Pewter Fittings Through The Ages ~
by SCI Master Steinologist John
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 that when times were
good and tin could be easily obtained that the amount of pewter used on each
stein would be at a maximum, and the amount of pewter would be minimal when
times were bad. This only seems to be the case after the Franco-Prussian War.
Before that time, 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. But
production had dropped off in Saxony and Bohemia after the 30 Years War
(1618-1648), and the deposits were pretty much played out by the time the Dutch
started to import tin from Siam (Thailand) in 1680. So, after 1680, Germany was
dependent on England and Holland for its tin imports.
Pictured: Gmundner Jagdkrug c.1780 courtesy Peter Vogt,
During the 58 years between 1690-1748 when many of the steins being manufactured
were utilizing the maximum amounts of pewter, for example, they had footrings,
lid rings, large, fancy lids, large, ball type thumblifts, handle reinforcement
straps and general repairs made from pewter. Bavaria and a number of other
German states including Prussia, for at least 32 of those 58 years, were at war
with England and Holland and tin should have been difficult to come by.
On the other hand, from 1748 until 1914, no German State was at war with either
England or Holland, and 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, but besides getting a lot of 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 Württemberg kingdoms, 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 same
freedoms to its people, but it retracted most of them after Napoleon's defeat at
Waterloo in 1815. The two things that Napoleon did which had the greatest effect
on European society were: one, giving the peasants the right to own land, thus
allowing farmers to move to the towns and burghers to relocate to the
countryside; and two, 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 only be two reasons that 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 footring protect 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. Faience and glass are both 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
industrial revolution and the demand 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 time 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, because
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 World War 1. After the war Germany couldn't buy tin because of its
strategic importance and, of course, the fittings on our beer steins suffered
particularly during the years 1919-1924. Later, during the 1934-1939 time frame,
due to the armaments build up preceding World War II, we also find a shortage of
In dating our steins, we usually can't date them to an exact year, but we can
date them to a time 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 time period in which your stein was manufactured.
However, the scope of this article precludes my covering this aspect and is
limited to the pewter. If you are interested in learning something about body
and handle styles I suggest Gary Kirsner's "The Beer Stein Book" and a
video available through SCI by John Stuart called "Dating Glass
Dates 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 Oktoberfest, etc.
The reason a study of body and handle styles is important is that you will
encounter steins where the body and the pewter are from different time periods.
Although no time period is immune, I find this occurs most often on steins from
the 1830-1860 time period. The pewter had worn out, was contributed to a war
effort or lost for any number of other reasons, and was replaced at a later time
after the pewter styles had changed. This usually means that these steins will
be found with open hinges. This does not mean that open hinges were used prior
to 1860. You must keep in mind, that once you have learned all the rules for
dating your steins, that the most important rule to remember is that there are
exceptions to every rule.
Because I'm going to mention closed and open hinges from time to time I'd 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 didn't happen overnight 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
I've included line drawings of representative styles of pewter for each of the
eight periods that I divided the time line into. These divisions are:
The Modern era has a couple of smaller sub-groups. In order to save time and
space I've used cut-away drawings and hope this doesn't confuse the issue.
- Prior to 1680: The Early Years
- 1680-1725: Early Baroque
- 1725-1775: Baroque
- 1775-1825: Early Biedermeier
- 1825-1875: The Late Industrial Revolution
- 1875-1895: Early Modern
- 1895-1945: Modern
- 1945 to Date: Post War
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.
Prior to 1680: The Early Years
A stoneware jug typical of the
16th century, type similar to that illustrated by Albrecht Dürer.
Pewter fittings prior to 1680 were
boringly repetitious and provide little in the way of clues as to when they were
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 Dürer from the early 1500s.
Figure 1 is an example of a stoneware jug typical of that time 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.
Pewter from a stoneware jug of
Pewter from a stoneware jug of
the Westerwald c.1675.
1680-1725: Early Baroque
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).
Pewter from a faience stein of
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 time frame, prior to 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 as the pewter on steins produced throughout that period
would seem to indicate. However, in 1714 when Anne died, having outlived all
seventeen of her children, the Act of Settlement of June 12, 1701 took effect.
This 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 of England, the first Hanoverian king (1714-1727). This
marked the beginning of the golden age of German pewter.
Superb pewter from a faience
stein of Ansbach c.1720.
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 time period.
Sometimes, a hole in the bottom of a stein would be repaired by forming a false
bottom of pewter. It was part of, and held in place, by the foot ring.
