Wisconsin antique bottle and advertising club

Proof of Tom

by Linda Hoffman

In my first article, “Proof of Ruth” ABA Journal #182 March/ April from one year ago, I wrote about my family’s history with the iconic Miller High Life ‘standing girl’ and 1933 Miller Christmas Special Beer label which depict my mother Joanne sitting on her father’s lap in a cozy holiday scene with the Girl in the Moon placed in the night sky. My great uncle, Thomas Wallace Holmes designed these images and used his wife Carrie’s family as models. In this article I am going to share the wonderful events that have happened since.
In July, 2013 I visited the Elgin Area Historical Society and Museum, Elgin, Illinois to view early artwork by Thomas Holmes. The museum acquired a collection of Tom’s sketches, and even a self portrait online in 2010. A 1904 large drawing of a female figure strolling on a beach with parasol and book tucked under her arm caught my attention. Her horizontal-striped skirt swirled like the Miller High Life ‘standing girl’ paired with vertical-striped stockings on the legs, a striped scarf around the neck and a fashionable, long Gibson ponytail. This lovely lady is no doubt Carrie Strauss, my grandmother Ruth’s sister. Tom and Carrie were married January 28, 1907. When Tom died in 1969, his son hired a company to sell the remains of the estate. An auction employee who died a few years ago had some of Tom’s artwork. The man’s daughter-in-law put these items on EBay for sale. It was fortuitous of the Elgin board member to find and buy. I was sure Pearl Strauss was Tom’s model for his ’standing girl’. Now I see it was Carrie all along. Did Tom use Pearl for the girl serving beer on top of a beer case? There were ten Strauss sisters and each favored the other. [Strolling Girl]
On November 22, 2013, my mother and I met current MillerCoors archivist, Dave Herrewig at the corporate headquarters 3939 W. Highland Boulevard Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I have been corresponding with Dave since July about my ABA Journal article “Proof of Ruth” and working with him to prove Tom created the Miller Girls.  
The three of us browsed through a large number of presentation cases containing the Miller Brewing Company advertising breweriana. I recognized many pieces I had collected over the years now on exhibit in Potosi, Wisconsin. My mother immediately walked over to a display case containing a large, framed advertisement sign of the ‘standing girl’ on the left with her arm introducing the Miller Valley brewery buildings to her right and stated, “Tom did this.” Dave opened the case and read aloud “H.D. Beach Company Coshocton, Ohio” printed along the bottom of the piece. This was exciting, since we know Tom designed Chief Joseph (R.J.Reynolds Tobacco Company) for the American Art Works of Coshocton, Ohio 1913-1914. The Chief Joseph design required 14 lithograph stones, a feat. Typical lithographs were less, like 6 color stones. Tom turned down a head designer job in Ohio because Carrie’s family lived in Elgin, Illinois. Dave and I have each talked to James Beach, the fifth generation CEO about the long history of the H. D. Beach Company. The Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum in Coshocton, Ohio is planning another exhibit June 7, 2014 through September 14, 2014. The 2004 exhibit had 500 artworks on display. [Image Dave Herrewig with Joanne at corporate archives]
I have read the oval ‘Girl in the Moon’ tray is from 1955 and was a commemorative souvenir for the Miller Brewing Company 100 year anniversary. The oval Miller High Life ‘profile girl’ serving tray is my first breweriana piece. In the 1930’s, a pie plate tray with a darker midnight sky was also produced in Coshocton, Ohio. Coshocton Ohio was the largest manufacturer of advertising in this country with five lithograph companies at the turn of the century. The companies hired artists from Chicago (Thomas Holmes) and Germany. These lithograph companies often shared their artists. To complete projects quickly, artists used their relatives as their models, as Tom created of his wife Carrie, the first ‘standing girl’ and of his sister-in-law and my grandmother Ruth, the Girl in the Moon. [Photo of GITM tray]
