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Ten Things You Didn't Know: Dairy collectibles and memorabilia

From dairy tokens and milk cans to milk bottles, cream separators and advertising signs, dairy memorabilia is appealing to a variety of people each driven to dairy for various reasons. Antoinette Rahn explores dairy collectibles in her latest Ten Things You Didn't Know column.

Compiled by Antoinette Rahn

Dairy collectibles and milk memorabilia represent a day in age when fresh milk was delivered to your doorstep. Although the 'milk man' may be a thing of the past, the mementos associated with dairies remain a sentimental favorite. Learn more in this 10 Things You Didn't Know column.

Polk's Milk sign 3

1 As early as the turn of the 20th century, dairies discovered the value of touting the health and nutrition of milk. Popular slogans of the day, seen on tin advertising signs included: “Milk Belongs in Every Meal” and “No One Ever Outgrows the Need for Milk.”

2 Dairy memorabilia and collectibles, not unlike kitchenalia, is a collecting interest with several subsets. Milk bottles, crates, cream separators, advertising signs and trays, milk cans, vintage ice cream containers, vintage calendars issued by dairies, milk bottle caps, antique butter churns, dairy go-withs, and fobs, are some of the areas collectors focus on.

3 A double-sided, 28-inch by 33-inch hanging porcelain sign, advertising Arden Milk (with the Milk Boy character pictured), circa 1950s, sold for $3,000 in May 2015 at Morphy Auctions.

4It’s not uncommon to see collectors seeking out brand or state-specific items. Some of the more common dairy brands seen at auction include: Arden, Meadow Gold, Bordens, Southern Belle, Brookside, Hillcrest, Daisy, and Gold Seal, among many others. A visit to the local library or historical society can offer valuable information about dairies that formerly operated in your area of the country. This could be the first step in developing a regionally focused collection.

Milk bottles

Trio of vintage quart milk bottles, sold for $297 at auction in April 2016. Photo courtesy Rich Penn Auctions

5 Hundreds of people with an appreciation for dairy memorabilia gather each year for the All-Dairy Antiques & Collectibles Show (ADACS). This year’s show marks 19 years, and will be held Sept. 16-21 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center in Harrisburg, Pa.

6 A group of three vintage War Bond quart milk bottles, Wayne Creamery of Detroit; Midwest Dairy Products of Ankeny and Cloverleaf Dairy of Springfield, realized $297 during an April 30, 2016 auction presented by Rich Penn Auctions.

7 One of the most active organizations dedicated to a segment of dairy memorabilia is the National Association of Milk Bottle Collectors (N.A.M.B.C.). Established in 1980 the group publishes the Milk Route newsletter 12 times a year, and hosts an annual convention each summer.

Tapping Into Milk Memorabilia for Repurpose Inspiration

8 Vintage metal milk cans that have seen better days are among the treasured finds of upcycling artisans. Transforming milk cans into flower planters, the base of a table, a unique option for displaying a house number, and the foundation for a garden fountain, are just some of the creative ways people are expanding the usefulness of milk cans.

9 Dairies, as well as other local merchants, within the U.S. and abroad often used a token system. When customers would make advance payments to the dairy or milkmen themselves, it would be exchanged for tokens. The customer would then place a token and the empty milk bottles out for the milkman who would exchange the empties and tokens with freshly filled bottles of milk.
The token system was useful for dairies as a low-cost form of advertising. It also aided in establishing loyalty among customers as the tokens could only be redeemed at the issuing business. This ensured dairies had money ahead of providing the milk. A grouping of 32 vintage brass and aluminum tokens issued by various dairies in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, sold for $470 (with buyer’s premium) in a 2011 auction at Holabird-Kagin Americana.

10 As one might expect, the Dairy State (Wisconsin) is home to the National Dairy Shrine Museum, located in Fort Atkinson. It features a variety of items and exhibitions related to dairy history.


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