From the Summer 2016 Breweriana Collector - By Ron Small
Sometimes it’s interesting to find a niche in the breweriana hobby that nobody else has discovered or talks about much. But with so many collectors pursuing so many different specialties & sub-specialties, this can be difficult.
One such under-the-radar maker of old beer signs is Milprint, Inc. Milprint, a combination of the words “Milwaukee” and “printing,” was a printer and sign maker that specialized in different types of printable plastics and plastic overlays. Founded in 1899 by brothers Max and William Heller, the company, early in its history, created innovations in commercial packaging—notably substances such as glassine paper, cellophane, foil, and celluloid.
And they also developed methods of printing on these surfaces. Their new materials and printing technologies were well timed, since the early 1900's marked the beginning of our culture’s access to individually wrapped, mass-produced consumer goods.
In particular, sales of individual candy bars were a big hit and were, in large part, made possible by Milprint’s technological advances.
Later the company also developed “Trans-vision,” which allowed for multiple layers of transparencies to be superimposed upon each other, breaking down complex diagrams and pictures into simpler components. Transvision was used extensively in medical and other textbooks as a means of illustrating complex anatomical systems, among other things.
William Heller sold Milprint to Phillip Morris in 1957, and the company was later sold to the Bemis Company, Inc. Today it is still an operating division of Bemis and is still a major printed packaging producer.
At some point in its history (probably in the post-War 1940's) Milprint added signage to their packaging lines. The signs were small, not flashy, and probably low budget. They were “Self-Stik” signs with two adhesive strips to affix the sign to the wall (see next page). I have only seen two with string hangers.
The signs almost all consist of a 6.5 inch x 10 inch foil-oncardboard background, overlaid with a flat piece of celluloid on which is printed the foreground design elements, and held together by a thin colored strip of celluloid, glued into place. A simple three piece construction, but as can be seen in the pictures, the signs were often very striking in appearance.
The most common of the Milprint beer signs is for Wee Willy Quality Beer from the Marathon City Brewing Co. of Marathon, Wisconsin. For many years, this was the only Milprint sign I had seen. One day however, I was perusing eBay and I came across a number of different Buy-It-Now listings for various beer, dairy, and other signs. Somehow it registered that these were exactly like the Wee Willy sign I already knew about.
Quickly, I purchased all of the beer signs the seller had listed. I thought for a few minutes and then bought all the rest, too. Later I exchanged emails with the seller and discovered that he was helping an elderly friend clean out his basement. His friend had been a longtime employee of Milprint.
In the following weeks he emailed me a few more times as he uncovered more Milprint items in his friend’s basement. These included 4 different flat Plexiglas signs that I hadn’t realized Milprint had ever produced. Without frames or any other functional pieces attached, I am left to wonder as to their intended use. There was also a partial Milprint sign for Kingsbury Pale—only the front celluloid panel. I have never seen a complete one of these, so I do not know if it was ever actually produced.
But the most interesting thing my correspondent found was a Miller High Life sign, still in the mock up stages—mostly complete, but with pieces just glued into place. Since Miller was such a large brewery, this complex mock up is a step up from most of their more graphically simple signage. It would be interesting to see if this ever made it past the design stage. Since Milprint was based in Milwaukee, it is not surprising that most of the beer signs they made were for Wisconsin brewers. The Alpen Brau shown (right) is from Missouri, not too far away. But I was surprised when I found Milprint signs from Nevada and Washington State.
From what I have been able to discover about the non-beer signs, they seem to be for companies from a more diverse geographical area, without a noticeable concentration in Wisconsin.
Since Milprint is not too well known among breweriana collectors, if you have any Milprint signs in your collection, you might not have even been aware of it. I would like to compile a composite listing of all known Milprint signs— beer and non-beer— so if you have any, please drop me a line (see right for contact info) so I can add them.
Many thanks and happy collecting!
MORE PHOTOS !
All of the signs pictured in this article are from the collection of the author, who can be reached at Roon48@yahoo.com, or 860-896-4700.
Author’s Note: The following website was used extensively in the writing of this article:
“Hagley Museum and Library: Leonard W. Walton Collection of Milprint, Inc. Photographs (2008.219) –
Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department.” Hagley Museum and Library: Leonard W.
Walton Collection of Milprint, Inc. Photographs (2008.219) – Audiovisual Collections and Digital
Initiatives Department. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 May 2016.