EXAMINING 20th CENTURY FELT NOVELTY COMPANIES AND THEIR PRODUCTS
This month, ASCO's former Assistant Plant Manager spoke with Pennant Fever about his role developing a felt pennant line for the Winona-based novelty company.
In 1961 a small, relatively unknown novelty maker endeavored to begin making felt pennants in Winona, Minnesota. No, I’m not talking about WinCraft; rather, ASCO, Inc. Since the 1940s, ASCO’s product lines had largely consisted of buttons, pom-poms, and sun visors; most of which were intended for high school markets. But, times were changing: professional sports had recently come to Minnesota with the arrival of the Twins (MLB) and the formation of the Vikings (NFL). And with their arrivals, ASCO’s founder, Lars Granberg, saw an opportunity to supply these teams and their fans with felt pennants.
He had one problem: nobody in his company knew how to make a pennant!
Against this backdrop, a 19 year-old Jim Goke was hired. Goke would spend much of the 1960s assisting the newly hired plant manager with ASCO’s felt pennant production line.
Recently, Mr. Goke, now age 78, reached out to Pennant Fever to share some insight on the inner workings of ASCO, a company that eventually merged with WinCraft to become the largest maker of felt pennants today.
Here’s how all that business started:
Early production methods
When Goke first joined ASCO, the company was already operating out of 102 Walnut Street, a property marketed by the company’s founder as the “ASCO BUILDING.” Goke was quick to point out: nobody outside of ASCO referred to the building as such. That’s because the name, “ASCO BUILDING” was entirely Lars Granberg’s idea. For marketing purposes, he named their new building accordingly to project strength and growth. In reality, ASCO was merely one of several tenants in the building, leasing only the first and second floors. The building was actually owned by Boland Mfg. Co., who occupied the third floor. In fact, the property was better known as “The Boland Building” within the town of Winona by the 1960s.
The first professional sports pennants by ASCO were limited to Minnesota teams; namely, the Twins and Vikings. More professional sports teams would be added by the mid-1960s. That’s about when ASCO secured a license to make professional football pennants from the NFL. Of course, prior to Goke’s arrival, ASCO had been making souvenir and high school pennants for local customers.
Goke even experimented with new materials. By the 1940s and 50s, pennant makers had been utilizing new types of felt beyond the traditional 100% wool felt in use since the turn of the century. A new product, called Duvetyne, caught Goke’s eye. Duvetyne is a thinner, woven fabric, known for its opacity. It is made from brushed cotton; and it has a velvety-like feel to the touch. This characteristic made it an ideal substrate for screen printing on as its natural fibers absorbed ink better than those from a synthetic fabric, like polyester. More importantly: Duvetyne was much cheaper than any of the wool blends other makers were using.
Goke described the “art department” within ASCO as “self-taught.”
Perhaps that’s being generous.
On this topic, I pointed out how early ASCO graphic designs Goke screened on pennants were blatant copies of Trench’s artwork, i.e., their competition. He was not at all surprised. “Knowing Lars [Granberg], that sounds right.” Goke confessed he was never entirely certain whether ASCO’s artists developed original artwork. “I just screened what they gave me,” Goke recalled. He never heard of Trench Mfg. Co.; and he generally did not monitor the products ASCO’s competitors manufactured.
What's in a name?
A question that has long since stumped me concerns the existence of ASCO pennants with non-ASCO maker’s marks for companies also located in Winona. In the early 1960s, some ASCO pennants bore the ASCO mark; whereas others--virtually identical--bore a mark for "Idea Promotions." Then by the late 1960s, a third mark materialized for a company identified as "The Button House." I hoped that Goke could explain this.
According to Goke, Lars Granberg liked to stamp different names on his products to help sell them in new markets. Goke could not recall either Idea Promotions or Button House by name; but, he opined that these brand names were likely just alter-egos for ASCO products.
If true, it wasn’t the first time Granberg attempted to deceive people by manipulating a maker’s mark. In the early days, Granberg used an outside vendor to manufacture their buttons: Parisian Novelty Co. of Chicago, IL. Upon receipt of their buttons from the manufacturer, employees would hand cut an “ASCO” label and stamp it on to the buttons. After marking the price up, ASCO would sell the product to retailers as their own. The end consumer was none the wiser.
