Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Antique beer steins you won't believe

I saw a totally unexpected display at The Milwaukee Art Museum last weekend. It's not surprising to see sculptural beer steins in a Milwaukee museum, but the subject matter was a surprise. I bet a lot of you are coveting this right now:

Isn't this skull stein amazingly well crafted? It looks like a real skull. It dates from 1900 and has some interesting history, which I learned from a gallery label. I just learned that "label" is the word used for descriptive signs in a gallery.  So, according to the label, skull steins were a common gift for a college graduate! The skull is shown on a book. The Latin on the book reads "Let us rejoice while we are young".

This inscription is the beginning of a hymn "On the shortness of life" which according to the label, is commonly sung at European graduation ceremonies. Is that true? I'm asking anyone living in Europe, who might know. The skull stein was a bit of a joke for the graduate. I think in a "Drink up! Life is short!" sort of way.

Check out the back of the skull, 1/2 Ltr. mark, and bone handle:

Some people might find that skull creepy, but in my view the creepiest stein went by the name of the "Happy Radish".

Yikes! I don't know how happy it is, but it sure looks menacing. I can almost hear an evil little laugh coming out of this. Can you imagine having this happy radish on display where you live? At night, especially! The happy radish was also made in 1900. As the label next to it reminds the viewer "Salted, thinly sliced radishes were a common beer hall snack". So that's it, this is the look of a radish with revenge on its mind!

See? Looking at the radish and the skull side by side, isn't the radish scarier?

This next one is creepy too, but only because of the lighting. I'm sure it would look noble, maybe even kindly if it was sitting in a nice setting, in the sunlight. This is "Father John" and he was also created in 1900.

OK, looking at him again, there is one creepy detail that no amount of good lighting could disguise. You'd have to pop the top off his cranium to drink your beer!

This "Elf" stein, also made in 1900, is nearing cuteness.

There were a few animal steins too. I thought this owl was pretty cool. It reminds me of those fake owls people put out in their yards.

It's not titled "Owl Stein" but is instead titled "2036". Anyone have an idea of what that's about? Maybe it was the 2,036th owl stein someone made? This one was made in 1897. I looked at a Latin to English translation page and learned that Bibite = Drink. I figured the word was Latin after learning that the words under the skull were in Latin.

There was a pig that was just not doing it for me. Just meh. It's called the "Singing Pig Stein" and dates from 1900. Not sure if it looks like it is singing. Maybe.

And a funny pug, which I'm on the fence with. Part of me is thinking "cute!" and part of me isn't sure about those eyes. I'm sure pug people would be into it.

The pug stein is dated from 1891, but its title is "2018". I found that kind of spooky, given that it is 2018. I thought it was wild that someone made this stein in 1891, named it "2018", and in the actual 2018, here I am photographing it. I think if someone told the artist who made this in 1891, that someone would be photographing it with a newfangled camera 127 later, they'd think that was as cool as I think it is.

This frog stein is my favorite, along with the skull. It's so glossy! I like frogs, especially frogs with funny body language. He looks like he's saying "You'd like to take a picture of Moi?" This stein was made in 1900.

Another view of the frog, because I like him so much:

If you're curious about the back view:

It spooked me to see that face in the reflection just now, but then I remembered that it's "Father John".

All of these steins have held up so well over the years! As you've probably all guessed, each stein was made in Germany.

Something funny happened while I was photographing these steins. This has probably happened to those of you who take a lot of photos too. I was in this out of the way gallery space, in a dimly lit area, photographing beer steins, when a woman came in, stood next to me, and started taking the same photos I was! She eventually left and a few minutes later a man came over and did the same! Neither of them said a word to me. I should also mention that there were amazing pieces of art nearby that they both completely bypassed.

I have this theory that people want to take a photo of something, but they don't know what might be important in a museum or at a historical site. So when they see someone in full concentration, taking photos of something, they come over and join in. They don't want to miss the possibly "important" gallery piece, etc. Now, I obviously knew what I was going to do with these photos. As soon as I saw that skull, I ran over thinking "blog post!" but I have to wonder what those other people will do with their photos.

Anyway, what do you guys think of these steins? Would you want any of them around as decorations or to drink from? I liked the skull and the frog. Imagine how neat those two would look sitting out at Halloween! 🎃

P.S. ~ If you'd like to read a detailed history of beer steins, I have just the page for you: A Brief History of Beer Steins 

If you read that page, you'll learn some interesting trivia, like the reason beer steins have lids. 


  1. Wonderful post, good Lady Justine...!!

  2. I have a stein that belonged to my grandfather that I got several years ago when he passed. When my mom asked if there was anything of his I wanted, that was the only thing. I should really blog it sometime. It's not as arty as these but it's pretty neat.

    You can take that radish stein, toss it in a fire and then scatter the ashes! That thing looks Evil!

    Re: people joining in
    Just like if you get enough people outside looking up at nothing, others will stop to see what you're looking at

    1. Dex ~ That's so cool! I'd like to see a picture of your grandfather's/your stein. So if you don't blog about it, still send me a pic! I'd never seen arty steins like these before. I've seen a ton of steins, given where I am, but none like these character steins.

      Haha! I love your comment on the happy radish! :) I noticed its little teeth after putting up this blog post! So, the longer I look at it, the weirder it becomes.

      That is so true. There have been times when I've been looking up at the sky to see a bird or something and find other people joining in. :) But yeah, I'm sure I could have been looking at nothing and had the same response! I wonder if there has been some kind of scientific study on that group behavior?

  3. The Skull and the Frog Steins are my favs, and I agree, the Happy Radish looks demented!

    1. Bohemian ~ Hehe, so true. :) I was actually at the museum again yesterday and had to go over and revisit these steins. I found myself commenting on the Happy Radish and for a second thought "I shouldn't say these things in front of its face". You know, on the off chance it's haunted or something. ;) The Happy Radish just doesn't look like something to mess with!