The word “stein” is of German origin. The etymology of the word is either from “Stein Krug” (meaning stone jug/mug) or from “Steingut” (meaning stone goods). Steins are mugs used for drinking beer. They can be made of earthenware, pewter, wood, ceramics, crystal, porcelain, creamware, silver, or glass. They have a handle and a hinged lid; are decorated and sometimes hand-painted. Steins may be traditional, regimental, occupational (depicting one’s occupation), character (figural), or relief (three-dimensional). They may be new, antiques, reproductions, or limited editions. Steins range in volume from .03 liter (1 oz.) to 32 liter (8.4 gal.). Themes from history and bible were used for decorating the beer containers, but they have also often a theme such as Christmas, wildlife, dogs, military, sports, game fish, etc. There may also be several steins in a series, within a theme.
The origins of German beer steins date back to the 14th century. As a result of the bubonic plague and several invasions of flies throughout Europe shortly thereafter, Germany established several laws in the early 16th century requiring that all food and beverage containers (in our case it’s beer steins) be covered to protect their contents. The guild system was firmly entrenched in European society at this time. The pewter guild, combined with the heightened awareness for hygiene among food containers, created an environment in Germany that would ensure the presence of permanently attached pewter lids on stoneware drinking vessels for the next 300 years. By the end of the 19th century, the beer stein was clearly defined as being made in Europe, primarily of stoneware and primarily with a permanently attached pewter lid.
By 19th century the white clay from kaolin area was used to manufacture the beer steins. The new markets were found, especially in America and there arose the necessity of mass production. So by this time molds came into use. The molds made it possible to produce the steins in large numbers in a short time. But personalized steins were not possible now. Earlier, the wealthy and important families produced beer steins with their family crest on them.
Now the antique collectors are interested in the originalGerman beersteins and the manufactures use antique themes for the sake of the collectors. All the same, German steins always occupy a special place in the history of beer steins. They are the classical beersteins and real collectors’ items.