See, for example, this ca. 1961 Green Bay Packers button, purportedly made by ASCO...
Even the company name “ASCO” was a bit hollow. According to Goke, ASCO did not stand for anything. It wasn’t an acronym at all. Lars Granberg simply adopted it because it put their name at the beginning of the telephone book!
If you can’t tell by now, Lars Granberg was a bit of a shyster. According to Goke, the high school teacher-turned-entrepreneur routinely made promises he couldn’t keep; and he often engaged in unethical business practices. For example, to entice Carroll Fish to become ASCO’s Plant Manager, Granberg allegedly offered him a minority share of the company. In reliance on this promise, Fish left a good paying job at the Burlington Northern Railroad; bought a lavish home in Winona; then worked his tail off for the company. Despite these efforts, Fish never received the compensation he had been promised.
Goke claimed he himself had been promised stock in the company. After nearly a decade of work, however, Granberg hadn’t offered him any stake in the company’s ownership. This betrayal was a big reason he left the company to return to school in the later 1960s.
Granberg’s unethical dealings weren’t just limited to company employees. According to Goke, Granberg openly bragged about double billing the Minnesota Twins on a particular order of pennants. On political buttons, he would falsely print “Union made” on the reverse, so that labor unions would buy (and wear) them.
Separation from ASCO, sale of company
Disillusioned by Lars Granberg, Goke went back to school and began working only part-time at ASCO from 1966-68. In 1968, he left ASCO for good.
“It was a good time to leave,” Goke admitted.
Around 1970 Lars Granberg sold ASCO to Minneapolis-based Campbell Mithune, an international advertising agency. As part of the transaction, Granberg was obligated to remain as President of the company for the next five years.
The new owners fired him after three. Thereafter, Campbell Mithune “cleaned house” of Granberg’s chronies. Don Ender, Vice President of ASCO was next to go. All were replaced by Campbell Mithune-picked executives, like John W. Arnold, who became ASCO’s President by the mid-1970s.
Granberg and his wife, Arlene, left Winona never to return. They moved to Springfield, Missouri where they spent the rest of their lives together. Lars passed away on May 20, 2000 at the age of 76.
The rise of WinCraft
In 1961 a second manufacturer of novelty buttons, pom poms, and pennants came online in the town of Winona: WinCraft. WinCraft was launched by Jack Ortman. Ortman was a former ASCO employee.
Emphasis on the word, “was.”
According to Goke, Ortman broke away from ASCO to start his own company that would directly compete against ASCO for business. Ortman was, no doubt, disloyal to Lars Granberg.
But, based upon what you’ve read thus far about Granberg … could you blame him?
By the late 1970s it appears ASCO no longer factored into Campbell Mithune’s business plan: the advertising conglomerate divested itself of any interest in the novelty company. This is about when ASCO merged with WinCraft. By 1982, ASCO was fully absorbed as a division within WinCraft; and by the 1990s, the ASCO brand name was entirely replaced by the WinCraft name and logo on all sports novelty products coming out of Winona; including buttons, pennants and a host of new items developed by the company.
Today, WinCraft is undeniably the largest manufacturer of felt pennants left in the marketplace. And, they’re still located in Winona where the majority of their products are still manufactured.
As for Jim Goke? After leaving ASCO he earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Winona State University. He then became a professor at St. Cloud State University. There, he taught electronics at the school’s Department of Aviation. In 2005 he retired after 32 years in education.
Goke, now age 78, still makes his home in Minnesota. He has had plenty of time to look back at the 19 year-old he once was. “ASCO gave me a time to settle down and mature,” he said retrospectively. When he thinks about the growing number of vintage pennant enthusiasts searching for products he helped make a half century ago, he smirked: “People of my generation could never have imagined that anyone would be collecting this stuff today.”
For more information on ASCO, click here.
Note: All unquoted material on these pages is © 2020 K.R. Biebesheimer & Son. All rights reserved. Short excerpts may be used after written permission obtained and proper credit is given.