Figure 8 shows a handle repair replacing the
lower portion of the handle with a pewter sleeve (or boot). It was soldered to
the handle reinforcement strap and held to the body by punching a hole in the
body of the stein through which a pewter plug extended from the sleeve to the
inside of the stein. This plug is then expanded flush against the inside of the
stein holding everything in place.
Pewter from a faience
stein of Berlin c.1735. Note the hinge rosettes or skirts and all the pewter is
tied together into a single unit.
Another stein of Berlin c.1725
was the source of this fantastic pewter.
Pewter repair to the bottom of a
broken handle. Stud through hole in body of stein holds everything in place.
Space around stud is sealed with a resin. From another Berlin faience stein
1775-1825: Early Biedermeier
Pewter from a faience
stein of Gmunden dated 1777. I have exactly the same lid and thumblift without
the lid ring on a glass stein dated 1788.
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, but the man responsible for the greatest revolution of his time was a
Scot by the name of James Watt who was the inventor of the steam engine which
made the Industrial Revolution and the modern world possible.
By the 1780's 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, there is also little to determine
the exact dating of that made between 1680 and 1775 except perhaps by the
quantity used and the artistic level achieved. However, from 1800 on and for the
next 150 years, a number of changes take place which 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, a last flash of pewter greatness sprang up in the town of Schrezheim. At
the beginning of the 19th century some of the most remarkable pewter ever to
grace a beer stein began to appear, first noted on the faience steins produced
at the local factory founded in 1752 by wine merchant Johann Baptist Bux. He
operated it until his death in 1800 when his heirs took over and operated it
until 1833. It was sold to Franz Heinrich Wintergeist whose family had done all
the painting of the faience since the factory had originally opened. The factory
was one of the last faience producers to close, shutting its doors in 1872.
However, the demand for faience had already begun to drop off about the time old
Johann passed away and glass was fast becoming the material of choice.
Subsequent discovery indicates this remarkable pewter to be the work of Wolfgang
Schneider of Regensburg, whose shop was in business from 1805 until about 1850.
By mid-century, possibly as a result of the decline of the faience industry,
Schneider's pewter fittings began to appear on glass and stoneware steins, while
continuing to grace the dwindling faience production. Once you have seen pewter
produced in the Wolfgang Schneider pewter shop you will always be able to
identify it, it is that distinctive.
|Figures 10, 11
and 12 are all samples of Wolfgang Schneider's pewter from this time period.
Figure 10 is on a stoneware stein, c.1820. In addition to the hinge skirts, note
that the hinge has been cut to look like meshing gears. Figure 11 is from a
glass stein, c.1820, and Figure 12 on a cold-painted faience piece c.1830. All
three have footrings decorated to match the lids.
Faience was devised as a substitute for porcelain,
but now that porcelain had been available for about 100 years the faience
factories were shutting down. Glass was cheap, easy to make, easy to keep
clean and was becoming the material of choice. Between 1825 and 1875 glass
steins were just about the only kind available.
Pewter from a stoneware stein of
the Westerwald c.1825.
Even the stoneware factories in the Westerwald
stopped producing steins around 1825 and except for sporadic production runs in
the 1850's didn't produce steins in any numbers until the early 1870's.
Figure 13 is the pewter from what must be one of the last stoneware
steins to come out of the Westerwald about 1825. The pewter is plain, very basic
and has a small thumblift. It is a hint of what is to come.
1825-1875: The Late Industrial
The majority of steins we see from early in this
time 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 that they have a larger, urn shaped thumblift. Prior to about 1835 they
also had a footring to protect those wide flared bases, but the rising cost of
tin took its toll and the footrings disappeared. When they went, the wide
flaring bases had to go also.
Pewter from a glass stein c.1850
made to hold either a glass or ceramic insert.
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 like 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 still
felt a need to reduce the amount of pewter being used 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.
Pewter from a glass stein
c.1860-65. Note the thin shank and the small diameter hinge. The lid is the same
as Fig. 14, but only two-thirds the diameter.
1875-1895: Early Modern
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 felt it was time to
re-introduce the stoneware stein. 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.
from a stoneware stein c.1875. Note that the thumblift is back over the hinge
and that the hinge is still a closed, five-ring affair.
Pewter from a glass stein with a
four F lid dated 1882. This type of open, three-ring hinge started to come into
use c.1875 and continued in use until c.1895.
