Ein Prosit;
Couple collects beer steins from long ago

By AARON MARTIN, Staff Reporter



Fred and Joann Ellis stand before a shelf holding a portion of their beer stein collection in their rural Beaver Dam home. The couple has collected more than 600 beer steins, mostly from the mid 19th and early 20th centuries.

 

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 "Prosit", 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) 319-6694.

Reprinted from the Beaver Dam Daily Citizen
Saturday September 5, 2009