The former President of Trench Mfg. Co. recently spoke with Pennant Fever about his days leading the biggest pennant maker of the 20th century.
By K.R. Biebesheimer
For more than three decades, Thomas W. Storm ran Trench Manufacturing Co. in Buffalo, NY. During his reign the company grew into the nation’s largest and most innovative maker of pennants. In 1995, however, the company had to close its doors after 75 years in the business.
Trench’s company history has only recently come to light, thanks in part to BLOGs like this. But even this writer was stumped to find much of anything on the former President, Director, and Chairman of the company. In all my hours researching Trench, all I learned of Thomas Storm was: (a) he graduated from Princeton in 1955; (b) he and his brother John Storm ran the company together for several decades; and (c) he once lived in a beautiful Tudor home on Bradenham Place in Buffalo. In fact, when I first wrote about Trench in 2018, I wasn’t even sure Tom Storm was still living.
Then one day I got an email that abruptly opened: “I'm still ‘kicking’ and would be glad to talk to you about my years in Trench.” It was signed, “Tom Storm.” Apparently, Mr. Storm’s family found my BLOG; alerted him of it; then brokered our introduction. Last month Mr. Storm graciously spoke with me for 90 minutes via telephone from his home near Boca Raton in Florida.
Here’s the highlights of our conversation:
A family affair
Storm’s connection with Trench actually came via his father, Robert Storm. It was his father that purchased the business from George A. Trench, the company’s founder. Upon graduating from Princeton University in 1955, Storm began working for Dow Chemical. He had no plan to own a business; let alone, run a felt novelty company. That all changed in 1958 when his father purchased a controlling interest in the Buffalo-based pennant maker.
After nearly 40 years in the pennant business, George Trench was ready to retire. When Storm’s father learned that George’s share in the company was for sale, he bought it. Storm had no idea what prompted his father to make the purchase; but, from thereafter, the Storm family was in the pennant business.
A few years later Franklin T. Richards sold his minority stake in the company to the Storms, giving the family a 100% interest. In 1961, Tom left Dow Chemical and began working full-time at Trench. Prior to that point, the company had been run by two key employees: Irene Morin, who ran the internal operations (production); and Hank Morin, who handled exterior matters (sales).
Storm quickly found new real estate across the street at 1298 Main Street. In these new digs, Trench enjoyed unfettered elevator access to 25,000 square feet on the third floor of the spacious building. The move was timely. Storm had an ambitious set of plans for the company and he would need every square foot of real estate to bring that vision to life.
With his new real estate secured, Storm sought to modernize the entire production line at Trench. When he arrived in 1961 the company was doing okay financially; but it wasn’t thriving. Initially, he had serious concerns over their pennant production line, which he described as “antiquated.”
By the 1960s Trench was still making felt pennants the same way they (and others) had since the 1920s. Every step was labor intensive. Storm described the process in excruciating detail. First, you had to carry 10-15 different colors of felt on hand for the customer to choose from. The felt was an inexpensive blend of only 30% wool. Next, the designs were screen printed in one color: white. After screening the graphics, the felt was left to dry on a drying rack overnight. The next day an employee had to apply the secondary colors to the design via an airbrush. Because the paint was toxic, the air brushing room had to be walled off from others and be well ventilated. Once airbrushed, the pennants were again set out to dry. After a year's time, you could count on these secondary colors fading. Finally, the spine and tassels had to be sewn on by a seamstress. When complete, each pennant was sold to a concessionaire, distributor, or retailer for a mere $0.25/pennant.
“It was a good business; but it wasn’t a multi-million dollar business,” Storm claimed. The extensive production costs outlined above ate it into their profit margins considerably.
See the difference for yourself in these two Trench pennants from that transitional era....
But Storm’s modernization would not stop at white felt. Screen printing, even on a white felt substrate, remained too labor intensive for his liking. So, by the 1980s, he converted their production line from screen printing to sublimation printing. Now, using a stiff, synthetic, white felt, Trench could mass produce pennants on an industrial strength sublimation printer. No more screening. No more airbrushing. No more drying racks. From a business perspective, this was the only way to make a pennant.
