The History of German Beer Steins
The history of the German Beer Steins came about because there was a need. After then bubonic plague hit Europe in the 14th century, new laws were enacted by many of the governments to help prevent it from recurring. In Germany, one of the new laws was that all containers that hold a beverage must be covered when the fluid is not being consumed.
Ironically, the technique used on clay to create improved stoneware for use was improving. The word stein in German is an abbreviation for the word Steingut, which loosely translates to stoneware.
It was not practical to attempt to make the lid out of the same stoneware so pewter was used instead. This combination of stoneware with a pewter lid was the standard for nearly 300 years, until the use of glass replaced the stoneware. This occurred at the end of the 19th century when glass production made it feasible to start making steins from this new material.
The early lids were made of pewter and were shaped like a dome. It was shaped in a tiered fashion, with some type of figurine on top. There was also a thumb pad in which the person using the stein could open the lid. From 1680 to about 1750, the lids became larger and fancier. Many had five rings to hold it in place and there were reinforcing straps on the handles.
During the 19th century, the lids for the German beer steins became inlaid with ceramic and glass and were elaborately decorated. The more expensive the stein was, the greater the decoration.
The hinge style also changed over time. All of the early steins had a closed-style hinge. After about 1875, the open-hinged design was introduced and adopted by all of the stein manufacturers. This change happened in what is considered the golden age of steins.
This golden era was from 1850 to 1910. In this period, the Mettlach Stein Company started to produce German beer steins. Today, they are the most famous and best known German beer steins in the world. This company used classically trained artists to construct and personalize their steins. At the height of their production, they employed over 1,250 workers that produced over 1500 different types of steins.
This period also showed that the glass makers were capable of producing molds so thick glass beer steins were possible. Multicolor glass was used, along with etchings with pewter and ceramic inlays all now entered the market.
The modern era of German beer steins started around 1920 and is still continuing today. There are German beer steins made of porcelain, glass, and stoneware. The most popular are the character steins. Unfortunately, America has become the largest market for beer and subsequently the manufacturing of beer steins. While production of German beer steins is still present, it may never recover from this American onslaught.
One fact that will always remain is that the German beer stein was the first, and the best steins ever produced were made in Germany.