Pewter from a Mettlach stein
c.1900. Still the preferred hinge today.
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.
|Don't confuse this puny, open
three-ring hinge with Fig. 17. This one was used on export pieces after 1892 and
is subject to easy damage.
In 1892, International trade agreements were signed
requiring countries exporting goods to mark them with the name of the country of
origin. Germany produced a plethora of cheap steins for export, which had pewter
fittings of very small dimensions that, I am sure, did not meet the fineness
requirements for pewter being sold in Germany. The 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, don't
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, encounter this fitting.
How Figure 19 is often found,
if at all.
Just as the September 1993 issue of Prosit, which
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 like 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.
I recently acquired another piece from the Reinhold
Hanke factory, a blue and gray stoneware jug from the 1870-1880 period, and
there, much to my surprise, was that elusive, closed, three-ring hinge (See Figure
20-01). Since then, I have also acquired a glass stein with an inlaid
porcelain lid that is c.1870-1880, which also has a closed three-ring hinge (See
three-ring hinge c.1870-1880.
closed, three-ring hinge c.1870-1880.
The existence of this hinge presents us with two questions: Where exactly does
it fit into our chronology, and why are there so few of them? I can only
theorize, but I think the following answer is pretty close to the mark.
Not knowing where the glass stein was made, or who
made it, I'll have to use the Hanke piece as the benchmark. Reinhold Hanke
launched his stoneware business in 1868. And by 1875, like everyone else, he was
fitting his steins with open three-ring hinges. That means that this type hinge
was used sometime between 1868 and 1875. My personal belief is that the window
is much smaller. Perhaps, as the majority of pewterers were changing over to the
open three-ring hinge, a small number of pewterers wanted to retain the clean,
finished appearance of the closed five-ring hinge. They adapted the process to
their needs, only going to the open three-ring hinge when the shortcomings of
closed three-ring hinges were discovered.
There are probably three reasons for the scarcity of
this hinge; first is the short period in which they were produced, second is the
small number of pewterers who might have used this hinge, and the third is the
fact that these hinges are susceptible to rapid failure, obviously, something
that was quickly recognized and corrected.
three-ring hinge c.1749.
tang, upper hinge and thumblift single-cast, open-hinge style c.1934-45.
Figure 20-03 is a very early, closed three-ring hinge that I've included
simply as a point of interest as it is certainly an exception from the norm.
This hinge is on a 1.75 liter stoneware stein attributed to Saxony and dated
1749. The pin extends through all three rings and is soldered into place on the
thin outer rings, leaving the thicker, inner ring to pivot on the pin. Even with
the thin outer rings, this appears to be quite a strong hinge.
Figure 20-04 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, overlooked it and left it out of 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 wartime
||Fittings from a post World
War I stein. The lid is nickel plated metal, used primarily from 1919 to 1924,
and 1934 to 1939.
In the mid 1890's the open, five-ring hinge came
into use as we saw in Figure 18, and this hinge is still the
predominantly used hinge today. After World War I, Germany found it couldn't 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 of these are found on steins
produced between 1919 and 1924 and again from 1934 through 1939.
1945 to Date: Post War
While we find all kinds of hinges and fittings being
used today, the fittings in Figure 22 are some of the most common postwar
fittings and are c.1950. Note the use of a closed, five-ring hinge. This does
not mean it was made prior to 1875.
||Pewter is c.1950. Note the
curved shape of tang to thumblift. Lid is probably marked D.B.G.M. inside.
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
Gruhl, Jim and Kirsner, Gary. The Beer Stein Book, Glentiques, Ltd.,
Coral Springs, FL., 1990.
Hornsby, Peter R.G., Pewter of the Western World, 1600-1850,
Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., Exon, Pennsylvania, 1983.
Reinhart, Kurt F., Germany.- 2000 Years, vol. 11, The Continuum
Publishing Co., New York, 1961.
Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Chronology
of Major Dates in History, Gramercy, Books, New York, 1989.
Vogt, Peter - Fayence und Steinzeug aus vier Jahrhunderten - Jubilaeumskatalog
Zehn Jahre Kunsthandel, Peter Vogt - Antiquitaeten im Rathaus, Marienplatz 8,
80331 Muenchen .
Original Articles published in
PROSIT September, 1993 and PROSIT September, 1996.
Articles combined and graphics
re-worked for online publishing, February 2000 by Ginger Gehres.Layout further revised in May
2004 by Walt Vogdes.