.

It wasn't until the late 1800s that stein-making really took off when the German factories began making them as souvenirs. Typically German, they made the ideal present, especially those bearing the names of tourist attractions and towns. Such items are usually easy to spot by the inferior quality of their lids - made from soft pewter, they are delicate and their thumbpieces easily damaged. Genuine originals had to withstand heavy and often punishing use in a bier keller.


As the original steins were in daily use, few have survived and prices are correspondingly high. The most collectible are examples from a named factory which, because of their rarity, are hard to value. As a general guide though, early 19th century named or especially decorative steins are worth over £1,000-$1,500 Steins produced before 1850 are also particularly prized, with those made by famous companies like Gerz fetching in excess of £1,500-$2.500 in the US market. By contrast, prices for late 19th and early 20th century examples drop dramatically to between £50-$75 and £100. $150 That said, the decoration on the earliest ones, though simple, can be surprisingly effective with plain chequered patterns or rings in blue or purple.

Gerz, perhaps the king of German stein makers, woke up to American interest in the 1970s and started reproducing its own old stein designs from before 1850, introducing one a year in its Limitat range until the company closed in 1999. "From an investment standpoint, the Limitat series follows the pattern of most series collectibles - the first editions have appreciated substantially while later examples are still available at or near the original price.The earliest stein, released in 1974, now sells for £500-$750 "After 1977, current market values begin to drop off dramatically so that, by the time you get to the mid-1990S, secondary market prices are typically pretty close to the original retail prices [£75-120-$100-$180]


 US brewing giant entered the market during the 1970s. Budweiser manufacturer Anheuser-Busch, was quick to recognise their potential. "At first, the concept was to create commemorative pieces and rewards for Anheuser-Busch beer wholesalers, These early steins are particularly rare and worth £200-300.-$400-$800 But, so attractive were they to collectors that Anheuser-Busch was inspired to test retail sales by 1980 and introduced the first in its Holiday Steins series. Today, this first model can command £150-300,$300-500 depending on condition and whether it comes in its original packaging. By 1990, Budweiser's annual Holiday Stein had sold over 1 million units.

As a consequence, Budweiser went on to create ready-made steins specifically for the collectors' market. Although the first few were relatively simple with transfer-printed scenes on the side, the company rapidly turned to ever more outlandish versions. The majority kept within the normal parameters of steins, with a picture on the side, but this was used to great effect on several collectible sets, including the popular Hunting Series and Civil War series. By the 1990s however, the                 manufacturer had lost direction, bringing out tankards which were steins in name only. Its Dalmatian stein, for instance, is little more than a china dog with a passing resemblance to a drinking vessel. Surprisingly though, this doesn't make it any less collectible; mint and boxed, it sells for around £100.$150


However, it's not just 'old' Budweiser steins that arouse interest. Special short-run commissions can appreciate very quickly. One of the tankards it produced for the 2000 Fort Collins Golf Tournament made over £100$150 in a recent internet auction, despite being little more than a heavy duty mug with simple transfer-printed decoration on a basic china body. What added to its value was a small production run of just 250.

Nowadays, steins are produced in all shapes and size to commemorate almost any event or personality and created by a range of popular artists to make them collectible. One such artist, Terry Radlin,  has decorated a series of wildlife steins, each of which sells for around £50.$75 Moreover, the well-documented and youthful collectible stein market is so accessible and each example so easily traceable that it has captured a large part of the overall market in the US.

German makers were slightly late to the scene. Although Gerz brought out its Limitat series, the company still concentrated on traditional production. Thewalt, another big German stein producer, copied the US practice and started making character steins too in the usual incarnations - either commemoratives or depicting famous events or people. Prices today range from £50 -$75 for the most common, rising to around £250-$350 for the rarest example.


All of which leaves the original German steins somewhat in the wilderness. So many were produced by so many small German factories for so many buyers that hundreds remained anonymous and untracked. Without stamp or maker's mark, they are almost impossible to date. Many just have a 'Made in Germany' impressed on the base although that is not, in itself, a dead-end. 'Made in West Germany' indicates manufacture between 1945 and 1990 while 'Made in Germany' on its own suggests pre-war or very recent production.

Early 20th century steins have yet to rise in value as much as their 19th century equivalents. So little has been researched about the exact number of companies making them in what regions that, apart from the famous manufacturers, most of the common tourist steins can be picked up for £10-30.
$15-50 Extra features, like wind-up musical mechanisms built into the base or an unusual scene, up the price. On the other hand, 19th century steins - and not just those made of china - can realise large sums as high as £200-300 -$400 800 for scarce glass versions which are coloured or bear interesting designs.

 Although steins are never likely to grab the British  as a mass-market collectible, they are gaining favour fast in the USA.

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