Leather might not sound like something you would want to drink out of, but it was widely used to fashion tankards. Wood, which was either hollowed out or used to make staves to construct barrel-like mugs, was also a common material. These working-class drinking vessels could be carried from place to place without fear of being broken. Just like today, it was good to have a mug at the ready when a kegger broke out.
Metal tankards ranged from iron, tin and pewter to silver and gold. Your station in life and the ceremonial level of the drinking occasion determined the base metal. Some of the earliest metal drinking vessels were made of bronze and date back to the Zhou Dynasty in China. These were so much a part of everyday life that famous painters from Vincent Van Gogh to Pieter Bruegel used them as props in a number of masterpieces. A good example is “Malle Babbe” by Dutch artist Frans Hals (1580-1666), which hangs in the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin. It features an elderly woman with an owl on her shoulder and a metal lidded beer mug in her right hand.
Lifting the Lid on Steins
Even though steins got their start in the face of a pandemic, the durability and popularity of these drinking vessels are reflected in the extreme collectability and the high prices quality steins can command in antique shops, auctions and private sales. Steins are often more than just a covered drinking mug. They are true pieces of art. Themes range from castles and military to hunting and sports. A stein often says something about its owner and is one of the more personal drinking vessels ever created.
Andre Ammelounx runs the Stein Auction Co. with his partner Gary Kirsner. The company got its start in 1982 and holds auctions nine times a year. In its June sale one stein, a “Bearded Man” jug stein dating from 1574 made in Raeren outside of Cologne, sold for $8,625.