Next, we went to Dave’s office upstairs where I showed Dave copies of children’s books Tom and his second wife, Blanche Fisher Wright (Blonnie Holmes) illustrated. Tom’s first wife Carrie died in 1946. Tom married Blanche (Blonnie) in 1947.They included the (Read Along with Me) The Three Little Pigs, Henny Penny, The Three Little Kittens and The Ginger Bread Man, plus Blonnie’s The Real Mother Goose original 1916 and 1944 editions. My mother told Dave that her Uncle Tom grew up near Oconomowoc Lake. Dave recalled Tom’s father was a groundskeeper of Oconomowoc Lake estates from my ABA article. The Oconomowoc Lake area near the Pabst Farms is the Town of Summit. Summit is also recorded on a crossroads sign in The Three Little Pigs. A table scene is set up in the Three Little Pigs just like Tom’s ‘Other Miller ad’ Rathskeller scene. Dave asked if these rhymes were based on fairy tales. I told him I thought they were of English origin and pointed out the similarities of Mother Goose’s hat brim to the Girl in the Moon’s hat brim, the heart lapels of Dapple Gray’s rider, striped stockings, profile female faces, hairstyles, horses, etc in contrast with the profile Girl in the Moon designs. I left the 1944 Real Mother Goose book by Blanche Fisher Wright aka Aunt Blonnie for Dave to review further. 
I spoke to Dave of my trip more than ten years ago to the Miller Brewing Visitor Center where I saw Tom’s three initials on an early advertising of his recognizable costumed Miller girl popping out of a Miller beer bottle like an effervescent champagne beverage. I took pictures of the sign, and then returned a week later to show the sign to a relative. The piece was no longer on display. I verified Tom’s three initial artist logo (TWH) with Tom’s grandson Eric Holmes on a visit. Dave went in his desk drawer file and pulled out a Leslie’s Weekly newspaper copy with an advertisement like the missing museum piece and was dated August 17, 1905.  Tom’s three initials were to the left of the Miller beer bottle, exactly where I saw them at the Miller Visitor’s Center.  [Leslie’s Weekly August 17, 1905]
I asked Dave if he was aware of a letter sent by Helen Nicholson, Ruth’s youngest sister written in 1984 to Tyne Nichols, a former Miller archivist. Helen wrote to inquire about the company’s knowledge of Tom’s original work for the Miller High Life Girl in the Moon. Dave wasn’t sure. 
  Dave presented Joanne with a commemorative Christmas Special Beer bottle and Miller Time A History of Miller Brewing Company 1855-2005 by John Gurda. Joanne told Dave she knew it was she and her father C.B. seated in the chair; her parents showed her the Christmas beer label when she was 8 or 10 years old. She had focused on the fireplace back then, since they never had one. Dave said the artist could have created the fireplace for the scene. I told Dave the 1933 Christmas Special Beer label contains the Girl in the Moon image as trademarked in 1938. 
Dave said he would have to speak with the legal department to see what they have about the GITM trademark and copyright. He opened a manila folder labeled Miller 1907 Copyright. The folder contained a picture of the ‘standing girl’ illustration only, the same as the 1905 one I just verified as Tom’s work. I explained I have researched the Miller Brewing Company Trademarks in the Milwaukee Central Library. A librarian informed me it would be better to look up the Miller trademarks in Crystal City, Virginia at the U. S. Patent and Trademark office, which I did with my brother and sister four years ago. We could only find the ‘standing girl’ in the 1907 trademark records there.
  My mother and I talked about attending a Miller descendant ‘Living Waters’ estate sale in 2010 on Oconomowoc Lake. I bought a juvenile fork for twenty-five cents with the initials E.P.M. Dave identified the 3 initials as Emil P. John. Emil was born around 1875 and was the beer baron’s son, once kidnapped in Chicago by the mafia for gambling debts. It took the Miller family one week to decide to pay the ransom. Emil died in 1934. I have found many Miller Brewing company breweriana pieces by attending local estate sales and flea markets over the years.