Trench’s production methods were not the only thing to change when the Storms acquired the business. In 1959, a year after Storm’s father purchased the company, the NFL became the first pro league to begin licensing their intellectual property (IP). In those early days, the NFL had no experience with licensing. So the league turned to the one guy that did: Roy Rogers.
Yup, that Roy Rogers. The celebrity cowboy; and successful businessman.
[Up until 1959, none of the pro leagues protected their teams’ IP. Roy Rogers was the first celebrity to cash-in on his name, licensing it as a brand name to other manufacturers for use on cowboy-themed merchandise that his fan base gobbled up. In fact, Roy Rogers Enterprises, as his licensing company was called, was so successful, Rogers made more money licensing his name to other makers than he ever did making films. By the decade’s end, Pete Rozelle and the NFL looked to the cowboy-turned-businessman for help licensing their IP. Then in 1962, the league started its own licensing division, now known as NFL Properties.]
The Roy Rogers-NFL partnership ended up being a very good thing for Trench. In those days, Trench’s biggest customer was Sportservice, the Buffalo-based concessionaire responsible for ballpark concession stands across the country. Sportservice’s principal buyer was Ed Martin. When Martin got wind of the NFL’s desire to begin licensing their IP through Roy Rogers Enterprises, Martin advised Storm’s father. Thanks to Martin’s tip, Trench was able to secure an exclusive license to make NFL pennants beginning in 1960.
In the following years, Trench would secure other licenses to make pennants from the AFL, MLB, NHL, and the NBA.
By 1961, Trench was the nation’s largest maker of felt pennants. They dominated the professional sports market and would continue to do so thanks to the licenses they secured from the big four pro leagues. Naturally, they looked elsewhere for new markets to conquer; and they set their sights on the collegiate market.
[Up to that point the collegiate pennant market had been dominated by two companies: Collegiate Mfg. Co. of Ames, IA; and Chicago Pennant Co., of Chicago, IL. The collegiate pennant market worked a bit different from the pro sport and souvenir pennant markets. Collegiate pennants produced by these two companies were generally premium items. For example, these two makers screen printed flocked graphics on all of their pennants. This production method yielded rich, colorful graphics that were velvety smooth to the touch. Because it cost more to make pennants this way, these items were principally sold in university bookstores, were patrons could take the time to examine their quality workmanship for themselves.]
Trench’s foray into the collegiate market would not last long. To compete with the premium pennants already on the market, Trench began making flocked pennants of their own in the 1970s. This premium line was further distinguished by the presence of a handsomely designed sewn label on its reverse. Storm recalled the manufacturing process being even more troublesome than the traditional screen printing method. They quickly abandoned the effort, opting to make collegiate pennants the normal way: with screen printer's ink and a squeegee.
By the time Storm joined Trench in 1961, the company’s most significant client was Sportservice, the aforementioned concessionaire conveniently located down the street. This relationship had been pioneered by George Trench decades earlier. As new concessionaires entered the market, Trench cozied up with them, too. By decade’s end Trench was supplying pennants to ARA Services, Canteen Corp., Harry M. Stevens, and other concessionaires managing ballpark merchandising across the country.
Storm stressed the importance of concessionaires in a business like his. Trench didn’t sell pennants directly to sports teams, national parks, museums, etc. Rather, they sold to the concessionaires that ran these venues. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics were the exception, as these two teams managed their own concessions within their ballparks. “Danny Goodman ran concessions for the Dodgers,” Storm recalled, “and he loved Trench. He was a great customer for us.”
Although Storm has been out of the pennant business for decades, he remembers everything about the pennants his company once made. Especially the production details--and the headaches that came with certain styles offered.
The Photo Pennant they developed was not, in fact, Trench’s idea. Rather, it was Sportservice’s Ed Martin’s suggestion. Martin predicted that these would be big sellers. He was right. Unlike other pennant styles offered, Trench’s photo pennants were exclusively sold inside ballparks. They offered them well into the 1970s.
“These were a big pain in the ass,” Storm advised. He then explained the additional steps it took to make a photo pennant: first you had to go to a printer and print 10,000 photos up; then you had to die-cut a rectangular hole in the head of the pennant for the photo window; and then someone had to affix the photo to the pennant.
