What is "German Stein?"

Detail Information about:

The History of German Steins

The origins of steins date back to the 14th century:

As a result of the bubonic plaque 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 be covered to protect their contents. By combining a lid, hinge, and thumblift, these "German" containers could easily be opened and closed with one hand.

About this time many efforts were also made to improve the earthenware material used for steins. By raising the firing temperature, clay was vitrified into a solid, moisture-free, stone-like material called stoneware. Because this new material was much more durable than the previous earthenware, steins made of stoneware became very popular and many different types of designs and decorations were artistically applied to them.

The guild system was firmly entrenched in European society:

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 stein was clearly defined as being made in Europe, primarily of stoneware and primarily with a permanently attached pewter lid.

The development of several different materials:

The history of steins includes the development and introduction of several different materials other than stoneware. Pewter was not only used for lids, but also as a primary body material. It was the material of choice throughout large areas of Europe and particularly popular in England. Glass, porcelain and silver steins were introduced several hundred years ago as well and are all still available today.

Many stein-decorating styles and techniques were developed over the centuries, offering further diversity to this creative, historical, artistic, and ever-evolving gift item.


Today, the stein and tankard industry remains primarily represented by those factories in Germany and England who are from the original regions where history has demonstrated the industry to have been founded. Centuries-old traditions continue to train the skilled hands and eyes that are required to create these steins. We are proud to feature the works of these authentic factories and industry leaders for you to collect.

The Definition of Stein

Is It a Mug, Jug, Tankard, Flask or Goblet ???

These terms are generally used to describe the various drinking vessels that appear in this business. Some are interchangeable, but the following definitions usually apply.

Mug-A drinking vessel that always has a handle and is generally transfer (decal) decorated. ft has no lid, nor was it ever intended to have a lid.

Stein-A drinking vessel with a handle. Usually, but not always, this piece has a lid. Most handles are made with either a small hole on the top, upper surface, or with slight indentations near the top. The hole and indentations help hold the lid strap in place.

Jug-A stein that is generally at least one liter in volume. It may or may not have a lid. It always has a lip for easy pouring.

Tankard-This word actually has two meanings. It refers to the English 1/2-pint or 1-pint individual drinking vessels. Secondly, a tankard is also a beer stein that's at least 1 1/2 liters in size. Because this is a confusing term, we rarely use it. Instead, jumbo steins and accent pieces seem to be more descriptive terms for large, impressive steins.

Flask-A 'flat" bottle with a small, narrow opening. It always has a lid, or cork, but is rarely permanently attached. Originally designed for travel.

Goblet-Describes a bowl shaped vessel 1/8 to 1/2 liter in volume, supported by a "foot" or base. No lid, no handle.

Building Materials

A wide variety of materials have been used to produce authentic German steins. Below we have listed and briefly described the most prominent ones.

Ceramic Materials:

Ceramic steins fall into one of five categories according to the quality of the ceramic mass, the raw materials, the firing temperature, the color and density of the mass.

  1. Earthenware(German-Irdenware, Topferware) - A colored mass that is porous (absorbs liquid)until it is glazed. It is fired at a temperature of around 1,000℃.
  2. Ceramics(German-Keramik) - Slightly porous, light-colored ware, usually fired at about 1,050-1,080℃. It must be glazed to make it impermeable.
  3. Creamware(German-Steingut/Feinsteingut) - White earthenware with a lead glaze. Contains Kaolin (a fine white clay). It is fired twice, once at 1,150℃-1,180℃ without a glaze, then decorated, glazed, and fired again around 900℃-1,000℃.
  4. Stoneware(German-Steinzeug) - Hard material, fired in high temperature kilns generally around 1,200℃-1,400℃. At this temperature, stoneware vitrifies (becomes glass-like). The resulting product is less than 2% porous; therefore, glaze is not mandatory for a stoneware stein. When glaze is used, it must be of special quality to withstand the high kiln temperature.
  5. Porcelain(German-Porzellan) -True porcelain, known as hard paste, is made of Kaolin (white clay) and Petuntse (pulverized granite). When fired at a temperature of 1,300℃-1,400℃, these ingredients produce a white, more or less translucent, glass-like material.


