Some of the most beautiful and ornate forms of advertising ever created were decorative glass signs that were manufactured around the turn-of-the-century. Before prohibition, there were companies that employed highly skilled artisans that specialized in quantity-produced, framed ornamental glass signs that featured highly detailed hand painted artwork that incorporated gold and silver gilding that when combined with techniques like glue-chipping and acid-etching achieved signs of remarkable beauty and craftsmanship.
The earliest origins for these signs dates back as early as the 1860’s, where the first evidence of the deposition of silver and gold onto glass has been found. These glass signs grew in popularity in the late 19th century and at the turn of the century there were handfuls of manufacturers of ornamental glass signs of every kind and for all purposes that wholesaled their decorative wares to local signs companies.
As early as 1891, patents were filed detailing the ornate and labor intensive manufacturing process. And in 1893 a patent was granted regarding the process of chipping glass to Samuel Evans, who was among the pioneers and inventors of the most important processes of glue-chipping and sandblasting ornamental glass.
Although the makers mark of this Jacob Leinenkugel Beer of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin Reverse-on-Glass (ROG) concave sign is unknown, it is a style familiar to what was offered by P. Pause & Co or Rawson & Evans, both companies of which were founded and operating in Chicago, Illinois around this time period.
Rawson & Evants made among the most elaborate ornamental glass in the country and their consistently elegant style and use of decorative copper, bronze or brass frames were primarily marketed to leading banks, insurers, tobacco and the brewing and distilling industries, as well as wholesaling through local sign shops that focused on marketing to smaller companies that resided in local markets, like drug stores.
The company hired artisans who were highly skilled at hand painting enameled graphics onto the reverse (backside) of the glass and also incorporated glue chipping and gold leafing to create the esoteric graphics. Glue chipping is the art of creating a texture that looks like ice crystals on the surface of the glass panel by actually fracturing the surface of ordinary glass, producing a surface of broken crystals. To ‘chip’ the glass, the artisans applied animal hide glue to sandblasted areas of a glass panel and after the glue dried, ripped off shards of glass from the panel surface, creating a dramatic carved effect.
In order the emphasize the work of the textured glue chipped surface, colored letters (usually black, dark green, blue or maroon) were used on a background of inlaid chipped silver or gold for a contrasting effect that was very striking. The letters, being chipped before being gilded, have all of the brilliance of fractured gold. Or the glass panels could be angel gilded or silvered, which left a mirroring effect by using solutions of gold or silver are used to deposit the metal onto the glass surface.
Rawson & Evans would not furnish free samples of their advertising signs to prospective clients, but for parties contemplating the purchase of quantities alike, they would manufacture sample signs by charging the price they would ask for the same by the hundred, leaving the purchaser free from any obligations to order more unless he desires to do so. This allowed even small companies the opportunity to purchase a single sign and, in doing so, created many signs that as antiques today may be a one-of-a-kind item.
As the marketplace and demand for these glass signs increased, Rawson and Evans eventually grew large enough to occupy 20,000 feet of floor space and employ between 60 to 70 employees that included a branch in New York City.
Unfortunately, after Congress passed the Volstead Act as the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibiting the production, sale and consumption of "intoxicating liquors" slammed the door closed on saloons in 1920. As a result of prohibition, many brewers and distillers had a very difficult time surviving and, without the volume, most glass sign manufacturers were either forced to close their doors, or apply their craft to different products like stained glass or mirroring. Or they marketed the signs to other industries, just as the alcohol industry also had to become creative in adapting to soda and other non-alcoholic beverages to survive.
Because these highly decorative signs required highly skilled artisanship, expensive materials and a labor-intensive manufacturing processes, by the time prohibition was lifted the signs never regained a resurgence in their demand and the art of glue chipped, gilded glass signage was nearly all but forgotten. Companies like P. Pause & Co (established in 1883), Zero Marx Sign Works (established in 1872) and Western Sandblast (established in 1876), all which operated in Chicago, joined Rawson and Evans in closing their doors.
This particular reverse on glass sign (ROG) dates to the early 1900's from the Jacob Leinenkugel's Brewery and would have been originally placed on the outside of saloon's across west-central Wisconsin to advertise the companies beer brand. These ornamental signs were adapted for use on the exterior of buildings and there are original pictures dating to the early 1900's of this sign appearing on the outside of bar in Stevens Point, Wisconsin that is 240 mile round trip from the brewery -- authenticating that Leinenkugel's beer was distributed a great distance by horse-drawn delivery methods. If you look closely at the sepia picture shown below you will see this form of sign posted on the corner of a saloon in Weyerhaeuser, Wisconsin, which is more than a 110 mile round trip from the brewery in Chippewa Falls. That is quite a remarkable distance for beer to travel in that day and age of horse drawn delivery.
As an outside sign it would have been set in a substantial metal frame usually of oxidized copper, bronze or brass and if hung on a corner with a wood back, like shown in the picture below.
To emphasize the artwork even more, the wonderful convex shape of this sign was originally formed by heating thick 3/16" plate glass in a kiln using a wood form to curve for a stunning effect to attract the patron’s attention as they arrived at the bar room door.
This Leinenkugel sign is much sought after by collectors today, including me!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This blog article was written by Chad Haas with help from resources listed below. I live in Beaverton, Oregon, which is a suburb of Portland. I’ve been collecting beer collectibles for 34 years now, mostly from Wisconsin and Minnesota breweries, with an emphasis on pre-1960’s brewery collectibles from the Jacob Leinenkugel’s Company of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin
I find most of my pieces through auctions, antique stores and word-of-mouth from other collectors and dealers, and online. I am a member of the American Breweriana Association (#10800) and the Brewery Collectibles Club of America ( #34192).
I am always on the lookout for new pieces to add to my collection.