The Date Pennant was another fan favorite. But not for Storm. “Nobody else was crazy enough to make these,” he said with amusement. As with the photo pennant, the decorative sash this style came with added to its production costs; which of course ate into Trench’s profit margins. Not only did they have to make the sash; they had to slot it through the head of the pennant, which had to be done by hand. Unlike the Photo Pennant, Date Pennants had been offered by Trench for many decades. Much to Storm’s chagrin, this style remained popular with souvenir retailers because the pennant always looked fresh. “We even swapped-out the old sashes from retailers’ unsold stock for new ones with the current year on it,” Storm added.
When Storm joined Trench in 1961 their art department consisted of two graphic artists. As the company expanded into new markets and product lines, more artists were added. Perhaps the finest example of their artwork concerned another popular product line: the Stadium Pennant.
Today, collectors of vintage pennants value these pennants because of their original artwork. That’s because Trench’s artists made an accurate rendering of seemingly every team’s ballpark; then they incorporated it into the graphic designs of that team’s pennants. These pennants stood out from those of their competition, many of which relied on generic images of players and ballparks in lieu of original drawings.
Storm agreed that all of their stadium pennants appeared to have been developed by the same artist. Unfortunately, he could not recall that artist’s name. But, in terms of talent, he had no difficulty downplaying the extent of their skills. Storm simplified his own art department’s work as such: they took a picture of a ballpark and they traced it. “There was no van Gogh or creativity involved--just tracing.”
Perhaps that's selling their talents a bit short? Nevertheless, there may be some truth to this explanation, as evidenced by this ca. 1955 aerial photo of Ebbets Field--which likely served as the inspiration for Trench's rendering thereof, below it.
Storm further added: Trench never bothered copyrighting their pennant artwork. This was interesting. Throughout the 20th century, many pennant makers engaged in the industry-wide practice of reproducing (stealing?) the artwork of their competitors for use on their own pennants. Storm was hardly bothered by this. “Anything we did they could do what they wanted with,” he replied with little emotion.
After 90 minutes talking pennants with Storm, two things became evident. First, he doesn’t quite appreciate the significance of his company today, a quarter of a century after it closed. At least, not like I do. “We were in the pennant business. We weren’t Bethlehem Steel!” he quipped. Second, what he values in a pennant is not necessarily what you or I value. Collectors of vintage pennants tend to appreciate the craftsmanship that went into making them: the materials used; the sewing performed; and of course, the artwork.
But Storm isn’t a pennant collector. In fact, he doesn’t own a single pennant today. Although he does display a Princeton felt banner in his Florida home ... it wasn’t even made by Trench!
Rather, Storm was the head of a company. He ran a for-profit business that at one point employed hundreds of people. Ultimately, his job was to ensure that Trench Mfg. Co. remained profitable. If that meant selling lower quality pennants made on a sublimation printer, so be it. If that meant focusing on sportswear over pennants, why not?
For Storm, a good pennant was one that he could make money on. In the 1960s, that pennant looked like something we collectors value today. By the 1980s, however, it looked drastically different. Consumer interests of the day had changed, necessitating the production of cheaper pennants. Storm recognized this. He had to. These were business decisions, and he was a businessman after all. Not a pennant collector.
With all business comes risk; and even well run companies run the risk of failure. In 1995 Trench was forced to close its doors after 75 years in the pennant business. “We had a good run,” he lamented, “but like Eastman Kodak … it all came to an end.” He pointed out that many of the other pennant makers from the previous century were similarly forced out of the business decades earlier.
Storm’s been retired for 25 years now. At age 87, he’s still sharp as a tack. He plays golf everyday. He probably doesn’t miss those Buffalo winters. Looking back on the company he and his family grew together, he remarked: “I still can’t believe my dad bought that company … but I’m sure glad he did. We had a lot of fun.”
For more on Trench Mfg. Co., click here.
For more information on the NFL-Roy Rogers partnership, click here.
Note: All unquoted material on these pages is © 2020 K.R. Biebesheimer & Son. All rights reserved. Short excerpts may be used after written permission obtained and proper credit is given.
