Antique Beer Stein Prices: Adjustments for Condition*

by Gary Kirsner

Many factors contribute to the value of a specific stein. But unlike some assets that have other productive uses, steins have value only as something beautiful to collect for enjoyment or speculative purposes. For this reason, the value of any antique stein is simply that which one person will pay another in order to own it.

Deviations from prices for steins in mint condition can occur for any number of reasons that are important to many collectors. An explanation of these reasons is contained herein.

Normal Variations

The stein market is relatively stable, and the prices for certain types of steins generally move up in an orderly fashion. Of course, even for identical steins in good condition, one can expect to see fluctuations in day-to-day sale prices. What causes these fluctuations? Large variations can occur when the buyer or seller, or both, lack a good understanding or reference for the current price of a particular stein.

Aside from the deviations due to abnormal circumstances, what amount of diversity in price should one expect? Informed variations exist when the buyer and the seller know the market price of a stein but have decided on a different price due to personal preferences, time constraints, or speculation. Take, for example, the range of prices for Mettlach steins. For steins under $200, such variations might be as great as +/-20%. For more valuable steins, the range decreases to about +/-10%.

The variations for other types of steins are similar. Pewter, occupational, faience, early stoneware, and etched ceramic steins will have deviations slightly greater than Mettlachs. Relief pottery, glass, porcelain, very rare steins, or steins of unusual materials will generally have somewhat greater fluctuations. Character and Regimental steins tend to have variations of about the same magnitude as Mettlach steins.

There are real costs and time costs involved in finding different sellers or buyers for the same stein and, in many cases, these are the reasons for the price fluctuations. Stein prices in Germany may vary somewhat from those in the United States, some being higher and some lower. Occasionally, the foreign price may be different enough to stimulate substantial shipments of steins in or out of the United States. For the most part, these temporary differences are caused by currency fluctuations and not by sudden changes in tastes or supplies.

Original Quality of Body

A stein’s color is generally produced using glazes or enamels that are quite resistant to fading. Thus, when a stein has noticeably less-attractive coloring, it is generally not due to original color variations or subsequent natural fading but to repairs or the use of improper cleaning materials, such as abrasives or caustic cleaners (vinegar, turpentine, and ammonia). Most transfer-decorated porcelains or stonewares will be affected by caustic cleaners, although the majority of other types of steins will not. In any event, if the aesthetic appeal of the stein is affected, the value will decrease accordingly.

Blotching or sloppy decorations can occasionally be seen on a stein. Of course, blotching near the handle or away from the detail on the front of the stein will have less of an effect on the price than imperfections that are immediately noticeable.

Firing lines are primarily a concern with etched Mettlach steins, and are due to slightly different shrinkage levels between the dyed clays and the body clays. Reductions in price rarely exceed 5% or 10% unless there is a heavy concentration of firing lines in an important part of the decoration.

Occasionally, a transfer-decorated stein will show a tear, gap, or distortion in the decoration, or a hand-painted stein will show some similar flaws, all of which must be evaluated with respect to the effect on the overall appearance of the stein. Price adjustments in excess of 15% are occasionally necessary in order to make a fair valuation.

Body Damage and Repairs

There is a tremendous variation in the price reductions that generally compensate for damage to a stein. However, there are several generalizations to consider:

    1) Damage is more tolerable, even acceptable, on a very old stein. For example, cracks and chips would be the norm on a c.1600 stoneware stein, but cracks and chips on a modern stein would necessitate tremendous discounting in order to stimulate a sale.

    2) The more visible the damage, the greater the effect on price. Chips or cracks on a glass stein are more visible and thus more important than those on stoneware. Damage to the front (opposite the handle) discounts the price more than damage to the back or to the inside.

    3) Paradoxically, damage to a more fragile stein reduces its value more than similar damage to a stein made from sturdier materials. For example, chips and cracks on glass or porcelain cause greater price reductions than similar damage on a ceramic or pewter stein.

    4) Damage to a common stein is more detrimental than damage to a rare or one-of-a-kind stein. If collectors know they can obtain a better example of a stein, they will wait to do so unless the discount is significant.

This last point is often important when considering Mettlach steins, and a study of the price reductions for damage was made for The Mettlach Book. The findings are roughly summarized here. Repaired chips up to 1" in size reduce value by 15% to 35%. Larger repaired chips and broken pieces can require reductions of 50% or more. Repaired hairline cracks reduce value by 25% to 50%.

Sometimes the value of a repaired piece is less than the cost of high-quality repairs, which can run between $25 and $200, depending upon the extent of damage and the amount of detailed work involved. New handles or sections of a stein can cost $100 or more. Besides being aware that the stein may not be worth repairing, there are several other cautionary tips to consider. Repairs are less acceptable for older pieces because damage to them is more permissible. That is to say, do not repair a very old stein unless it cannot be displayed in the damaged state. It is also a fact that some stein parts, such as handles or inlays, are easier to make than to repair. Thus, you must insist that the original part be used in repairs unless it is missing or beyond all usefulness. Also, be aware that very few people are capable of making high-quality repairs or replacement parts.

