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Antique Collectible

Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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L to R: Merkelbach: $962.50; Ringer: $907.50; 1859: $797.50; Ringer: $605. Photo courtesy of Gary Kirsner Auctions
If you peek inside most china closets you’ll probably spot at least one beer stein, and if you coax its owner you’ll no doubt hear the story of how the stein ended up there. Stoneware steins have been around since the 13th century. They spark memories for their holders of good fun, good cheer and good taverns.

Like most collectibles, the variety in steins is exhausting. Finding a stein from the 13th through the 17th century is like finding good watermelon in the wintertime. Mostly, what collectors uncover are steins made from 1870 onward.

“I once answered my doorbell to find a stranger standing outside with two steins in her hands,” said collector and past president of Stein Collectors International, Dr. Norman Medow.

“She had been to a friend’s tag sale and everything else had been sold. At dusk she was simply given the steins because no one had bought them. Having seen one of my advertisements, she wondered if I might be interested. I was. Both steins were Mettlach chromoliths.” (Valuable steins produced by the Villeroy & Boch Company of Mettlach, Germany.)

You name it, you’ll find it plastered on a stein. Beefy gentleman toasting each other at the supper table, musicians playing for the court, damsels lounging near the lakeside, late- night revelers. It’s all there. The subtle coloring and the skill with which the designs mingle with the background are distinctions that drive value upward.

Occupational steins came into vogue in the 1890s. These steins nobly display the trade of their owners. By 1900, sporting mugs were the fashion featuring bicyclists, golf, and ballooning. Regimental steins made in the 1890s became family heirlooms. They show the tour of service in the military and sometimes bear the soldier’s name.

On the whimsical side you’ll occasionally see old character steins made of porcelain. The rabbit, fox, dog, pirate, soldier, and monk are the more common types seen.

Few old steins were produced in the United States. Beer mugs are much more common here. The difference is that steins have a hinged lid. Many German steins came to this country with returning soldiers after World War II. These steins show up all the time in estate sales and flea markets.

Nearly 200 stein collectors gathered in Milwaukee, Wis., on July 30, 1995, for the yearly beer stein auction held by Gary Kirsner Auctions. Gross sales totaled $366,514.

A rare Mettlach decorated relief “Monkey in Cage” stein with a monkey handle and inlaid lid brought $5,500. A 19th century finely carved ivory tankard decorated with 12 figures, $10,450. Character steins were a big hit in the auction including a Gentleman Boar, $4,730. A Radish Lady, $2,860. (Radishes are popular on mugs; they represent one of the favorite munchies that go along with beer drinking.) Regimental steins ranged in price from $300 to over $2,000.

Q. What do you think the resale value would be of 4 3/4” high glass bottle? The bottom is slightly hollowed out. Embossed on the front is Consolidated Ice Co. Pittsburgh, Pa. Anne Kambic, Pittsburgh.

A. The important dates to remember with glass bottles are 1810-1910. That was the heyday in American bottle making in the United States. Before 1810, few glass containers were made and after 1910 most were machine made.

Early glass bottles were fashioned by hand in every size and shape imaginable. You can spot 19th century glass because it often appears to be bluish or greenish in color caused by impurities in the glass. Also, the glass sometimes appears uneven and may have bubbles or bits of stone.

I hear bottle collectors say that they like to go out when new buildings are about to be erected in the area and sift through the dirt and debris to unearth old bottles for their collections. Although much of what they find will be broken pieces, they manage to uncover at least a few old bottles intact. You’d be amazed at what you can dig up.

Stashed in cellars, tucked away in barns and buried in backyards throughout the area is a huge array of old bottles. Things to look for are whiskey bottles with Presidents embossed on them, flasks with horse-drawn carts, sailing ships, anything unusual.

The older the better rule applies and condition is important. Also look for a date on the bottom. Often you’ll find one. Your bottle is worth about $5-$10.

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