by
John McGregor

col-lec-tor, n. 3. a person who collects books, paintings, stamps, shells, etc. esp. as a hobby.

Now, there is a definition, written by a non-collector, if ever there was one. There is no mention of the fever and the passion that drives us. A true collector doesn't collect by choice, they are compelled. I think it must be genetic. A non-collector can never know, or understand how it feels.

Werner Sahm put it this way, "Collecting is a real passion or perhaps an infection that attacks overnight and for which there is hardly a cure. In my case, I would not allow a physician near me who had an interest in curing me of my particular illness."

In the September, 1978 Prosit, Jack Lowenstein listed three reasons people collect, number one, is nostalgia; number two is to amass negotiable wealth; and number three is from a compulsion to accumulate. While number three is closest to the mark it doesn't say it all. Let’s take a look at all three.

Number one, the person who collects for nostalgia reasons, brings home sea shells from the beach, not to collect sea shells, but to collect memories.

Number two, the person who collects to amass negotiable wealth may have a great collection of the finest pieces available, but is still collecting only dollars and they usually visualize their collection in those terms.

Number three, the person who collects because of a compulsion to accumulate will at least feel the fire, but for many of us it involves much more than simply accumulating. We must know all there is to know about whatever it is we are accumulating, so we also tend to accumulate rather large reference libraries. I know some will disagree, but I think a thirst for knowledge must be there before a person can claim to be a true collector.

This thirst for knowledge, not always, but usually, results in a particular method of collecting, that of eclecticism.

ec-lec-ti-cism, n, 1. the use or advocacy of an eclectic method.

ec-lec-tic, adj., 1. selecting, choosing from several sources. 2. made up of what is selected from different sources. 3. not following any one system, but selecting and using what are considered the best elements of all systems. 4. pertaining to works that derive from a wide range of historic styles.

As I have noted elsewhere, style is the soul of an era. Accumulated knowledge and experience in the areas of religion, politics, science, art, industry, commerce, and the joys and sorrows of day to day living, are but a sample of those influences that produce the societal tastes of any given moment in history, which in turn dictate the style unique to that moment. Styles come and go, some remain longer than others, but once gone they never return. Style can be, and often is, copied, but never exactly duplicated. Something, call it the spirit of the age, is missing. That something, is visible to the eye and yet may elude explanation.

Developing an eye for style requires study. The best way is to have a hands on experience with as many steins as possible and commit their many, and various, features to memory. In addition to that, study as many detailed photos as possible. Today's auction catalogs with their color photos are excellent for this purpose as are the "coffee table" collector books with their large color photos. This takes a dedicated effort on your part, you must come back time and time again and just browse the books and catalogs, each time absorbing a little more information. After a while, and you may not be aware of exactly when it happens, but one day, you'll just look at a stein, perhaps a Regimental stein, and simply know that it is either genuine or a reproduction. You may see a blue and gray saltglaze stein and know that the manufacturer was Reinhold Hanke, Marzi-Remy, or perhaps Fritz Thenn. You'll know that there is something that justifies your conclusion even if you can't immediately put your finger on what it is. Closer examination will usually reveal what caught your eye. You may be able to identify a piece as genuine, or not, as the case may be, because of some little detail you are aware of that others are not, giving you a distinct advantage. Before you get to this point however, you will probably make a number of close, but wrong calls that may cost you a little money, but what good education is free? Don't get discouraged, learn from your mistakes, and before long you may even amaze yourself.

As far as I'm concerned, eclecticism rather than specialization in collecting is the only method for acquiring an eye for style. As mentioned before, a great deal of study and attention to detail goes into acquiring this ability, so eclecticism is the name of the game as far as I'm concerned. This allows me to handle, study, and learn about as many different types of steins as I can find room for in my collection, or that my fellow collectors will allow me to fondle from their collections. I can then share my findings with other collectors who in turn may be able to answer some of my questions, thereby mutually adding to our storehouse of knowledge.

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with specialization. A room full, or just a small shelf of etched Mettlach steins can be a beautiful sight, but if it doesn't lead to a learning process, or add to the overall knowledge of our hobby, then this is where, I believe, you have to draw the line between an accumulator, and a collector. Specialization is a time honored method of collecting, but it seldom satisfies the long term need to explore, discover, or learn, that drives the steinologist. It may satisfy for a while, but if the specialist is a true collector, they will soon be forced to branch out, even if it is only to collect related go-withs.

Over the years eclecticism and a desire to learn something about some mystery stein that has come my way, has caused me to change the focus of my collection a number of times. Each time this happens my collection becomes a little less eclectic, but there is little chance that I'll ever specialize. I've reached a point that seems to provide the largest challenge and opportunity for discovery, the 19th and early 20th centuries, believe it or not.

The title of this article is "They Speak to Me", and it seems more and more steins speak to me as time goes on. If you are a true collector you'll have some idea of what I mean by "speak to me." It's that elusive, unexplainable "something" that turns on the lights of recognition. For those that still don't know what I mean, let me give you an example. At a recent SCI convention, stein sales were divided into a number of separate rooms. I had completed my inspection of the first three rooms and while there were some interesting pieces, nothing "spoke" to me. As I entered the fourth room, just as I had in the previous three rooms, I made a quick, visual sweep of the area, but before I completed the sweep, it seemed I could hear my name being called; "John, here I am, come get me." Looking to where the voice seemed to emanate from, I saw a stein that immediately stood out, and even though it was in among numerous other steins it seemed to sit on the table all by itself. Of course, this is a slightly exaggerated description of what happened, but when I walked into the room where there were probably several hundred beer steins, on about a dozen tables, this one piece caught my eye, turned on the light of recognition, became the central focus of my attention, and for all practical purposes, became for me, the only stein in the room at that moment, because it "spoke" to me. I don't know if that is an adequate explanation of what occurs when a stein "speaks" to me, but I'm sure many of you have had similar experiences, even if you might explain them differently.

What speaks to me today? Late 19th to to early 20th century stoneware, particularly that made by the Freising or Regensburg factories, enameled steinzeug, hand painted inlaid lids, fancy pewter and figural thumblifts, unusual steins, and great go-withs.

Have any steins spoken to you lately?

The definitions are from Webtser’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language.