Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Rare Brewer Pennant at the Milwaukee County Historical Society

Today, we return to our review of the Milwaukee County Historical Society's recently-closed exhibit "Back Yards to Big Leagues: Milwaukee’s Sports and Recreation History" with a look at a rare Brewer artifact I'd never seen before.

In the same display case as the Milwaukee Bears reproduction jersey and the Milwaukee Schnitts scrapbook and uniform patches, we find a pair of artifacts from the Brews themselves.

The 1951 Program is interesting enough, with its photo of Jolly Cholly Grimm on the cover, but the real treasure is the pennant.

It is offered here without explanation, but if I'm not mistaken that's a Red Ball Gum pennant.

We discussed the Red Ball Gum pennants about four years ago; they were a premium offered with sales of Red Ball spearmint chewing gum. Patrons would buy the gum for one penny a stick, and unwrap it in hopes of finding a lucky ticket inside. That ticket entitled them to a free felt pennant, which the proprietor would hand over in a small paper envelope. Those pennants were small in size—just 4¼ by 2½ inches—and featured the name of a college, celebrity, or baseball club.

The Red Ball Bum pennants didn't always conform to team colors; the Brewers' version featured swooping cream-colored text against a maroon background. In place of any official team logo (and in those simpler days before many teams even had official logos), a silhouetted batter making his jump out of the box.

But even if our gum-chewing customer didn't find a lucky ticket, he or she could still enjoy something other than the gum. Save the wrappers, they were told, because "for 25 RED BALL GUM wrappers (or reasonable facsimiles) and 15¢ you can get a large pennant—12 in. x 30 in."

The nature of large pennants has always been somewhat mysterious. I have seen large Red Ball Gum pennants for major league clubs like the Yankees, Dodgers and White Sox. But whether they made them for minor league clubs was an open question. Until, apparently, today.

This large pennant shares much in common with its smaller sibling. The same figure of a batter, although somewhat more detailed in its larger size. Similar color scheme. The swooping text is somewhat similar, making allowances for the expanded real estate of the full-size pennant, accommodating more elaborate letterforms. That same extra space allows for "MIL." on the larger version. Both pennants use the same "AMER. ASS'N." abbreviation for the league.

They do seem to be of a set. If so, it would date the big pennant at 1936-37, around the time the Brewers were winning their third American Association championship.

The full-size pennant is a valuable piece of Brews memorabilia from an earlier age, and age where merchandising as we know it simply didn't exist. It is in remarkable shape for its age. There are thumbtack holes along the edge, the point, and directly in the center, giving us a clue as to how it was once displayed.

You can see along the left edge that the original maroon tassels appear to be intact. They are folded underneath the pennant so it better fits in the display case.

The silkscreen ink is cracking in places but holds true to the felt, which doesn't appear to have faded much at all.

The point itself is still sharp, uncommon even for pennants of a more recent vintage.

Somebody loved this pennant. I can't help but wonder where it was tacked up. A kids' bedroom? Family rec room? A tavern?

It isn't tagged with a donor card, so I presume this pennant is part of the permanent collection of the Milwaukee County Historical Society. We are indebted to them for preserving it for future generations.

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