BEER BALL KNOBS
a/k/a Beer Tap Markers
THE EVOLUTION OF BEER TAP HANDLES
It took decades after Prohibition for the current beer tap handles, shown on the wallpaper of this page, to emerge. Before prohibition, brewers either owned taverns and saloons that served only their beer, or had arrangements with tavern owners to just sell their beer. Since there wasn't usually a choice of beers in a drinking establishment before Prohibition, there wasn't a need to have names on a spigot or beer tap before Prohibition. However, after Prohibition, establishments serving beer were able to serve beer from different brewers. To identify the draft beer that was being dispensed from a keg and assure customers they were obtaining the beer they wanted, there were regulations that required what was officially known as "beer tap markers" to be used. They made it necessary to have a tap marker of a certain size and ball like shape. Consequently, they were also called "beer ball knobs." Such knobs for Bavarian Brewing, as well as other markers, are presented below.
A Video of Cincinnati Area Beer Ball Knobs & Markers
To enlarge this video, please select the square in the lower right corner. The presentation will advance at your own pace by touching the space bar. To view a presentation of only Bavarian & Heidelberg markers, select here.
Much more information about these knobs and markers is provided in two publications by George Baley, "Beer Tap Markers" published in 2003 and "Beer Tap Markers Vol. 2" published in 2019. (For both, please see this link.) Each provides about 2,000 photos with price guides for all tap markers covered from the early 1930s into the mid-1960s. In addition, to view a presentation of the beer tap markers in the Cincinnati area, including Northern Kentucky and the Bavarian Brewery, please view the video above.
The earliest beer ball knobs were made of Baekelite, also referred to as Bakelite. This was the first plastic made from synthetic components and it was usually offered only in dark colors. It was developed by Leo Baekleand in 1907, and the name of this material is referred to after his name. It was revolutionary because it was an electrical nonconductor that was also heat resistant and well suited for electrical insulators. After some litigation was resolved, the Baekelite Corporation was formed around1920, however, some of Baeklite's patents expired in 1927. This allowed some other resins to be produced by other firms, such as Catalin Co. under the Prystal name, which provided more and brighter colors. Nevertheless, because of their similar qualities, these other resins are often associated with the name Baekelite. This material was used for the exteriors of radios and telephones by the 1930's, as well as for such diverse products as kitchenware, jewelry, toys, firearms and, of course, ball knobs.
Bavarian Ball Knob
c. 1935 - 1937. This is thought to be the first beer tap marker, or ball knob used by Bavarian Brewing Co., possibly beginning around 1935. Since the use of Bavarian in italics, shown below, didn't appear to begin until around 1938, and the use of 'Bavarian's" and "Old Style" didn't begin until around 1946, it appears that this knob preceded the other knobs.
Bavarian Beer Knob c. 1938
c. Mid 1940s.c. Mid-1940s. These ball knobs on the right were used in the late 1930s before the "Bavarian's Old Style Beer" name was used. They are very similar, except for slightly darker/lighter inserts and different colored knobs, which were made by different companies.
Schott Select (Ale) & Bavarian Ball Knobs
c. 1940 - Early 1950s. Schott Select was for an ale named after the Schott Brothers, who operated the brewery beginning in 1938. Schott Select/Ale was introduced in about 1940 and may have continued into the early 1950s. The Bavarian knob was probably used around 1945 and for a short time, just before the Old Style logo began, as shown on the knobs below.
Bavarian's Old Style Ball Knobs
c. 1946 - Mid 1950s. The knobs below display the use of the term Old Style that began in 1946. It wasn't until this year that Bavarian's (with an apostrophe s) was also used. These knobs were used until probably the mid 1950's. The most common of the three similar "Old Style" knobs are the two on the left. The other knobs on the right with different color variations are more unusual.
Late 1940's - Mid 1950s. Those knobs with a metallic finish became more common after WWII in the later 1940s and early 1950s. They were made by the Fox Co., in Cincinnati, OH. Both had an imprint on the back as shown by the middle image.
Tin Can Marker
c. 1950s. The knob on the far right, was larger than the other knobs. This style could have a base with a ball, as shown, but could also be straight. It also had a smaller insert on the back.
c. 1950s. Different than all the other markers that had quarter inch round threaded holes at the bottom, this style of marker had a square hole. This maker also had other two other versions with somewhat smaller square holes, which were more similar in appearance to the Bakelite knobs, but had flat sides and were not rounded.
Acrylic Beer Tap Markers
Early 1960s. Beginning in the mid 1950s the Bakelite and metallic knobs began to be replaced by Acrylic markers, also referred by the type of acrylic, e.g. Lucite or Plexiglas. International Breweries Inc. (IBI) apparently did not use any Bakelite or Metallic knobs for Bavarian/s, but instead used the acrylic markers shown below. IBI used similar shaped markers for their other brands. The first three markers below were made around 1961. The marker on the far right, showing Mel-O-Dry, was made a year or two later, and was also made for at least one or two other IBI brands. The image on these markers was the same on both sides, except the name of IBI and their breweries was only on one side of the marker.
Early to Mid-1960s. Mostly after the above markers were introduced by IBI above, the markers for Bavarian/s became more simple as shown below. The marker on the far right below was from Associated Breweries Inc., d/b/a Bavarian Brewing Co., after they licensed the rights to brew and market Bavarian/s from IBI in 1966.
Plastic Tap Handles
c. Mid-1950s & Mid to Late 1960s. Early plastic tap handles included a cubed shape design as shown below left. About a decade later in the mid-1960s, IBI created a longer shape that started to resemble current tap handles. An example of such a handle for Bavarian's Select Beer, which was made by IBI for for most of their other brands as well by replacing the name Bavarian/s, is on the right.
The early ball knobs in the mid 1930s and 1940s were made by a dozen or so manufactures usually using a substance called Baekelite, or Bakelite. The medallions or inserts that were placed on a cut surface of the knobs were usually metallic or ceramic.
After a couple of decades, beginning in the early 1950s, the tap marker evolved to a larger shape, as depicted by a "tin can" style. Other materials and shapes also began to be used in the 1950s.
By the mid and late 1950s, tap markers with clear Acrylic (or Lucite / Plexiglass) were becoming wider and taller. Plastic was mostly used thereafter. They became more advertising friendly allowing the beer name and an associated image to be seen on either side of the tap handle. These knobs or tap markers become much taller to allow for more advertising and associated images, and are now known as "tap handles" today. Images of current tap handles are shown on the background image. Please scroll down to to view them.
The background photo shows beer tap handles of today and are provided as a comparison
to those beer ball knobs and lucite tap handles of yesterday, above.