Locations: Massoit/Spinney Bldgs., corner of Spinney Ave./Main St., Plaistow, NH (ca. 1930-48); 200 Chadwick Ave., Plaistow, NH, (1948-85)
Maker’s marks: various labels bearing “Felt Crafters” name (ca. 1930s); aqua “Felt Crafters” stamp on reverse (ca. 1940s); red “Keezer Mfg. Co.” stamp on reverse (ca. 1948-85); occasional sewn labels bearing “Keezer” name (ca. 1950s)
They weren’t the most original pennant maker. Nor were they the most innovative. But, for nearly 60 years their pennants were consistently among some of the best made. Additionally, in an industry where product identification was generally an afterthought, their pennants are some of the most recognizable today—a characteristic that has distinguished Keezer Mfg. Co. of Plaistow, New Hampshire as a favorite among pennant collectors.
I must confess: I haven’t always appreciated Keezer pennants as much as others. In my opinion, their artwork was okay. Not the best; but, certainly not the worst. And although their pennants were always made with 100% wool and two sets of tassels; they never once offered multi-colored graphics. They were, to me, a very middle-of-the-road pennant.
But I’ve since come to realize that Keezer has a very loyal following among collectors today. Many appreciate their pennants so much they’ve collected every pennant made for all 16+ baseball teams produced in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. And since I launched Pennant Fever more than two years ago, I’ve received more requests to cover the New England-based felt novelty maker than any other company, hands down. Why?
It’s hard to put a finger on what makes their pennants so special. But here goes. Keezer’s pennants were never the most widely circulated. Although they made baseball pennants for every team, they never made enough to flood the market like other makers did. Additionally, their pennants were generally labeled with their maker’s mark, identifying their name and place of manufacture on the reverse side. These marks leave no doubt today as to which manufacturer made them. Finally, the simplicity of their designs up through the late 1960s always made their pennants appear older than perhaps they really were. In sum, I think the answer is this: Keezer’s pennants stand out because they're scarce, recognizable, and convincingly vintage in appearance.
Without further delay, here’s their story.
Carter Dimond Keezer, a.k.a., C.D. Keezer, was born in 1909. He grew up in Danville, a New Hampshire town situated about 40 miles north of Boston, MA. C.D. was the son of Sadie Carter and George Burton Keezer, a New Hampshire real estate developer. The Keezer family has called New Hampshire home for the past five centuries. According to the family, the first Keezers came over from England aboard the Mayflower in 1621. They’ve been in New England ever since.
As the son of a prominent land developer, C.D. did not have to look far to learn how to run a business. In his youth, C.D. actively helped his father run the family real estate business. In the late 1920s C.D. enrolled at Northeastern University in Boston. There he served as a manager for the school’s hockey team. By the time he graduated, he had an appreciation for collegiate sports; and, a thirst to launch a business of his own.
By the 1920s the felt pennant had solidified its place as America’s leading novelty item. Since the turn of the century, pennants had been especially popular with college students. As a recent college graduate, C.D. appreciated this. He also knew that New England had one of the highest concentrations of colleges and universities. To the young entrepreneur, this meant there was money to be made selling pennants in New England.
According to company records, the business that would eventually become Keezer Mfg. Co. officially began operations in 1928. But it was then located in Danville—not Plaistow. To be more specific: it was located in the basement of George and Sadie’s home. It was there that their son and only child likely made his first batch of pennants; where he learned how to sew them together; and perhaps where he honed his screen printing skills.
In 1928, C.D. was just 19 years old. He was just a sophomore in college. If his business really began that year, it means C.D. launched his pennant making enterprise as a Northeastern student, prior to graduation. Which actually makes perfect sense. Most likely, C.D.’s first pennants were Northeastern pennants; and his first customers were his fellow students living within his dorm.
Hey, every college kid needs a little beer money…. (Even during Prohibition!)
By the early 1930s, after graduating from college, C.D. got serious about his emerging pennant business. He moved his operation out of his family’s home to a proper building in nearby Plaistow, NH. That building stood at the corner of Main St. and Spinney Ave. Next, he named his company, “The Felt Crafters” and began branding his products accordingly. For the next two decades, this location would serve as Felt Crafters’ new home.
