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Lithophanes and What are They

I’ve seen many articles about a Lithophane in the bottom of a beer stein and many of them have been by people selling steins.

First I want to correct what many of them say which is totally false and if you read one that insinuates that a German beer stein must have one in the bottom to be real then you might want to reconsider buying from them. You might even ask them to show you one in the steins they sell. The reason I say this is because Lithophanes are only in Porcelain steins. The second thing is that some of them will even say that they are painted in the bottom with long paint brushes.

Now I will tell you the real way they are made and why.

Porcelain steins are made of different clay then the earthenware or stoneware steins and they are fired at a much higher temperature. A lithophane is dependent on a light source being able to penetrate a translucent material and are found only in Porcelain steins.

So what is a lithophane and how is it made? It’s a porcelain transparency which held against a light source creates a three-dimensional image. The different thicknesses of the porcelain produce the image as light passes through it. Where the porcelain is thinner and more light passes through then the image will be lighter in color and if the porcelain is thicker less light passes and the image is darker.

The Lithophane is made by making a carving in beeswax using a light source behind it so that the details are highlighted as the craftsman uses steel wool and ivory tools to create the image. He is able to provide the detail by adjusting the thickness of the carving. After this a plaster mold is made from the beeswax image to form a porcelain disk which will become the base of the stein.

 The stein bodies are an open cylinder and the porcelain disk is attached to the bottom of this cylinder which when fired will fuse the base to the body.

 One thing to keep in mind if you own a porcelain stein is that because they are thin enough to be translucent they are also very fragile and susceptible to cracks if you were to toss something in them.