When I first started this project, I had hoped to be able to link pewter usage to the political and economic pressures of the time. I thought, when times were good and tin could be easily obtained, the amount of pewter used on each stein would be at a maximum and just the opposite when times were bad. This only seems to be the case after the Franco-Prussian War. Before that, it would appear the opposite was true.
Prior to the late seventeenth century, tin, the major ingredient in pewter, was mined in only three European countries, England, Saxony and Bohemia. Production had dropped off in Saxony and Bohemia after the 30 Years War (1618-1648) and the deposits were virtually played out by the time the Dutch started to import tin from Siam (Thailand) in 1680. This meant that after 1680, Germany was totally dependent on England and Holland for its tin imports.
For 32 of the 58 years, between 1690-1748, when many of the steins being manufactured were fitted with the maximum amounts of pewter, Bavaria and a number of other German states including Prussia, were at war with England and Holland, and tin should have been difficult to come by. However, as stated above, it was during this period, that the steins exhibited the maximum usage of pewter. For example, they had foot rings, lid rings, large, fancy lids, large, ball type thumblifts, handle reinforcement straps and general repairs made from pewter.
On the other hand, from 1748 until 1914, no German state was at war with either England or Holland. Except for internal struggles greater Germany appears to have been at peace until the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The Napoleonic Wars of 1804-15 were an exception of course. However, aside from getting numerous French and Prussian soldiers shot up, Napoleon did very little damage to the rest of Germany. True, Prussia stood up to him, but the other German states either sided with Napoleon or simply chose not to oppose him. As a reward, he made Bavaria and Wurttemberg kingdoms. He then established the Federation of the Rhine and in all these places saw to it that the people were given social and economic freedoms that they had never experienced before. Prussia was forced to extend these freedoms to its people. It later retracted most of them after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815. The two things that Napoleon did that had the greatest effect on European society, were giving the peasants the right to own land, thus allowing farmers to move to the towns and burgers to relocate to the countryside, and disbanding the large merchant and craftsman guilds. Napoleon decreed that each man had the right to earn as much money as he was able through the occupation of his choice, and that competition was the key to economic well being. This meant that the unregistered and itinerant craftsmen including pewterers known as "bonhasen" (ground rabbits), who had been a major irritant to the guilds by undercutting their prices, were now free to settle down, open shops of their own, and compete freely.
However, during those 166 years of relative peace (1748-1914), when tin was readily available and labor costs had apparently come down, because of the competitive market, instead of massive pewter fittings as we might expect, we see the amount of pewter being used on each stein becoming less and less. There can be only two reasons this would occur, one is a matter of preference and the other necessity. The pewter on our steins is entirely protective in nature, the lid protects the contents and the lid ring and foot ring protects the rim and base from chipping and other damage just as the handle support strap protects the handle. Regardless of how fancy these fittings are, their function is strictly utilitarian. Both faience and glass are subject to easy damage, so I doubt that the reduction in size and eventual deletion of some of these fittings was one of preference. I must conclude that this was a matter of necessity and that the demands of the industrial revolution for tin in the manufacturing arena, placed such a premium on the price of tin that it simply became too expensive for everyday use on beer steins. During the 1850-65 period we find that pewter fittings were reduced to the barest minimum, small diameter hinges, lids made of thin rings holding either glass or ceramic inserts and fragile thumblifts.
After the Franco-Prussian War the price of tin must have gone down considerably. As a result, from 1875 to about the turn of the century, the less expensive steins, stoneware and glass, tended to have fancy pewter lids and thumblifts, but the more expensive steins, such as the Mettlach chromolith pieces, in order to remain competitive, were still supplied with ceramic inlaid lids. Fancy pewter was an option of course, but due to the cost of producing the steins, the increased cost generally put them out of the range of the average working man.
There seems to have been no shortage of tin for pewter right up to 1914 and the beginning of the World War I. After the war, Germany could not buy tin, because of its strategic importance. Due to this shortage, the fittings on our beer steins suffered; particularly during the years 1919-1924. Later, during the 1934-1939 period, we also find a shortage of pewter due to the armaments build up preceding World War II.