Early pennants offered by Felt Crafters were a combination of sewn letter and screen printed pennants. C.D. was not only making collegiate pennants for schools across the country; but also summer camps and fraternal orders situated throughout New England.
Around this time C.D. married Dorothy May Patriquin. Dorothy grew up in Harrington, ME. The couple lived together in Plaistow until C.D.’s death. Dorothy entered the marriage with a son: Richard F. Keezer (1927- ). C.D. and Dorothy had two more children together: D. Joan Keezer (1938- ); and Carter Dimond Keezer II (1944-69). Dorothy served as an Administrative Assistant at Felt Crafters / Keezer until the time of her retirement in the 1960s. All three children were involved in the management of the company at different times. Eventually, even his grand children were put to work there.
C.D.’s entrepreneurial interests were not limited to felt novelties. Like his father, he continued investing in real estate located throughout New Hampshire. He also ran a funeral home in nearby Haverhill, NH known as the Keezer-Webster Funeral Home. “Pennants, real estate … embalming … he was always looking for something that would make money,” recalled C.D.’s grandson, Burton Pecukonis.
Real estate acquisitions
By 1946 the Keezers were a growing family. After baby Carter was born the family of five needed a bigger place to call home. In 1946 C.D. purchased a charming New Englander-style home located at 114 Main St. in Plaistow, near the center of town. The home was built in the 1870s and was used as a commercial storefront by previous owners for many years. For the Keezers, however, this would be their home for the next 40 years.
By the late 1940s Felt Crafters was poised for a massive expansion. The company had done well making mostly collegiate pennants during the previous two decades. But, expanding their production lines would require bigger premises; and their humble building on Main St. was holding them back. In 1948, C.D. purchased land containing the old Dobbins-Colcord shoe factory located at 200 Lasknit Ave. in Plaistow, just north of their current location. As an added bonus, the property sat a few hundred feet from the home he had just purchased two years prior.
Big league products
By the late 1940s Keezer Mfg. Co. was ready for the big leagues. Literally. By this time Keezer had begun making felt pennants, patches and emblems for American and National League baseball teams. It should be noted that they made these products for all 16 teams then in existence. Other felt novelty makers had been making baseball pennants ahead of Keezer; however, many only made pennants for local teams in their immediate market. By thinking big, Keezer was able to tap into new markets and establish its reputation as a national brand.
As this excerpt from a ca. 1950 Keezer sales catalogue indicates, the company offered baseball pennants for every team in two sizes: 4” x 9” (“Baseball Pennants”); and 12” x 30” (“Stadium Pennants”). Further, note that these were all screen printed in a “Kemco finish,” which I am told referred to the type of ink used:
In 1949 C.D. founded The Deodorized Order of the Skunk, a social service organization based in Plaistow. Apparently C.D. had a thing for skunks; and, contrary to one’s expectations, they make for decent pets—after removing their stink glands, of course. C.D. not only knew how to remove the stink glands; he kept a pair of these odor-less creatures as household pets. Together, C.D., Dorothy and the Deodorized Order of the Skunk raised money for a variety of philanthropic causes, including Polio research. Membership cost $1 per year. By the 1960s the order was comprised of more than 300,000 “stinkers” (members) from chapters then located all over the world.
In the 1950s and 60s Keezer Mfg. Co.’s growth continued. The company was now involved in much more than felt pennants and patches; they were now heavily involved in apparel. To aid in the production of this clothing Keezer acquired a mill in nearby Newton, NH known as the Huskee Knitwear Mill. Here, raw materials were sewn into tee-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, etc. If the item required customization, the garment was screened back in Plaistow at their Chadwick Ave. headquarters. Huskee Knitwear operated as a subsidiary of Keezer Mfg. Co., which by the late 1960s was alternatively known as American Knitwear and Emblem Mfrs., perhaps to underscore the company’s new focus on apparel.
