By Jeremy Blum
This article originally appeared in the AAAA Checkerboard, January, 2015
“It’s five o’clock somewhere” Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett
The history of breweries in the U.S. followed the migration of Germans to America. Around four million immigrated to the U.S. in the last half of the 19th century. The brewery became a center of life for German Americans, providing employment, and beer was the center of their recreational activities. Most of the major beer brands we know today were established by German Americans in the 19th century. In fact, many breweries that survive today were established prior to the civil war. Most larger cities had dozens of breweries. Those cities with large German populations such as Milwaukee, Cincinnati and St. Louis were often the headquarters of breweries that became National or Regional brands.
The lager and pilsner beer we drink today was made possible by the arrival of bottom-fermenting lager beer yeast from Europe in the 1840s. By the mid-1870s, the number of breweries operating in America had increased to around 4,000. Over the next twenty-five years, the nation's beer production increased from about 10 million barrels to nearly 40 million barrels per year. However, the number of breweries declined to around 2,000 by 1900. Many of those were killed off by prohibition which was in effect from 1920 to 1933. Of those that restarted in 1933 many more were killed off by the emergence of stronger national brands such as Anheuser Busch, Miller and Coors. Only about 1% of the breweries in existence in 1900 survive today. However, in the 21st century a new beer renaissance has emerged. Craft beers, which are small breweries often just serving one bar/restaurant have sprung up in almost every city. From almost none in 2000, craft breweries totaled 4,269 in 2015 representing 12.8% of beer purchased in the U.S. in 2015. We have come full circle in the number of breweries. The supply of future collectibles will be immense.
Beer collectibles are somewhat similar to soda collectibles with regard to the type of collectibles, though there are significant differences. There are items available in all price levels. A large collection can be obtained for little money, but there are also items for high end collectors that can cost several thousand dollars. The amount of collectibles out there is immense. This is because beer is essentially a mass produced commodity so brewers needed to spend big to expand their sales and differentiate themselves. Marketing budgets for beer and soda are higher than most other consumer products.
There are three periods of beer collectibles. The first period runs from the mid-1800s to prohibition in 1920. Most of the more expensive items date to this time. Some of the most interesting and beautiful graphics date to this period. While some items are affordable many cost hundreds or thousands. Often found are signs, posters, trays, bottles and glasses. The vast majority of what is collected today comes from the 1950s through the mid-1970s. This period is dominated by signs, which unlike most other advertising signs from the period, are mostly made of plastic. Also prevalent during this period are neon, figurines, coasters, tap handles, ashtrays, mirrors, and cans. The third and smallest period is from the end of prohibition in 1933 and the beginning of the 1950s. This period has elements of both the other periods. All periods have signs, bottles, and drinking vessels.
There is a huge amount of material for collectors. Some focus on a particular city or region. Others on a type of item such as signs or trays. Beer collectibles are popular as they go great with certain décor such as a bar area or a man cave. I collect advertising in general. When preparing for this article I didn’t realize how much Breweriana I actually had.
Can you name the home city of the brewery where each of the following beers were based? (Answers are in the listing below.)
4. Rolling Rock
Below is a list of some of the larger beer brands that are often collected, giving their locations and dates of production. Notice most started in the 1800s. While many are still being produced, a large portion are no longer major brands. Some have been revived in recent years.
Andeker (Pabst) 1939-1986 Milwaukee
Ballentine 1840-present Newark, NJ
Blatz 1851-present Milwaukee
Bruck's 1856-1949 Cincinnati
Budweiser 1876-present St. Louis
Burger 1880-1973 Cincinnati
Busch 1955-present St. Louis
Natural Light (Annheuser Busch) 1977-present St. Louis
Black Label (Carling) 1927-present London, Ontario
Colt 45 (Pabst) 1963-present Milwaukee
Cook's 1853-1957 Evansville, IN
Coors 1873-present Golden, CO
Diehl 1870-1955 Defiance, OH
Drewerys 1877-1977 South Bend, IN
Duke (Duquesne) 1899-1972 Pittsburg
Duquesne 1899-1972, 2010 > Pittsburg
Falls City 1905-1978, 2010 > Louisville
Falstaff 1903-2005 St. Louis
Genesee 1878-present Rochester, NY
Gerst 1893-1954 Nashville
Goldcrest 1906-1954, 2015 > Memphis
Grain Belt 1893-present Minneapolis
Hamm's 1865-present St. Paul, MN
Heileman 1858-1996 La Crosse, WI
Heineken 1868-present Netherlands
Highlander 1910-1964 Missoula, MT
Hudepohl 1885-2001 Cincinnati
Iroquois 1842-1980 Buffalo
Jax 1913-1974 Jacksonville, FL
Kamm's 1887-1951 Mishawaka, IN
Lone Star 1884-present San Antonio
Lowenbrau 1383-present Germany
Lucky 1933-1978 San Francisco
Michelob (Annheuser Busch) 1896-present St. Louis
Miller 1896-present Milwaukee
Lite (Miller) 1972-present Milwaukee
Molson 1786-present Montreal
National Bohemian 1885-present Baltimore
Oertels 92 1865-1968 Louisville
Old Milwaukee 1849-present Milwaukee
Olde English (Miller) 1964-present Milwaukee
Old Style (Molson) 1926-present Lethbridge, Alberta
Olympia 1896-present Tumwater, WA Pabst 1889-present Milwaukee
Pearl 1883-2001 San Antonio
Piels 1883-2015 New York City
Rainier 1878-present Seattle
Red Top 1933-1956 Cincinnati
Rheingold 1883-1976 New York City
Rolling Rock 1939-present Latrobe, PA
Shaefer 1842-present New York City
Schlitz 1849-present Milwaukee
Schmidts 1855-2002 St. Paul, MN
Stag 1907-present Belleville, IL
Sterling 1880-1998 Evansville, IN
Stroh's 1850-present Detroit
Wiedemann 1890-2006 Cincinnati
Can you name the beer for each of these classic slogans? (Answers at the end of this article.)