In dating our steins, we usually cannot date them to an exact year, but we can date them to a period such as c.1725 or c.1920, etc.. All pewter styles, as well as body and handle styles overlap somewhat so a study of body and handle styles can help narrow the period in which your stein was manufactured. If you are interested in learning more about body and handle styles, I suggest Gary Kirsnerís "The Beer Stein Book" and a video available through SCI of a John Stuart presentation called "Dating Glass Steins."
Dates written, or engraved, on steins mean very little. About the only steins we can be sure were made at the time of the dates that appear on them are Mettlach steins, Regimentals and Official "Fest" Krugs such as a stein commemorating the 1910 Octoberfest, etc.
Because I am going to mention closed and open hinges from time to time I better explain what they are for those who might not know. If you look at the end of a hinge and it is smooth with no pin showing, that is a closed hinge.
If the pin shows as a small circle in the middle of the hinge, that is an open hinge.
Basically the closed hinge was used until 1870-75 when the open hinge came into general use. Because this did not happen over night and the open hinge was phased in gradually over a number of years you will find there are a number of opinions as to when it actually took place. I personally have never seen a stein, verifiably made before the Franco-Prussian War, with original pewter, that had an open hinge.
I have divided the time line into eight periods and have included line drawings of representative styles of pewter for each. These divisions are: Before 1680 The Early Years, 1680-1725 Early Baroque, 1725-1775 Baroque, 1775-1830 Early Biedermeier, 1830-1875 Industrial Revolution, 1875-1895 Early Modern, 1895-1945 Modern and 1945 to Date Post War. The Modern era has a couple of smaller sub-groups.
To save time and space I have used cut-away drawings and hope this does not confuse the issue.
Pewter fittings before 1680 were boring, repetitious and provide little in the way of clues to when they were made. The pewter usually consisted of a domed lid with a tiered finial, a large, closed, five ring hinge and the thumblifts were, for the most part, small and mounted over the hinge. Some of the earliest pictures we have of lidded vessels are stoneware jugs in the drawings of Albrecht Durer from the early 1500s. Figure 1 is an example of a stoneware jug typical of that period.
Figure 2 is pewter of exactly the same type as that used on the jug in Figure 1 and is from a Raeren stoneware jug c.1600.
Figure 3 is the pewter from a Westerwald jug c.1675. As you can see, little had changed in 150 years.
The Siamese tin that the Dutch were importing quickly entered the market place and soon after 1680 we see the pewter fittings on steins reflect the increased amount of tin that was available. Fittings became more massive with large, ball type thumblifts, lid rings and handle reinforcement straps and we still have the large, closed, five ring hinge. See Figure 4.
You will notice that the thumblift has migrated to a place of prominence over the lid. By 1700, virtually every stein being manufactured had a large, ball type thumblift over the lid. In the previous period, before 1680, stoneware dominated the market, but now faience was coming into popularity and would eventually push most stoneware out of the picture. Except for continuing production in the Westerwald, Duingen and Altenburg, most stoneware factories began to shut down, or at least discontinued beer stein production.
During the reign of William and Mary II of England (1689-1702), and that of Queen Anne that followed (1702-1714), the amount of tin reaching Germany probably remained fairly constant. The amount of pewter used on steins produced throughout that period would seem to justify this conclusion. However, in 1714 when Anne died, having outlived all seventeen of her children, the Act of Settlement of June 12, 1701, took effect. The Act declared that no Catholic may become king of England, and when the Stuart family no longer had any Protestant heirs Great Britain must turn to the German house of Hanover. So, George the Elector of Hanover, the Grandson of James I, became George I, the first Hanoverian king of England (1714-1727). This marked the beginning of the golden age of German pewter.
During this period there seems to have been so much tin available that pewterers were hard pressed to find ways to use it. It was no longer sufficient to be a technically proficient pewtersmith, one also had to be an artist. See figures 5, 6 and 7.
Obviously, it was necessary to protect the faience steins, which are very fragile, with a certain amount of pewter, but the amounts of pewter being used far exceeded that which was necessary. Pewter was so abundant that it was even used to make repairs during this period. Sometimes a hole in the bottom of a stein would be repaired by forming a false bottom of pewter that was part of, and held in place by the foot ring.
