Lithograph Company v. Adolph Coors – a Case of an Unpaid Tab

Today’s post was written by Cody White, Archivist at the National Archives at Denver

142 years ago this fall Adolf Coors, along with Denver businessman Jacob Shueler, recorded a deed of purchase for an abandoned tannery in Golden, Colorado. Within months the building would become home to the Golden Brewery, thus beginning a new chapter in beer brewing history.

Coors was born in Germany in 1847 and by the age of 15 was already an apprentice in a local brewery. Immigrating to the United States at the age of 21, Coors ventured west to Colorado where he worked as a gardener as well as the manager of a bottling plant, saving his money in the hopes of opening his own brewery. Two years after the opening of the Golden Brewery, Coors bought out Shueler and renamed his venture the Coors Golden Brewery. It was only a few years after this point when Adolph Coors found himself in the United States Circuit Court for the District of Colorado, and so is now today found in Record Group 21 Records of District Courts of the United States – Civil Case Files (NAID 721171).

In 1889 Coors had contracted with the Beck and Pauli Lithography Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin for 5,000,000 bottle labels and 500,000 shipping labels, as well as letterhead, postcards, and advertising showcards discussed in part within these two handwritten letters found in the case file – 3165 Beck and Pauli v. Adolph Coors (NAID 22740465).

The above letter from December, 1889 also references Coors’ displeasure in how the “rock” is depicted in the trademark. The rock in question is Castle Rock, a prominent feature on South Table Mountain in Golden, Colorado and is seen on this letterhead for Golden Brewery from 1889 (NAID 22740512).

letter written on Golden Brewery stationary showing Castle Rock
Letter from A. Coors to Beck & Pauli Lithograph Company, 11/7/1889

Its inclusion in the Coors’ trademark image makes further sense when one sees a photograph of just how prominent the peak is in relation to the brewery. In this close-up of a 1967 Bureau of Reclamation aerial photograph, from the file 154/001-005 Scenic Cities General GP (NAID 23811891), one sees Castle Rock to the right of the Coors plant.

photo of Castle Rock to the right of the town of Golden, CO
Bureau of Reclamation, 1967

After settling on the design, by March of 1890 the company had shipped nearly a quarter of the entire order and with that the problem began. Coors felt that delivery of the order should have been staggered and he was receiving much more of everything than he needed. This bill (NAID 22740516) would be the spark that would ignite the case; Coors refused to pay it.

bill for Coors labels totalling $910.42
Bill from Beck & Pauli Lithograph Company, 3/19/1890

Later that year the lithography company sent an employee out west to Colorado to reason with Coors and attempt to collect on the bill. According to the correspondence, he argued for so long with Coors that the lithography employee missed his train back into Denver and was forced to hire a wagon and team to get back to his hotel. The trip was for naught as Coors still refused to pay. The nearly $1,000 order grew to $3891.64 with interest by November 10, 1894 when the lithography company finally filed suit in Denver.

summons for adolph coors notifying of a case to recover $3891.64
Summons for Adolph Coors, 11/12/1894

The case never made it to trial. While the file itself makes no mention, the court clerk’s minutes from January 16, 1896 in another RG 21 series notes that when the judge called for trial the plaintiff was not ready and so the case was dismissed at plaintiffs cost without prejudice.