A pliable compound consisting of tin, copper, and antimony. European pewter has a minimum tin content of 92%. Copper and antimony are added to harden the metal. The higher the tin content, the more silver the final color. A common misconception is that all pewter products contain lead. Although used in the past, lead virtually is never used to create pewter steins. Primarily, steins are component cast that is, the lids, bodies, handles and special ornamentation are separately made. Pewter is also occasionally rolled or hammered. The final color is a result of the tin content, polishing and chemical antiquing.


A clear, high-quality glass. Please don’t confuse this with lead crystal, which is a material consisting of 24% or more lead monoxide. The body is hand-cut, hand engraved and/or patterned by the mold. They are case hardened, usually are mouth-blown and often feature transparent coloring on the exterior or the interior of the body.


The least expensive of all popular materials. Unlike the procedure for making stoneware, pewter, and crystal steins, glass bodies and handles are formed in one mold. Also, the lids are often attached by machine. The bodies are usually transfer-decorated and the only hand work involved usually is the application of a decoration.

The Decoration of Stein

How a Stein Body is Decorated

In general, the body of a German stein is decorated by using one, two, or three different techniques: raised-relief decoration, incised decoration, or transfer decoration.

Raised-relief Decoration:

Of the three, raised relief is by far the most popular. Also known as bas relief, this technique refers to a three dimensional highly detailed subject area that is "raised" above the background area of a stein.

Incised decoration:

Also known as etched decoration, is equally authentic and attractive, yet not nearly as well known. The primary reason is that it is a more complex and expensive technique. The subject outline of the incised stein is actually etched into the body, thus creating the design.

Transfer, or decal decoration:

Normally, the least-expensive decoration. Nevertheless, modem technology now allows us to reproduce the finest details of portraits, paintings, and photography, thereby creating very attractive and reasonably-priced steins.

Functional Structures

The Stein Lid:

The original purpose of the stein lid, as well as the body itself, is far from glamorous. Since the very first steins were simple drinking vessels, the primary reason for the lid was functional:

  • A common sense precaution to keep insects and other contaminants away from the aromatic liquid.
  • In addition to this, early functions of lids were to help keep the liquid at a constant temperature as well as to prevent spillage.

Lids, even in early days, provided an attractive finishing touch. Today, the "finishing touch" aspect is by far the most important reason for the lid. In many cases, the lid is the most important feature of the stein. Lids have a tremendous effect on price as well, sometimes more than doubling the cost of a stein.


Hundreds of different lids are currently available. However, the vast majority of them can be categorized into the following groups: conical, flat, ornamental, inlay/ figurine, figurine and stoneware.

Conical-This is the "cone" or "steeple" shaped lid. It is the most common and least expensive type of lid. Today, most conical lids are entirely made of pewter and machine made. However, they can also be made from a white base metal. The surface is then plated with a nickel or similar alloy to create a shiny finish, or a pewter or pewter-like alloy to create a dark antique finish.

Flat-Flat lids, also known as semi-flat lids, are normally made of pewter. Although not entirely flat, the top surface does lend itself well to engraving.

Ornamental-Ornamental lids are always pewter. They feature superior detail, require special hand work, and are presently the most popular lids for limited edition steins. They generally have a glorified conical shape, complete with top finial. Recently, the stein factories have been introducing very interesting ornamental pewter lids, many of which are included in this catalog.

Inlay/Figurine-A very attractive lid, virtually always consisting of a pewter rim, a pewter flange (or hp), and a stoneware figurine or ornament inlaid in the center.

Figurine-"Top of the line" lid in which a figurine, most often made of pewter, is mounted on an ornamental pewter lid.

Stoneware-just as the name implies, the top is made of the same material as the body. A pewter or metal alloy hinge, strap, tang, shank, support, and thumblift are also used.