1. It's the one beer to have, when you're having more than one
2. The beer that made Milwaukee famous
3. if you've got the time, we've got the beer
4. You never forget your first girl
5. It works every time
6. From the land of sky blue waters
Beer Collectible Categories
Below is a brief description and pictures of Breweriana collectibles. Pictures showing a wooden floor behind are from my collection.
Signs are the largest category of Breweriana. However, beer signs from the most collected era of the 1950s through mid-1970s are different than most other signs from that era, in that they are usually plastic. Others come in the normal materials for the day such as cardboard, tin and paper. They are very affordable and collectible. Most can be found for under $100, though some go for several hundred dollars. Some higher priced signs light up, and some of those have motion. Earlier signs were of more conventional materials such as tin, posters and porcelain. Like other such signs from before 1950 they can command hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Counter Top Ad for the First Cone Top
If you've got the time, we've got the beer
Neon is a type of sign that has glass tubes filled with neon and other gasses that light up into various colors. Neon store signs were primarily used from 1920-1960. After 1960 they started to be associated with seedy parts of town and were phased out. However, neon for beer signs never went out of style, as many bars were happy to have that image. Most from the 1970s or earlier cost in the hundreds of dollars if in good working condition. I recommend you get the older ones rewired. These are great for man caves!
The most collected beer trays are from the pre-prohibition era. These have the old lithography with a purer color and often interesting and beautiful graphics. They usually sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Beer trays after 1950 are common and much more affordable, generally under $30.
More figurines were produced of beer collectibles than any other type of advertising during the 1950s through mid-1970s. Most of the major breweries had their own character, and these were displayed in bars and elsewhere.
Is it a figurine, a calendar or a sign?
Safe to Drink
Grab a Leinie!
Drinking vessels are mugs, glasses, cups and other items used to consume beer. The best known mugs were steins made in Germany, but most of them are not advertising related. However, there is plenty to choose from in this category, and most are very affordable.
“Red solo cup, I fill you up, let’s have a party” Toby Keith
These are items used in the consumption of beer. It includes can openers, coasters, tap handles, and foam scrapers. Coasters have been very popular since the 1950s and generally cost under $10, with many only a dollar or two. Tap handles and can openers since the 1950s are also very affordable. I am including ashtrays, because where there was drinking, there was smoking. Glass is the primary material used, but they are also found in metal, porcelain and other materials. Most items in this category are very affordable and take up little space.
Bottles and Cans
Most beer consumed today comes in a bottle or can. This was not always the case. While beer bottles of various types have been around since the 1600s, prior to prohibition, the vast majority of beer was served was from a keg. Bottles prior to the 1880s were usually wider than those today. Some, especially in England, were actually made of stoneware but the majority were glass. The first cans were sold in 1933 by Krueger. These were heavy gauge steel flat tops that required a can opener. Highly desired today are the cone top cans. These were introduced by Schlitz in 1935 and competed with the flat tops until dying out in the 1950s. The first all aluminum can came in 1958. Beer cans finally outsold beer bottles around 1960. Self-opening cans started in the early 1960s. Dating can also be done by finding the words Internal Revenue Tax Paid. All alcohol containers from 1935 to 1950 were required to contain those words. Other dating clues are zip codes that were phased in during the mid-1960s and the bar code that came in around 1979. A beer can collecting craze took place in the 1970s. Beer cans from that era are so plentiful that few are worth more than $1. A smaller fad from that era was the collection of bottle caps. Those are also generally found for a dollar or two.
Beer advertising is found on just about every advertising medium. Other advertising types include unused labels, Vienna Art plates, clocks, magazine ads, mirrors, pocket mirrors and clothes. The Vienna Art plates have come down considerably in price from usually over $100 to now usually under $100. Most date to around 1905.
4. St. Pauli Girl
5. Colt 45
“I could kiss and hug it (beer) but I’d rather chug it” Weird Al Yankovic