A while back I was asked to research glass steins in period use for a friend of mine. Although I performed the task that was given to me in the time I was allotted to his satisfaction, I knew the research had not been completed to my satisfaction by any stretch of the imagination. When I ran across a stein in Durer's The Men's Bath (c1496-97) it occurred to me that I needed to touch on that subject again.
My original research was centered around the possibility of glass steins in 1485. According to many websites that I'm finding, most steins were made of stoneware at this point in history, therefore, a glass stein would be unusual. The tops of the steins were supposedly pewter. I'm uncertain how well pewter would work with glass, but we'll leave that one for another time. Suffice to say, I have my doubts about the feasibility, at this point in history, of glass steins with pewter caps, but this is only a gut feeling. I have no data to completely prove or disprove this.
The hardest time I'm having with this subject is the fact that every site you visit concerning the history of the stein states the following, almost verbatim, on each site (This is from A Brief History of Beer Steins by Gary Kirsner):
From about 1340 until 1380, a bubonic plague, or Black Death, killed more than 25 million Europeans! As horrible as this historic event was, it prompted tremendous progress for civilization. And, of interest here, it is also responsible for the origin of the beer stein.
Recall from above that the distinction between a mug and a stein is the hinged lid. This lid was originally conceived entirely as a sanitary measure. During the summers of the late 1400s, hoards of little flies frequently invaded Central Europe. By the early 1500s, several principalities in what is now Germany had passed laws requiring that all food and beverage containers be covered to protect consumers against these dirty insects. The common mug also had to be covered, and this was accomplished by adding a hinged lid with a thumblift. This ingenious invention was soon used to cover all German beverage containers while still allowing them to be used with one hand.1The reason I quoted from Mr. Kirsner's site (as opposed to all the other non-sourced sites *sigh*) is simply because he added a caveat to what he wrote, which is the following:
1. Some question exists as to whether lidded steins were actually the result of “covered-container laws” or simply the widespread adoption of an idea that made sense for the times. Given the fractured political structure of 16th century Germany, many such edicts would have been required to cover the entire population, yet to date, not a single surviving example has been uncovered. (Ed.)No wonder I can't find any! Then I finally ran across Steve's site that provided one of those 'Ah hah!' moments. Don't you love those? Here was a site that was finally addressing all those wonderful 'questions without answers' that were cropping up in my head and bringing up others that I hadn't even considered.
Why wait 150 years to pass closed-container laws if the plague and flies were so bad? Why are there so few artwork representations of food in covered dishes after the Plague? Why are steins so difficult to find in period sources if they were mandated by 'laws'? These didn't make much sense to me, but I wasn't finding anything to the contrary until I found Why the lids on beer steins? The Real Reason! by Steve. Thank you, Steve! If you ever want to know something about steins, visit his site. Very informative and lots of pictures and even some sources. *gasp* :D
So, rather than continue to promote the Plague/flies fallacy, I determined to find what surviving examples I could and go from there. Sadly, what I have is meager at best, but I have found some.
This first is very questionable whether it is a stein or not. I would love someone to correct me if it isn't.
|Children of the Planets: Sun by Meister Hausbuch (c1475-85)|
Another image from Meister Hausbuch where one is questionable and the other is a serving container.
|Children of the Planets: Venus by Meister Hausbuch (c1475-85)|
Detail of the serving container at the bottom left of the image. Obvious hinge and rounded cover.
Another serving container from the Children of the Planets.
|Children of the Planets: Mercury by Meister Hausbuch (c1475-85)|
In Durer's The Men's Bath (c1496-97), the stein is not so prominent that it was an unusual occurrence, but something that was being used in daily life, which lead me to believe they had at least been used for a period of time prior to his drawing.
|Detail of the stein.|
|Couple Playing Cards by Israhel von Meckenem (c1500)|
|A Weygang reproduction Weaver's Guild liquor dispenser (c1617)|
Comparing the style of the Weygang to the style as represented in Durer's Bath image, they are very similar in construction. This one has more flowery bits and pieces, but the overall structure is about the same in that it is tall and cylindrical with a slightly wider base compared to the lip. Due to the angle of the Weygang photo, it's difficult to see the actual lid shape but it wouldn't be a stretch to infer that the shape is likely similar to the serving steins of the Planets and Playing Card images.
All of this shows me that most of the steins you find today would likely not be usable in a period setting due to their ostentatious colors and etchings. It would be better to find a friendly potter and pewterer able to make a stoneware stein with a pewter lid.
And now for something only slightly different... Beer law references in period Bavaria.
I would love to find out for myself what these actually comprise. Information on exhibit at the Harvard Law Library:
Bairische Lanndtzordnung. [s.l. : s.n.], 1553
This 1553 collection of Bavarian ordinances includes an article stating that all beers are to be made from barley, hops and water only and that beer should be properly heated and cooled, according to the season. This regulation echoes Munich's well-known purity decree of 1516 which determined the minimum standards for beer production and is considered the oldest extant quality control regulation. The Bavarian decree also stipulated that breweries be inspected twice a week in the winter and three times a week during the summer. Long thought to be the oldest law of its kind, research has shown that a Bavarian law of 1447 also set standards for beer-making, including a provision that the water used in making beer come from wells, not streams.
Georg Christoph Wagner. De Jure cere-visiario. Strassbourg : Josias Staedel, 1656.
The first chapter of this legal dissertation on the law of beer begins, "It should not be beneath the dignity of a lawyer to investigate diligently the nature of beer " Wagner goes on to describe the history of beer-making, pointing out that
... beer is now prepared in the different parts of Germany in different ways ... Barley beer is the more common. However, the barley used in beer is today better prepared than [that prepared] by the Romans.
The recipe for beer that follows is so detailed and specific that one could easily use it today. The Library's copy of this dissertation is also interesting for its seventeenth century annotations, most of them in Latin. On page four is a recipe for barley malt, duly noted by the reader; on page five, there is a Latin translation of a Greek poem to Bacchus and an intriguing--and so far undeciphered--annotation in German.