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A Sign of the Times and Other Breweriana Collectibles

Flat Top Beer Can, Gettelman Tray And Pabst Bottles

Auctions are always exciting and enjoyable for the winning bidder. We try to attend several each month, when schedules permit. Our favorite auctioneer is Carol Miller of Baileys Honor Auctions, the first woman to win the Wisconsin State Auctioneers Championship and recently elected President of that group, chronicled in some of our previous writings.

One auction we missed was a very special collection: The Jim Beniak Collection of Breweriana. While not a hardcore beer collector, we do have some small signs and mugs. To show the range of collectibles and prices paid we hope our readers will understand the extent serious collectors indulge themselves and for the novice to watch for bargains wherever they may lurk.

The online bidding was facilitated by Proxibid and the results of the auction were featured on their website. Attending the auction were bidders from eight different states and online bidding came from twenty-nine states and Canada.

This incredible auction featured items from brewers across the entire state of Wisconsin and a few others, in all major categories of beer collecting: bottles, cone top cans, shipping boxes, tap handles, trays, signs, mugs and more signs. There was something for every level of collector, from the can collector to the ardent sign aficionado and with a vast array of ball tap handles that everyone seems to covet.

I’m not here to boast that with a predominant Germanic population in Wisconsin, we once had all the best breweries in the country; we just had the best advertising and within this auction were unbelievable examples of the extent of that advertising. All the major Wisconsin brewers and tons of smaller breweries from towns spanning the entire state were represented in this collection. Some beers were even new to me: Fauerbach, Jung, Esquire, Storck’s Slinger Beer to name a few.

Beer cans, bottles and advertising mugs present the new collector with modest means a way to start or add to a collection. Beer trays enjoy a place in every collection for the ease of display in an entertainment or in your man (or person) cave. Litho tin trays had great graphics to catch the eye of the tavern patron. Condition and age along with rarity govern any collectible and that is especially true for beer trays which were used to convey wet drink bottles and glasses, and often were left wet on the bar after use.

Almost all the beer signs represented at this auction were tin lithographed. Others were porcelain enamel with a few that were reverse painted on glass. A couple of early lighted signs were included.

Pre-Prohibition items are rare today and some collectors will specialize on that category. Others find the Prohibition period fascinating. It was the time when many of the large brewers turned to other products to produce which suited their abilities. Many smaller breweries simply closed, never to return to the marketplace.

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This rare Pabst Brewing Co. tin sign produced before prohibition reads “The Perfect Product of a Great Plant.” It’s a large sign with the factory in the background and a hand holding a beer bottle in the foreground, and appearing to be a litho. The brewery was in Milwaukee, and the sign was from Passaic Metalware Litho Co., in Passaic, New Jersey. The size is 31″ x 41″ and some light wear was noted by the auctioneer. It was sold to the high bidder for $6000.

The last few decades have seen the formation of micro-brewers, and the growth of brew pubs brewing and serving their specialties, along with a pub meal, for the whole family.

Will the next decades see the closing of some of these places and make any memorabilia or advertising worth collecting? I would bet on it.


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