Beer Stein Collecting With the New England Steiners’ Stuart Weiss, Sr.
Do you cheer all things beer? With the holidays approaching, it’s the perfect time to raise a toast to this beloved beverage with roots dating back to 5000 BCE. Steins and mugs are an important part of the beer experience, and Stein Collectors International has been advocating for and studying these vessels since 1965. Auction Daily connected with Stuart Weiss, Sr., the President of the New England Steiners – a subchapter of SCI – to learn more about this intriguing hobby.
Auction Daily: Please tell us about yourself and your collection.
Stuart Weiss, Sr.: I am the President of the New England Steiners. I have been collecting beer steins for over 50 years. By hobby definition, serious collectors usually have 50 or more steins in their collection and these steins were generally made between 1880 and 1920. I have maintained a collection of approximately 200 steins. The size of my collection is somewhat dictated by the space available to display the steins in my “Stein Room.” My collection could be best described as eclectic. I personally look for steins that have artistic interest to me or the subject matter depicted falls within my areas of interest. Other collectors may purchase only from one manufacturer, or certain artists, or certain time periods, or certain materials, etc. I have examples of most types of steins, including hand-enameled and cut glass, wooden, pewter, pottery, stoneware, porcelain, silver, and faience. Unfortunately, I do not have an ivory stein.
Auction Daily: Tell us about the range of items that fall within the beer stein collecting framework. How has the market changed over time?
Stuart Weiss, Sr.: Within the hobby, collectors also buy plaques, paintings, black forest wood carvings and clocks, lusterweibchens (traditionally themed antler and carved wooden chandeliers), pokals (tall drinking cups), drinking horns, wedding beakers, flasks, pipes, wine casks, tobacco jars, and figurines. In other words, we collect almost anything that falls within the Germanic genre.
Today, it is a buyer’s market. eBay changed everything, what was once hard to find can now be purchased with a few clicks. Thus, most antiques, collectibles, and steins have gone down in value, some more than others. For example, the more common steins like pottery and print under glaze (PUGS) have depreciated the most. Only the rarest and finest examples have gone up in value, those selling for five figures or more. In this regard, I would offer this tip to new collectors. It is better to buy a $500 stein than ten $50 steins. Always consider condition and rarity, and buy the unusual.
Auction Daily: What are some notable auction sales, highlights, or records for beer steins?
Stuart Weiss, Sr.: Some years ago I was at a country auction in a Germanic community in upstate New York and a silver stein was offered. It was a cloisonnéd beauty. I knew it was good but I didn’t know how good. I was the under bidder at $5,000. It is hard to know what it might have sold for if I had kept bidding. My completion could have been the owner or a shill. Some years later, the same stein came up at a stein auction and it went for close to $100,000!
I remember another stein made by Tiffany. It was a large ivory tusk, perhaps ten inches in diameter, with silver mounts and adorned with jewels. The auction estimate was $150,000 but no one came up with the reserve. Knowledge is everything in the collecting world. The uninformed usually do not make out very well. But do not think of collections as investments, buy what you like that has some meaning to you. And don’t buy damaged goods, or a stein without a lid, unless it is really special.
Auction Daily: Do collectors actually use their steins for drinking or ceremonies? Or do they keep them on shelves, or behind glass, like other fine collectibles?
Stuart Weiss, Sr.: Most steins today are purchased for display purposes. The lids tend to get in the way when quaffing a beer. That said, it is fun to drink out of a stein without a lid at a Maifest (the traditional German celebration of the arrival of spring) or Oktoberfest. It is just better than drinking out of a plastic cup.
Auction Daily: And finally, where are the best places for collectors to find interesting or collectible beer steins? Is there an annual event or meeting dedicated to beer stein collectors?
Stuart Weiss, Sr.: The best way to learn about steins is by joining a collectors group like ours. We have members throughout New England, and our members range in age from 40 to 80+. We meet quarterly in various locations throughout New England but currently are forced to meet via Zoom because of COVID concerns. Our live meetings include stein sales, lunch, perhaps a speaker, but most of all gemutlichkeit (good-natured sociability). If you are interested in learning more about my club, contact the Club Treasurer, Ron Jacob, at [email protected] or check us out on Facebook. If you are not from New England, you can find your own local beer stein club here. Another excellent source for education is Stein Collectors International. They publish a quarterly stein magazine called Prosit and hold an annual live convention.