100 bottles of Potosi beer on the wall
100 bottles of Potosi beer on the wall
by Evan Lehmann
POTOSI, Wis. - As this village begins the process of rebuilding its revered brewery, Keith Alexander, a nine-year employee of the historic establishment, continues to collect paraphernalia from when it was thriving,
Alexander, who has an array of about 830 items in a specially built room in his garage, worked as a labeler in the brewery's bottling house department until it closed in 1972. Though he began his collection in the early 60s, he acquired a windfall of collectibles just before the brewery shut its doors 30 years ago.
"They had stuff up at the office that you could buy for a dollar or a quarter," he said. "I picked up just about most of it."
During those last days, Alexander hoarded a multitude of various bottles, matchbooks, bottle openers, beer-labels, billfolds and many more items that the brewery used in production or for point of sale advertising in taverns.
Most of his collection is displayed in glass cases, on long shelves or hanging from nails on the walls. But one item sitting on the floor stood out. A dark-grained wooden barrel with the brewery's name etched near its top that appeared large enough to contain a dozen gallons,
Alexander didn't know its precise age, but said it was used "years and years ago, back in the horse and buggy days."
As is the case with much of his collection, Alexander bought the barrel at a public sale. "I stayed in an auction, and it rained all day, and paid $9 for that," he beamed. The last one he saw at an auction, he said, sold for $350.
In addition to materials related to production, Alexander collects advertisements that once hung in Midwestern taverns or sat on their bars. A few are a hundred years old; more are younger, but not by much.
Though old, the ads employ similar selling strategies as used today: beautiful women and sports.
A round beer tray with high sides that hangs in Alexander's house was made in 1911 and depicts a sultry, staring woman sipping a glass of beer, surrounded by pink roses and crushed red velvet. It's named 'The Invitation.' Alexander balked when an envious collector offered him $1,500 for the tray.
Another item, a framed black and white poster, has an aged photograph in its center from an early Orange Bowl game in which the Miami Hurricanes defeated Holy Cross 13 to 6. The game was held on Jan. 1, 1946.
"I stayed up in Lancaster for two days [at an auction]. And I paid $140 for this piece of paper," he said.
Many of the items Alexander acquired while working at the brewery, including more than a hundred beer bottles of various shapes and sizes—the brewery marketed 39 beer labels while in existence; Alexander is missing only one.
One bottle stands taller, is dark brown, and is topped with a Porcelain cap. Alexander calls it picnic bottle. They were packed four to a case.
"We broke them by the truckloads," he said while explaining one of his last duties at the brewery was to clear out left over bottling materials before it shut down.
"To save time we took them to the dump and broke them," Alexander continued, "thousands of them." Now a single bottle sells for $100 on the auction web site, Ebay, he said.
Maybe soon Alexander will be able to begin collecting new products from the brewery. According to Frank Fiorenza, village president and vice president of Potosi Brewery Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit group working to refurbish the building, the brewery's front section will re-open with a brew pub, restaurant and museum in three to five years.
The state has pledged to match up to $120,000 in grants for preliminary work. On Feb. 4, the group is holding a sold-out banquet that Fiorenza is confident will garner between $35,000 and $50,000 through a raffle and two auctions—one silent and one live.
Alexander donated two glass frames, each containing about 15 age-old Potosi beer labels, to raise money through auction for the new version of the brewery. He estimates most of the labels are worth between $10 and $15 apiece.
Alexander, whose grandfather and uncle retired mid-century after working for years at the brewery, and whose father quit before it closed, lives a few blocks south from the crumbling relic.
"It's going to be pretty neat to see (the brewery) back," he said.
© 2002 Herald Independent