Original Mountings

The quality or type of the original lid can be an important factor in determining the price of a stein.

A Mettlach stein could almost always have been originally ordered with either a plain or a fancy pewter lid, a lid with a ceramic insert, or no lid. One ordered without a lid was undoubtedly sent to a special pewterer (often in Munich) who created a spectacular pewter lid at additional expense. These fancy pewter lids that Mettlach provided (possibly attached by a local contractor rather than by Villeroy & Boch) were usually more expensive than the lids with a ceramic inlay. The original cost of a lid, however, does not equate directly to current desirability. In fact, today’s collectors prize an inlaid lid, especially on a smaller-sized etched Mettlach stein. A stein that has a less desirable pewter lid will be worth about 10% to 35% less.

Other ceramic stein manufacturers either concentrated on using heavy pewter lids (as did Hauber & Reuther) or generally used ceramic inlaid lids (J.W. Remy, Gerz, Marzi & Remy, and most others). There is usually little or no discount for a stein found with a different type of high-quality lid.

There is, however, a particular kind of low-quality pewter lid that will always be measurably less desirable. This type of lid has been made since the early 1900s out of a lighter-weight pewter alloy, generally containing lead that has been stamped into a low, steepled lid. It often has a design that is not sharp and a shape that is somewhat conical to accommodate the stamping process.

Occasionally, an older stein is found with an out-of-period lid that seems to be original after examining the strapping around the handle. Examples include a stein from the 1600s with a lid typical of the 1700s or, more commonly, a stein from the 1700s with an 1800s lid. It should be noted that this type of lid may be an old replacement. During almost all European wars, people were asked to turn in any metal objects they possessed, including items like pewter lids. If such a lid was later replaced, it would, of course, be of a more modern type. It also seems likely that a lid may have been intentionally changed to make a stein more stylish. Although such examples might have mystery or romance, collectors and museums are generally looking for archetypal steins that do not have a confusing appearance. Therefore, the price for this type of stein must often be somewhat discounted in order for it to pass through the market.

The same is usually true of a stein that has a lid of atypical material. For example, a Mettlach stein with a silver-plated, copper, or brass lid will generally be worth somewhere around 30% to 50% less than one with a typical lid. Upgraded materials, such as sterling instead of the usual pewter, will generally increase the value of a stein except if the lid seems suspicious or incongruous (such as silver on pewter or faceted glass on pottery).

Damaged, Replaced, or Missing Mountings

It is commonplace to find a very nice stein that, unfortunately, does not have its lid. Also, unfortunately, stein lids were not made in a set of standard sizes. Surprisingly, a variation of plus or minus 1/8 inch is often enough to cause a replacement lid to fit improperly. Also, the tang and the shaft must be the appropriate length or a difficult splicing is required. Thus, particularly for an older stein, a missing lid will cause a substantial price reduction. A badly damaged old stein or unattractive c. 1900 stein with a nice lid is often purchased and made into a mug because the lid is perfect for some other special piece needing a replacement. Intentionally seeking such matches has some of the pleasures, as well as the displeasures, of gambling.

There are a number of different types of steins that are generally found with footrings. Missing footrings, of course, have much less visual impact than do missing lids, so the price reduction is much less. Yet, while it would seem to be easier to find replacements because only the diameter must match, there are precious few good footrings available, even from repairmen who are constantly trying to stock up on parts. Therefore, if you are considering purchasing a stein that has lost its footring, do not count on being able to find a replacement.

Although pewter is easily damaged and can show dings and tears, it is also relatively easy to repair. The following are some of the more common types of damage:

    1) Hinges occasionally bind up. Often they can be cleaned with water (do not use oil). If that doesn’t work, have a repairman deal with it rather than forcing the hinge.

    2) A hinge with a missing tooth or ring will only nominally influence value, usually by less than 10%.

    3) Tears, dents, and missing thumblifts can be repaired for about $30 to $60 and, once fixed, should not reduce the value of the stein by more than about 10% to 15%.

    4) The cost of repairing the strap is also in the 10% to 15% range. Recall that repairs to the strap often signify that the lid has been replaced, which can mean a price reduction from as little as 10% to as much as 25% or 35%. If the lid is not appropriate to the stein, the reduction can be 50% or more.

Some collectors and museums feel that pewter and silver items must be kept polished for proper care and display. Others would rather see the dark patina, especially on pewter. Non-abrasive polishing should have no effect on price, but be forewarned that a few collectors will shy away from a polished pewter stein. On the other hand, a diseased pewter stein, such as one that is pitted, powdered, or scaled, can be devalued by 10% or even more if the pewter is heavily damaged.


*Reprinted by permission from The Beer Stein Book: a 400 Year History, 3rd edition, 1999, Glentiques, Ltd., Coral Springs, FL.