Many people collect beer or brewery memorabilia just because they like it.
Madeleine Roth-Roffy of Bettendorf has a personal connection to her Falstaff collection: Her dad was an employee of the storied, St. Louis-based company for more than 35 years, working his way up from accounting clerk to vice president.
Among the 25 items displayed in the lower level of Roth-Roffy’s home is a framed stock certificate with her dad’s name — Harry J. Pettey — listed as company secretary. Another is a framed letter from Falstaff president Joe Griesedieck congratulating Pettey on 30 years of service.
“Let us hope that we can look forward to working with you for many more years,” the letter concludes.
Ironically, Pettey was among the first people “let go” when the company — the country’s third-largest brewer in the 1960s — began encountering financial problems during the early ‘70s.
But his departure turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
In 1975, competing brewer Paul Kalmanovitz gained control of Falstaff and, within two months, most of its 175 corporate office employees — including Griesedieck — were fired, and some of their severance checks bounced, according to an online history written by John Smallshaw of Libertyville, Ill.
“Kalmanovitz thought nothing of throwing hundreds of brewery workers out onto the streets, cutting off their pension and health benefits … ” Smallshaw writes. Forbes magazine wrote that “Kalmanovitz went through Falstaff like Grant through Richmond. ... He took no prisoners.”
Roth-Roffy’s father was fortunate because he got a job handling the company’s insurance until the corporate office folded, and he retained his pension.
One of Roth-Roffy’s favorite collection pieces is a lighted sign with mountain scenery that appears to move.
Other items include an old Thermos cooler that still cools, 10 Falstaff mugs/cups, two pitchers, a coaster, two ashtrays, a tray and a bottle opener bearing the Falstaff slogan: “The choicest product of the brewers’ art.”
Also on her shelf is a miniature set of salt and pepper shakers. She doesn’t know their origin, but Smallshaw’s history provides two possibilities. In 1951, St. Louis Browns baseball team owner Bill Veeck celebrated 50 years of the American League and Falstaff beer by giving away Falstaff salt and pepper shakers to the 18,000 fans attending a game. In addition, the company gave salt and pepper shakers to people taking brewery tours.
Some of Roth-Roffy’s memorabilia came from her dad while she picked up others in shops or received them as gifts. Her daughter, for example, found the cooler in a friend’s basement.
“I’m always on the hunt for something new,” Roth-Roffy said.
Her dad was 21 and living in St. Louis when he began working for Falstaff in 1934, just after Prohibition ended. In 1937, Falstaff purchased a brewery in New Orleans and Pettey was transferred there to be the office manager.
In 1944, he was transferred back to St. Louis to be traffic manager, a job that put him in charge of all the freight being moved by the company.
In 1954, he was appointed corporate secretary, and he became vice president of administration in charge of all plants, buildings and offices during 1969.
Her family’s recollection is that he and their mom represented Griesedieck at civic functions in St. Louis. (Griesedieck was the grandson of “Papa Joe” Griesedieck, whose enrollment in the United States Brewing Academy during 1870 is why Falstaff cans used to read “since 1870.”)
One of the interesting stories she remembers hearing about her dad’s tenure at the company is the time in the 1960s when “Candid Camera,” a hidden camera/practical joke television series that was sort of a forerunner of today’s reality shows, filmed a segment starring her father. He gave out fake office awards, such as one for sharpening the most pencils.
In a sense, her collection is a tribute to her dad, who died in 1989.