Some collectors want only steins that have a train or railroad motif. Others are interested solely in museum-class antique steins. Even others limit their collections to character or figural steins. And that's all well and good. After all, collectors' interests are as diverse as the collecting hobby itself.
The novice collector encounters great variety and diversity on entering the stein field--perhaps so much that choosing a particular theme or style is a daunting task.
Stein collecting is like plate collecting in that both are mediums for subject matter of all types. However, the stein offers an added dimension--one might think of it as sculpture--in the form of shapes, reliefs and embellishments not normally found on plates.
Novice collectors often ask, "What should I look for?" I am tempted to reply to all such queries with a stock answer: "If a stein appeals to you and is within your means, buy it!"
But these collectors are seeking something more than just "what to look for". I think they're really asking, "Which steins should I collect now to ensure that I will be happy with them long into the future?"
From that perspective, my recommendations revolve around what not to collect. Only collectors themselves know how their tastes run in steins' subject matter and style.
I advise new collectors to resist pursuing "bargains". Novice collectors often are drawn to what they consider good buys, and who can blame them? Everyone loves a bargain.
If collectors perceive a certain stein to be a bargain, then they also believe they are sheltering themselves from future disappointments. And although such a stein may not be the prettiest piece in a collection, collectors can justify its purchase because it was thrifty.
While bargain-hunting in itself can be rewarding, it is a difficult way to sustain interest in a hobby. Sustained interest, I have found, is closely related to goal-setting. And goal-setting requires a focus.
If the novice does not have a penchant for a particular subject matter, it's still possible to narrow the collecting focus to something manageable.
Let's go back to the top--to the collectors who seek the railway, museum-quality or American wildlife stein. These subjects usually relate to the collector's other interests. As such, these themed steins will have an enduring appeal to their owners.
Novice collectors should ask themselves which subjects will hold perennial interest for them. The answer may suggest a good theme for their stein collection.
My suggesion is to set forth a simple, two-point criteria for collectibility. Is the stein artistically impressive? Is the stein highly interesting? If it is neither, go on to something else even if the stein in question is a bargain.
Don't worry that setting these boundaries will narrow your collection, making it seem repetitive or boring. Persons who harbor a passion for cut crystal are not likely to tire of the crystal steins they have acquired. And there's a long history of exciting pieces for history buffs to choose from.
The advice, then: set goals for the steins you purchase; make sure they represent your interests; and be certain they are attractive, interesting or both. Follow these guideslines even if it means passing up bargains. Your collection will be more engaging, collecting will be more enjoyable, and you'll be happier over the longer run.