Determined bidders drove up the price of rare German beer stein

The Smart Collector

WHAT: Old and authentic German beer steins are popular with collectors largely because many tell a story and were made in wide variety. The regimental stein shown with this column is just one category of the genre. It sold last month for $6,313 in a Stein Auction Company online auction. Presale estimate was $2,000 to $2,500. According to the house, the high result happened because the lot was a rare body style and lid, and because determined bidders duked it out for ownership.

Regimentals are commonly seen, both as originals and fakes. Universal service was law for young German males from around 1895 to the start of World War I, and it was a rite of passage for them to order a personal version from a stein shop or pottery rep.

MORE: Most regimental steins were tall cylinders of differing capacity. The majority, made of pottery or stoneware, usually bore the soldier’s name, his company and regiment, the city where he was stationed, and the years served. Elaborate carving and/or exterior hand painting depended on the owner’s budget and wants.


SMART COLLECTORS KNOW: The vast majority of regimentals have helmet-shaped pewter lids. Thumb lifts usually indicate the unit or the German state of origin.

HOT TIP: Many authentic porcelain regimentals have a lithophane (a ceramic see-through panel with an intaglio) at the bottom. Ditto for reproductions. If the view is erotic, the stein is a fake.

BOTTOM LINE: Regimental steins have been reproduced almost since the beginning, with a major jump in fakery since the mid-20th century. This is no collecting area for the novice. To identify a circa 1890-1914 stein, due diligence calls for research -- including a serious scan of auction results online.