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The word stein comes from the German word, steinzeugkrug, which is a stoneware carafe or jug. Germany, the land where beer is more common than water, is also known for their elaborately decorated and hand painted beer steins. The difference between a beer stein and a mug is that the stein usually has a hinged lid. The lid was originally a sanitary measure taken after the times of the Bubonic Plague.
In the early 1500ís many German municipalities had passed laws governing the covering of food and drink, thus the hinged lid on what was once a mug. In addition, German beer halls also began to flourish at about the same time and people began buying personal steins that they would take to these halls. The practice of keeping a stein at your local tavern is still done in certain parts of Germany. This brought about the ornate and beautiful steins we collect today.
Some of the earliest steins were a status symbol for many Germans and were made of stoneware and decorated with carved and applied shields and historical scenes. They were painted and glazed by hand and it took many hours to create a single stein. The most recent steins are still decorated in the same way and many can be seen with the cobalt blue and chocolate saltglaze that was first used back in the day.