Figure 8, shows a handle repair that replaced the lower portion of the handle with a pewter sleeve or boot soldered to the handle reinforcement strap and held to the body with a pewter plug that extended from the sleeve to the inside of the stein. This plug was then expanded flush against the inside of the stein holding everything in place.
I called this age Early Biedermeier, but could just as well have called it Early Industrial Revolution or simply the Age of Revolution. In 1776, Britain's American colonies revolted and produced the world's first democratic republic. France soon followed with its own revolution in 1789. Perhaps the greatest revolution of all was made possible by a Scot named James Watt who was the inventor of the steam engine a device that made the Industrial Revolution and the modern world possible.
By the 1780s the pewter on steins was already showing the effects of the Industrial revolution. The pewter we now see is similar to that on steins from c.1680 except there is less of it. We no longer find handle support straps and the thumblifts are smaller. See figure 9.
Just as there is little to determine the exact dating of pewter made between 1500 and 1680, we also find little to determine the exact dating of that made between 1680 and 1775, except perhaps the quantity used and the artistic level achieved.
However, from 1800 on and for the next 150 years, a number of changes take place that makes our determination of a stein's age a simple process, comparatively speaking that is.
After the Napoleonic Wars, between 1815 and 1840, while the amount of pewter being used on steins was being reduced everywhere else, one workshop produced a last flash of pewter greatness. This workshop produced some of the most remarkable pewter to ever grace a beer stein. The quality was amazingly consistent over the years, and it appears from a recent find of a hallmarked piece, that it was produced in the Regensburg workshop of Wolfgang Schneider. Once you have seen pewter produced by this workshop you will always be able to identify it, it is that distinctive. Figure 10, 11 and 12 are all samples of Wolfgang Schneider's pewter from this period. Figure 12 is on a stoneware stein, Figure 13 on glass and Figure 14 is on a faience piece.
Faience was devised as a substitute for porcelain, but now that porcelain had been available for about 100 years the faience factories were inevitably going out of business. Glass was cheap, easy to make, easy to keep clean and was becoming the material of choice. Between 1830 and 1875 glass steins were just about the only kind available.
Even the stoneware factories in the Westerwald stopped producing steins around 1830. About ten years later a number of small Westerwald factories began to produce "Gepresste Kaennchen", better known, incorrectly, as "Regensburg" steins. The stoneware industry was born again, big time, starting in the late 1860s. Figure 13 is the pewter from what must be one of the last stoneware steins to come out of the Westerwald about 1830. The pewter is plain, very basic and has a small thumblift. It is a hint of what is to come.
The majority of steins we see from early in this period are what we call the Biedermeier Wedding Stein, an enameled, 1 liter stein with a wide flared base. Their pewter is similar to Figure 13 except they have a larger, urn shaped thumblift. Prior to about 1835, a foot ring was used to protect those wide flared bases, but the rising cost of tin took its toll and the foot rings disappeared and when they went, the wide flaring bases had to go also. By 1840 we see the .5 liter glass stein, either etched or enameled becoming predominant. The lids on these steins are now flat slabs cast to appear as if they have a medallion inset in the middle. At this point the steins still have parallel walls, but soon many are tapered towards the top to further reduce the amount of pewter required. Finally, about 1850 the lid becomes a simple pewter ring holding either a glass or ceramic insert and the thumblift is very thin and narrow as in Figure 14. Some felt a need to reduce the amount of pewter even further and around 1865 we find steins that are tall and narrow so that the lid diameter is reduced even more. These pieces also have very small diameter hinges and thin shanks as in Figure 15.
The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 seems to have been a turning point in many ways. Whatever the reason, the price of tin must have fallen dramatically and the stoneware factories were beginning to grow in number. By 1875 we find factories in both the Westerwald and Regensburg areas producing stoneware steins with large, fancy pewter lids and thumblifts. The thumblifts have also been moved back over the hinge as in Figure 16. This is also a time of transition from the closed hinge to the open hinge as in Figure 17. Both of the hinges, in Figures 16 and 17 can be classified as c.1875.