The three of us drove to the MillerCoors Brewing Company warehouse. This orderly archival space previously was three storefronts including Schuster’s. Dave said MillerCoors recently downsized from two warehouses to one, but did not get rid of any Miller Brewing Company advertising. During the time leading up to Prohibition, the Miller Brewing Company bought vast land parcels and assets to protect themselves, including a hotel downtown. Many breweries went out of business for good during the 1920’s. Dave showed us how to check the leather bound company ledgers. I scrolled through August 1905 to look for Thomas Holmes name, but did not come across it. Most likely the transaction occurred with a Coshocton Ohio Lithograph company prior to the August 1905 publication in Leslie’s Weekly. [Dave and Joanne at warehouse]
Joanne was taken by a large advertising sign with 2 men seated in a boat with an Evinrude motor. “Uncle Tom had a motor boat on the Fox River in Elgin, Illinois.” She asked Dave about a similar styled large advertising sign near the warehouse entrance with the same two men from the boat. Dave was not sure. We looked at some 1932 anti- Prohibition posters. There was another Prohibition disenchantment piece, but it is missing from its folder. This one could be Tom’s work and resemble my mom’s twin cousins Earl and Ken Shopen as the men in top frame. (Their mother was Olga Strauss)
Thomas Holmes painted Wisconsin rural landscapes with streams and barns when vacationing or visiting family around Wisconsin. Tom and Carrie took Joanne on road trips to Cedar Grove, Wisconsin as a young girl in the late 1930’s to 1940’s. They treated her like a daughter and Tom called Mom ‘Janny’. She recalled the times in her uncle’s studio in his house on Cherry Street where she saw pictures of ladies sitting on the moon and his giant artist desk. He showed his niece- if he needed to use an apple, he could look in the A drawer and select an apple illustration all ready to use in his work. Tom was very innovative. He worked with neon lighting for signs in his studio, too. Dave said there were large neon Girl in the Moon signs in Florida and California.
I asked Dave about the Miller’s use of the Star of David. “Old medieval symbol, it represented the hops, wheat, malted barley, water, yeast and brewers skill. The Miller’s were not Jewish.”
We returned to the Miller Valley and went inside the Stables. The almost three-story Girl in the Moon billboard façade from the front of the Beer Hut of Fond du Lac, WI is on display here. The metal over wood 2 dimensional profile woman graced the front of the Beer Hut Post-Pro 1933 through 1972. I notice this giant GITM has a buggy whip and no left wrist bracelet or watch. She has obviously seen better days and was probably repainted a few times while in Fond du Lac.  Miller bought the piece for $2500 and has no plans to restore.
Dave shook our hands and dropped us off by my car.  We will be in touch.
The next day, Joanne told me she is convinced the boat and porch scenes are Tom’s work and the man in each is her cousin Earl. “I think that’s my grandma’s back porch with the swing.” It suddenly dawned on me the Elgin Historical Museum 1904 ‘strolling girl’ of Tom’s is the reverse image of Miller’s 1905 news ad with Tom’s 3 initials. 
Tom incorporated his imagination and wit throughout his long, successful career as an illustrator. I have studied his illustrations for many years and believe Tom, as a professionally trained artist incorporated symbols as props in these works. Is it possible his intention of a woman popping out of a bottle references a jinn or genie being released by its possessor? In the early 1900’s, there was widespread interest in Egyptology and Aladdin’s Lamp. Does the whip in her hand signify her authority like Eros (Cupid) or the Greek goddess Hecate over the gods or was it a buggy whip signifying the holder’s horsemanship skill?
I recently completed a manuscript entitled My Pursuit of Ruth. It is the story of my impassioned journey to prove an advertising illustrator of the twentieth century, Thomas Wallace Holmes created the Miller High Life Girl in the Moon, his most famous work, and one he never received acclaim for in his lifetime. I want to set the brewing history fable straight after reading so many false accounts. Then the true identity may finally be credited to my great uncle and the Strauss Girl models he used for the iconic brewing image recognized around the world.

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