Sunday, June 23, 2013

Brewery Match Safes: A Case of Celluloid

In July 2009 this blog featured a post involving celluloid pocket mirrors issued by whiskey companies.   Brewers also found good use for celluloid in their advertising.  Many issued match safes,  sometimes called “vestas,”  that were miniature billboards for their products. 

While most brewery match safes are metal inside and out, a substantial number of breweries chose the decorative advantages of a celluloid covering.  Among them were was the Bowler Brothers Brewery of Worchester, Massachusetts.       They advertised their “Tadcaster Ale” on the front and displayed two bottles on the back, one for Tadcaster and the other for “Heidelbrau Beer.”  The case was manufactured by Whitehead and Hoag of Newark, New Jersey, and bears a patent date of 1905.  The Bowler Bros. Brewery was in business in Worchester from 1883 until 1918.

The Adam Scheidt Brewery began business in the late 1870s and with time out for Prohibition survived until 1975.  The Norristown, Pennsylvania, company was famous for its Valley Forge Beer, as shown here.  Scheidt also employed a Whitehead and Hoag celluloid match safe as a pre-Prohibition giveaway item.  This artifact advertised “Lotos Export Beer” on the front, along with an ABS trademark.  The flip side also plugged the brewery’s “Standard Beer” brand.

In 1963 the brewery name was changed to the Valley Forge Brewing Company. Five years later the operation was sold to Philadelphia’s largest brewer at the time, C. Schmidt & Sons.  The brewery continued to operate as a branch of Schmidt’s until the mid-1970s when it was closed for good.

Although Adolphus Busch is one of the most famous names in American brewing history, few people know that his brother John B. Busch was operating a brewery in Washington, Missouri, two years before Adolphus emigrated from Germany to the United States.  Although Adolphus elected to stay in St. Louis and start his own brewery, the brothers remained close.

John Busch is said to have been personally responsible for the elegant design of a celluloid case, one made to resemble a book with front and back cover and an illustrated spine.   Particularly notable is the slogan “We Made It Good, It Made Itself Famous.”   Was this a send-up of the Schlitz slogan, “The Beer that Made Milwaukee Famous”?   Following Prohibition Busch’s Missouri, operation no longer brewed beer but instead bottled Anheuser-Busch beer under its own label.  The facility was closed in 1954 with many of the employees joining the company Adophus Busch had founded with its flagship brand, Budweiser.

Although celluloid was well suited to carry colorful messages, it had its drawbacks.  As the material ages,  it dries and tends to crack, as seen in some of the cases shown here.  It also discolors from rust on the metal parts of the case and in some instances the printing tends to flake away.  The Leisy Beer case from Peoria, Illinois, illustrates the toll time can take on celluloid match safes.  The Leisy family were German Mennonites, originally from Iowa who migrated East.  Some Leisys opened a brewery in Peoria while another branch settled in Cleveland, Ohio, to found a second highly successful brewery.

Another match safe showing the effects of time was issued by J. E. Pulver, a liquor and cigar dealer in Holdrege, Nebraska, as a holiday giveaway in 1908.  It advertises Metz Omaha Beer.  The Metz Brothers Brewing Company was among the first brewers in the state.  Frederick and Joseph Metz purchased an existing brewery in 1861 and grew the business into one of Omaha’s largest, producing 12,400 barrels a year.  Like many others it closed with Prohibition.

By contrast Hams Beer survived the national “Dry Spell.”  It was established in 1865 when Theodore Hamm, a German immigrant, came into possession of a brewery in an area near St. Paul, Minnesota.  By the 1880s the Theo. Hamm Brewing Company was the second largest in the state.  The company featured a number of giveaways, among them a celluloid vesta that advertised the firm’s “Velvet Preferred Stock” and “Export Excelsior” brands.

Remember that these items were designed to hold matches with ignitable tips.  By the time of Repeal in 1934,  safety matches and match boxes had come into vogue and the safes had gone the way of the pocket watch.  That guarantees that all of these artifacts are more than 90 years old and approaching “antique” status.  Those of celluloid, unfortunately, may be diminished in appearance by time and use, but a careful collector may still be able to find excellent examples of this once vibrant but now obsolete form of beer advertising.











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