The first open hinges, as in Figure 17, are the heavy, open three ring hinges and these were used until about 1895 when the five ring, open hinge became the hinge of choice as in Figure 18.
In 1892, the United States ammended the "McKinley Tariff Act" and bought into international trade agreements requiring countries exporting goods to mark them with the name of the country of origin. Germany had been marking goods, including steins, since 1887 as a requirement of the German "Merchandising Marks Act of 1887". Germany produced a plethora of cheap steins for export that had pewter fittings of very small dimensions that may not have met the fineness requirements for pewter being sold in Germany. This pewter is very soft and has a tendency to bend or break quite easily. See Figure 19.
Although this is also an open, three ring hinge do not confuse it with the one produced between 1875 and 1895. These puny fittings of low grade pewter were used on export steins from 1892 until at least World War I. Figure 20 is how you will quite often come across this fitting.
In the mid 1890s the open, five ring hinge came into use as we saw in Figure 18 and this hinge is still the predominately used hinge today. After World War I, Germany found it could not buy tin because it was classified as a strategic material. What tin or pewter Germany had on hand was needed for other purposes and so many beer steins ended up with nickel plated metal lids like the type in Figure 21. This lid is found off and on right up through the end of World War II. The majority are found on steins produced between 1919 and 1924 and again from 1934 through 1939.
While we find all kinds of hinges and fittings being used today the fittings in Figure 22 are some of the commonest post war fittings and are c.1950. Note that it uses a closed, five ring hinge. This does not mean it was made before 1875. Another feature to be aware of is the sweeping curve from the tang right up to the tip of the thumblift.
This pewter exhibits casting and stamping marks, is overly shiny and usually marked inside the lid with the letters D.B.G.M.. Most modern pewter from about 1960 on has a velvety, sandblasted texture to the surface and the hinges are often rough appearing with what seem to be file marks.
While this article won't make you an expert on dating your steins and their pewter, it may at least make it possible for you to pick up a stein in your local flea market that the dealer has marked and priced as an antique and know that it was made around 1950.
Just as the September, 1993 issue of Prosit that contained my article, "Pewter Fittings Through the Ages," was being mailed, I discovered a pewter fitting I had never encountered before. In one of the stein sales rooms, at the Minneapolis Convention, I ran across a blue and gray stoneware stein c.1870-1880, that appeared to be from the Reinhold Hanke factory. This stein had a heavy, three ring hinge similar to those I attributed to 1875-1895, but it was closed on the ends rather than open. A closed, three ring hinge, I had never heard of one before, much less seen one. The stein had been broken, and glued back together so I passed on it at the time and simply made a note of the unusual hinge and the approximate date of manufacture.
Then, as luck would have it, I acquired another piece from the Reinhold Hanke factory, a blue and gray, stoneware jug, and low and behold, there was that elusive, closed, three ring hinge from the 1870-1880 period. See figure 23.
Since then, I have also acquired a glass stein with an inlaid porcelain lid that is ca.1870-1880 and also has a closed, three ring hinge. See Figure 24.
Where exactly does this hinge fit into our chronology? Reinhold Hanke opened the doors on his factory in 1868, and like everyone else, was using the open, three ring hinge by 1875. So, I would have to date this hinge to c.1868-1874.
Figure 25, is a very early, closed, three ring hinge that Iíve included simply as a point of interest. Until more of these from this time period come to light, it shouldnít be considered as anything, but an anomaly. This hinge is on a 1.75 liter, stoneware stein dated 1749. The stein has been attributed to Saxony, but I have some reservations about that. Anyway, this hinge has the pin extending through all three rings and is soldered into place on the thin outer rings, pivoting on the thicker, inner ring. Even with the thin outer rings, this appears to be quite a strong hinge.
The pewter in Figure 26 is from a Third Reich stein and is typical of the 1934-45 period. This is another style that, while I was aware of it, I omitted it from my original article. What makes this pewter different is the fact that the lid, the tang, the thumblift, and the upper portion of the hinge are cast together as one piece.
Quite a process improvement for the time, as it eliminated several steps in the lidding process, thereby increasing production and reducing costs. Results typical of a war-time economy.