Beer Steins go back as early as the 14th century when the Bubonic Plague nearly wiped out half of Europe. It was actually this horrific event that prompted the “Covered Container Law” which led the transformation of the mug into the stein. This clever sanitary hinged lid, with thumb-lift in place, managed to keep out insects from the mug and thus prevented the spread of disease. One hundred years later as the German provinces improved the taste of beer, beerhouses and taverns became as popular as Starbucks and the demand for the ultimate beer stein was born.
The golden age of Mettlach began in 1880 and lasted thirty years until 1910. During this time numerous wares were produced using guarded secretive techniques. Almost every Mettlach product has a mark on the bottom or lower edge distinguishing it from other steins of the period. Although several marks were used including the Mercury trademark and anchor, the most common mark was the old tower or castle trademark, which could be found on steins from 1883-1930.
Purchasing an early Mettlach stein may prove to be a worthwhile investment, but make sure to carefully inspect the piece for damage or repairs, and beware of reproductions! Although Mettlach steins are not considered to be rare, you may not find them at many antique shops. If you are in the market for a Mettlach stein, I would recommend checking local or online auctions, specialized dealers and canvassing local estate sales.
Price Trends for Steins
There are many factors that influence the values of steins, but a Mettlach stein will generally realize a higher price than another stein from the same period. There were many other German companies producing steins, including Gerz, Marzi, Remy and Thewalt, however the quality of these steins are not comparable to that of Mettlach.
Like any collectible, the selling price is usually determined by several factors including rarity, condition, design and subject matter. Steins without lids are worth approximately 50 percent less than steins with lids and the modern production Mettlach steins from 1976 onward are much less valuable then the 19th century steins. Mettlach steins come designed with various themes from fairytales to automobiles and drinking gnomes to hausfraus. And, to complicate matters there are various different types of steins including the least expensive print-under-glaze (PUGS), relief, etched and cameo (also known as phanolith a transparent stone decoration). There were even customized advertising steins complete with a business logo and a corresponding theme.
Whether you collect steins for enjoyment or you inherited a stein or two, Mettlach steins have proven to be a good investment. In the 1950’s the average ½ liter etched stein sold for $25.00 while in the 1970’s that same stein would realize $200.00 at retail. Today, the average Mettlach stein can be found at auction from $300.00 and upward, while the more desirable, rare steins sell over $1,000.00.
When caring for your stein, remember only to use luke warm water, mild soap and a soft brush. Storing steins in sunlit windows or in temperature extremes such as basements and attics could cause stress lines to the glaze and wrapping them in newspaper could discolor the pewter.