Many people find more interest in what’s inside a beer stein than the
vessel itself. That, however, does
not describe Fred and Joann Ellis of rural Beaver Dam. In the fine details of children,
soldiers, monks, gnomes and cities etched into steins by artists of centuries
past, Fred and Joann have found a life-long passion.
It all began decades ago when Fred received a beer
stein from his grandfather who had passed away. Soon after, a friend gave
him another as a Christmas gift. Then, after talking to a vendor at an antique
show in Madison, they joined Stein Collectors International.
“If you go see what people have who have been
collecting for a while, the interest piques because you didn’t know what was
out there,” Fred said.
Along with their passion for beer steins, Fred and
Joann’s collection has grown. They have amassed more than 600 steins, most of
them dating back to the mid 19th or early 20th centuries. And today they’re
not only members of multiple chapters of Stein Collectors International, Joann
is the Wisconsin Chapter president and Fred is the treasurer.
The organization keeps Fred and Joann plugged into
a world-wide network of collectors, and every year they travel to conventions
and auctions held around the country to make new purchases and listen to
self-made experts speak. “We’ve
got guys that do a lot of research. They’ll get a stein and figure out who
it’s from, where it was manufactured. They’ll go over to Germany and try to
find the factory. Anything they can do, they just love the research part. Then,
they come to a convention and give a talk on a certain subject,” Fred said.
Avid stein collectors see a little piece of history in each unique stein,
and for some it’s the driving force behind their passion.
It used to be customary for “regimental steins”
to be bought by German soldiers who finished serving a mandatory two-year term
in the military. The commemorative steins, which displayed a soldier’s name,
dates of service, duties and regiment, have become hot collector items. “We’ve got guys who collect
certain units,” Fred said. “They can tell you what happened from the time
that unit was founded in 1850 to when it was disbanded in 1910. They can tell
you all the battles, all the colors, the awards, just through the steins.”
However, it’s the allure of tracking down elusive pieces that draws many
collectors, beer stein and otherwise, to the hobby.
“It’s the hunt. We’ve had friends who collect
a certain kind, and when they’re done, they sell it and try to collect
something else,” he said. Fred
landed his favorite piece, “Munich Child,” when the hunt led him to an
auction 20 years ago. Perched high atop a shelf in Fred and Joann’s den Munich
Child shows a child surrounded by vibrant colored leaves and flowers. Initials
are engraved into the silver top, indicating it was custom-made for someone in
the 19th century. Fred said he
has never seen another like it, and recently published a piece in
a beer stein magazine, about his unique find.
Joann’s favorite stein sits on a shelf just
inside the entryway of the couple’s home. A butterfly and swirling flowers are
stenciled onto its amber glass, which is ruffled at the bottom. She has
submitted a piece to Prosit that could be published next month.
Any organization who would like to hear Fred and
Joann speak about their beer stein collection may contact Joann at (920)
Reprinted from the Beaver Dam Daily Citizen