Up Front

Five Faves - 'Breweriana'

Top 'breweriana' picks from the Cone Top Brewery Museum
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City Union Brewery Tray

In the early to mid-20th century, regional breweries built awareness for their brands with such art as motion beer signs, back-bar chalkware sculptures, factory lithographs, tap handles and more. To collectors, this memorabilia is affectionately known as “breweriana” — a reminder of good times, craftsmanship, regional Americana and, of course, iconic long-forgotten beers. When The Mill at Vicksburg's $80 million restoration project is completed in 2024, it will include the Cone Top Brewery Museum, which will tell the story of American beer and its role in our culture and feature one of the country's most extensive breweriana collections. Here are five of my favorite artifacts from the museum's collection.

City Union Brewery Tray

c. 1900
Made by Chas. W. Shonk Co., Chicago

This metal tray, used by servers to carry drinks to tables and depicting a scene of monks being served beer and eating, was created for City Union Brewery in Kalamazoo. The brewery was owned by Alfred George “Fred” Neumier and a partner, Steven Zanda, of Detroit. The brewery operated from 1896 to 1904 at 823 Lake St. By April 1899, the brewery was producing approximately 140 barrels per day; in 1901 it built a new brick brewhouse and ice machine and cellar. In 1904, City Union Brewery became The Kalamazoo Brewery. Three years later, Numier died at age 65. He is buried at Riverside Catholic Cemetery.

Drewrys ‘It’s an Extra Dry Beer’ Neon Sign

c. 1940s

This Art Deco-style glass and neon sign was manufactured by Allison Sign Manufacturing Inc. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and designed to be displayed behind a bar. Talented craftsmen painted the design in reverse on the back of the glass. The Drewrys Brewery was established in 1893 in South Bend, Indiana, and for many years was one of the largest breweries in proximity to Kalamazoo. During the years of Prohibition (1920–1933), that plant was fully shut down. It reopened in 1933. The first case of Drewrys Ale produced after Prohibition was shipped to President Franklin D. Roosevelt because of his support for repealing Prohibition. In 1963, Drewrys merged with Associated Brew Co. of Detroit. In 1972, G. Heilman Brewing of Wisconsin purchased and kept the Drewrys name, but the company closed the South Bend plant later that year.

Bullet Lights

c. 1930s & 1940s

Bullet lights or shield lights, which were very popular during the 1930s and 1940s, were brand advertisements displayed on the back bar of drinking establishments. They were produced by Cincinnati Advertising Products Co. (also known as Blue Ribbon Displays) and feature an image painted in reverse on a curved piece of milk glass illuminated from behind by a light in the base. Bases were produced out of wood, plastic and metal. Most bullet lights depict a freestanding bottle or cone-top can with the brand's tagline. These displays ultimately proved to be fragile, making them highly sought by collectors because of the limited numbers of them that have survived.

Cook’s Vitrolite Glass Corner Sign

Pre-Prohibition
Made by George Meyercord of Meyercord Co., Chicago, Illinois

Meyercord Co., founded in 1896, specialized in the decalcomania process, taking customers’ designs and firing them onto white glass at 1,800 degrees in a device called the “Vitrolite.” This Cook's sign was made by Meyercord for Cook & Rice City Brewery, in Evansville, Indiana, which was opened by Frederick Washington Cook and his stepfather, Jacob Rice, in 1853.

By 1855, the partnership dissolved and Cook opened F.W. Cook Brewing Co. in Evansville. The brewery’s brewhouse and offices were destroyed by a fire on Dec. 3, 1891, and rebuilt by 1893. In 1905, a fire destroyed much of the plant yet again. After Cook died in 1913, his son Henry ran the brewery until his own death in 1929. It was then handed off to Henry’s younger brother, Charles Cook. In 1955, after operating for 102 years, the brewery stopped production due to labor disputes. It was torn down to make way for Evansville's Civic Center Complex in 1965.

E&B 103 Wooden Sign

Hand-painted on plywood/pressboard

The E&B Brewery was started in 1873 as the Ekhardt & Becker Brewing Co., and the brand was associated with Regal Brewing Co. and Schmidt Brewing Co. from 1944 to 1962. The E&B “Brew 103,” featured in this sign, was produced from 1944 to 1962, the year Pfeiffer Brewery and E&B merged.

This sign was removed from the brewery building at 1551 Winder St. in Detroit, by Edward Greaney, the lead architect on a project converting the building into loft-style condominiums in the 1970s. The sign, which is believed to be one of a kind, contains the “&” mark used in the company's logo only from 1944 to 1954. The sign remained in Greaney's personal collection and was acquired from his estate.

About the Author

Chris Moore

Chris Moore, a native of Vicksburg and resident of Seattle, owns Paper City Development, the owner of The Mill at Vicksburg. He also owns Concord Technologies and Old Stove Brewing, both in Seattle.

Moore grew up in and was deeply formed by the small village of Vicksburg, where his family has been woven into the fabric of the village since the 1840s. Devoted to his hometown’s past, he studies the history of Vicksburg and yearns for the village to reclaim its economic luster. He wants downtown Vicksburg to be significant and vibrant, restored to its historic character, and bustling with growing businesses, residents and visitors.

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More about The Conetop Brewery Museum

Inside the offices of Paper City Development in downtown Vicksburg, Chris Moore’s enthusiasm about the mill, his hometown and its history are palpable. It’s fitting that photographs of Vicksburg’s past share space on the walls beside renderings of the future Mill at Vicksburg.

“People don’t know how much insanely wonderful history we have here (in Vicksburg),” Moore says. “You’ve got to paw back at it a little bit and expose it.”

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