Stein Collectors International
Featured Stein: November 1999

~A Field Artillery Regimental Stein~
By R. Ron Heiligenstein

Definition of a Regimental Beer Stein
To be considered a regimental beer stein by collectors, a stein must meet certain minimum criteria. It must have a handle, lid and thumblift, have been produced during the Second German Empire with an appreciable military motif, and must incorporate the name of the original owner, his unit designation and garrison town, along with the years he served in the military. Regimental beer steins were made of porcelain, pottery, stoneware, glass or pewter, and most often, in a rather traditional turn of the century beer stein configuration.

Origin of Regimental Beer Steins
During the twenty-five years (1890-1914) before the outbreak of World War I, many young men in the German and Bavarian Armies purchased a souvenir as a positive and tangible remembrance of their two or three years of active military training. These souvenirs were diverse, and included walking sticks, pipes, schnapps flasks, group photographs and beer steins. Beer steins were the most high-priced souvenirs, costing four to seven weeks pay in those days, depending on how they were decorated. Only those recruits (about 10%) who regularly saved something out of their insufficient earnings could afford these colorful mementos of military service. Their regimental steins were ordered in the spring to allow sufficient time for manufacturing and the usual amount of personalization. Recruits who anticipated passing into the reserve gathered together to select the style and decoration of their remembrance steins. After reaching their decisions, the men placed a group order, with a modest down payment, to get the lowest price possible. Their steins were delivered in late September, just before they left the service and returned to their families and civilian life.

How Many Regimental Beer Steins?
No one has an accurate figure for how many regimental beer steins survive to this day, but we can make broad assumptions and informed estimates. We do know that an average of 225,000 recruits joined the German and Bavarian Armies annually, between 1890 and 1914, the period when regimental beer steins were produced. We also know that only about 10% of the recruits purchased a regimental stein. Further, large quantities of steins were destroyed during the scrap metal drives during the two world wars, as well as in the bombing raids in the second war. Finally, we know that families destroyed regimental steins in fear of what the advancing allied forces might surmise upon seeing a cherished military artifact in their homes. From all of this it is reasonable to assume that 95% of the total number of regimental steins produced have been destroyed. This leads to an estimate that roughly 28,000 regimental steins survived. Of those, we can assume about one half continue undiscovered, with the other half in collections in the United States and Germany.

Collecting Regimental Beer Steins
Interest in collecting regimental beer steins began in the late 1940's and the 1950's, when American GIs came home from Germany with steins they had purchased for a few dollars or bartered for a Hershey bar. The German people were destitute at that time, and willing to sell almost anything, even grandfather's beer stein, for bread or some coal to warm themselves during several record cold winters. Over the next twenty or thirty years, regimental stein collecting was rather haphazard, as few collectors had any understanding of the significance of these turn of the century collectibles. That changed in 1979, when the first basic text on regimental beer steins was published. The creation and growth of Stein Collectors International (SCI) over the last thirty years, has also prompted an understanding of and an interest in regimental beer steins, primarily through its quarterly publication, Prosit, and by scholarly presentations at annual SCI conventions. In 1997, the second book on regimental beer steins was published, taking this hobby to even greater levels of interest, especially among the Germans who regularly show up at stein auctions in this country.

In past years it was occasionally possible to find an antique regimental beer stein in shops in the United States or Germany. Generally speaking, that is no longer the case. Regimental beer steins found in antique shops today are almost always contemporary reproductions. This statement should be taken seriously by anyone who may in the future "discover" an attractive regimental stein in an antique shop somewhere! The reality is, presently, most authentic regimental beer steins change hands at international stein conventions, periodic beer stein auctions, or in private exchanges between collectors.

R. Ron Heiligenstein, SCI Master Steinologist, Author, Regimental Beer Steins, 1890-1914

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