Elaine Densen of Romeo, frew up with this sign in her father's shop. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
Elaine Densen’s father, Benjamin Densen, was a butcher who came to Detroit from Lithuania and once owned the Densen’s Modern Delicatessen at 12th Street and Pingree in downtown Detroit. He opened it in 1928 and closed it 40 years later, in 1968.
Densen, now of Romeo, has many fond memories growing up in the area and of the family business, memories she shared during a recent appraisal session with Brian Thomczek at Judy Frankel Antiques, part of the Antiques Centre of Troy. “It was such a wonderful neighborhood,” she told the appraiser.
While the store was filled with antiques, including custom cabinets and a variety of other items, the family took few things with them when they left. Elaine did manage to save a metal sign and still treasures it, she told Thomczek. “I love it. … It brings back good feelings and memories. The kids want it now, but before I agreed to pass it on, I wanted to know what it was worth.”
Made by the American Art Works of Coshocton, Ohio, and marked, “Stroh’s Bohemian Beer,” the sign in question is an example of advertising collectibles and would appeal to both collectors of brewery items and of Detroit-related items, Thomczek told her. Painted on tin with cardboard backing, he dated it to sometime in the early 1930s, “obviously after Prohibition,” he told her with a laugh. Densen said that would make sense, as her dad opened the delicatessen in 1928, and the piece may have been one of the shop’s early decorating pieces.
The website www.strohbeer.com includes a company history. “A name as important to the success of Detroit as Ford or Chrysler, the Stroh family began with humble roots, brewing beer in a family-owned inn during the 18th century in Kirn, Germany,” it recounts. “In 1848, during the German Revolution, Bernhard Stroh, having apprenticed at his father’s side, immigrated to the United States. He established his own brewery in Detroit in 1850. Stroh named his new company Lion’s Head Brewery, adopting the Lion’s Crest logo from the Kyrburg Castle in Germany, the same crest that adorns Stroh beers today.”
The site goes on to say that the family operated the business under the name the Stroh Products Company during Prohibition, producing “near beer” (beer with its alcohol extracted), birch beer, soft drinks and ice cream. The majority of these items stopped production when Prohibition ended in 1933, but the ice cream is still enjoyed today.
Densen’s sign does have some condition issues, which would bring down its overall value, Thomczek said. Thomczek appraised the piece of Detroit history at approximately $300, saying that if it were a larger size it would bring even more. “People love metal signs, especially after they are seen so much on shows such as ‘American Pickers.’ ” He added that “advertising collectibles continue to go up in value, and anything with a local interest, like Stroh’s, is always a safe bet.”
Densen said the family has never had the sign cleaned. “We’ve been afraid to touch it,” she said. “I have a couple of mirrors from the deli, but this is pretty much it. It means so much to me. … To me it’s priceless. I’m definitely going to put it in the will, but the problem is I have four children.”
About this object
Item: Stroh’s Bohemian Beer sign
Owner: Elaine Densen, Romeo
Appraised by: Brian Thomczek, independent appraiser.
Estimated value: $300 retail
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