The 1960s marked the heyday of Keezer Mfg. Co. Thanks to the company’s expanding product lines, more than 120 people worked there, making Keezer the biggest employer in Plaistow. “It was a very busy place,” remembers Burton Pecukonis. Keezer’s business was so robust the local post office was not able to handle the volume of mail being generated by the company. But being the town’s largest employer comes with certain perks: in 1961, thanks to C.D.’s lobbying, a new class one post office was constructed at Main St./Pollard Rd. that no doubt benefited Keezer, which relied heavily on bulk mailing to promote its product lines.
Even a series of fires could not stop Keezer Mfg. Co.’s growth. In 1965, and again in 1971, Keezer’s Chadwick Ave. headquarters caught fire. The latter fire was the result of a dry lightning strike. It destroyed what was left of the mostly wooden building, originally constructed as a shoe factory at the turn of the century. To keep up with orders, Keezer moved back into their former location at Main St./Spinney Ave. for several months until a new, steel paneled building was hastily erected atop the original foundation. Six months later it was business as usual again on Chadwick Ave.
Keezer Mfg. Co. was at all times a family owned, family run business. Burton Pecukonis was one of C.D.’s many grandsons. He began working for his grandfather in the late 1960s at the age of nine. Burton and his four brothers all grew up working for their grandfather. The kids were all required to be proficient with every step of the manufacturing process: from silk screening, to cutting, even sewing. C.D. insisted on this versatility. Burton fondly recalled his grandfather’s sense of tough-love growing up: “‘If you want it, you’re going to have to work for it,’ he would tell us.”
Licensing, and the beginning of the end
As productive as the three previous decades were for Keezer, the 1970s would present them with serious challenges. I have documented this in each of my previous posts, so I won’t belabor the point; but, by 1970, making professional sports novelty products and apparel required a license. Prior to this, anybody could make a New York Yankees felt pennant or sweatshirt. What’s more, this maker was not obligated to pay the Yankees a dime for making use of their name on said products. By the 1970s, however, things were different. You simply could not (legally) do this without a license. In the 1970s only two pennant makers enjoyed this privilege: Trench Mfg. Co. of Buffalo, NY; and ASCO of Winona, MN (now WinCraft). Keezer was the odd man out, along with WGN and ADFLAG of Chicago, IL. These companies would never make a professional sports pennant again.
In 1975 C.D. Keezer, President and Founder of the company, passed away at the age of 66. He ran Keezer up to the day he died. His youngest son and namesake, Carter Dimond Keezer II, had served as Vice President of the company; however, he died of a long illness six years earlier at the young age of 24. C.D.’s daughter, Joan Keezer, stepped up and ran the company in her father’s absence.
Keezer Mfg. Co.’s final decade of existence was spent making custom tee-shirts and sweatshirts; and the occasional high school pennant or emblem. As CEO, Joan Keezer inherited a much different company than the one she had grown up with. By the 1980s demand for felt pennants had hit rock bottom. Additionally, licensing restrictions prevented the company from making professional sports apparel. Business opportunities were diminishing as their national market share receded to a regional presence. By 1980 Keezer was a mere fraction of the great manufacturing company it had once been.
In 1985 Joan Keezer dissolved Keezer Mfg. Co. The company’s headquarters on Chadwick Ave. were sold. According to her son, Burton Pecukonis, the manufacturing sector had changed significantly. More and more companies were either making their goods overseas, or investing in automated manufacturing processes. Keezer never adapted to these changing times. After 57 years in business, Keezer Mfg. Co., the town's biggest employer, was no more.
Over the decades Keezer Mfg. Co. made a lot of pennants. They made a lot of other products, such as felt patches and felt caps; but, they were and still are best known for their felt pennants. Since this is a pennant BLOG, we’ll focus on their pennants.
Keezer’s pennants nearly always conformed to the following characteristics:
For their first 20 years in business Keezer offered both sewn letter and screen printed pennants; however, by about 1950, it appears they offered only the latter style. What's more, their professional baseball pennants were all screen printed. Additionally, in their first two decades, they offered a wide range of pennant sizes; but, by the 1950s, Keezer’s pennants were typically either full-size (12” x 30”) or mini pennants (around 4” x 9”).
In the case of mini pennants, depending on the year of production, Keezer often utilized a painted spine, ostensibly to minimize sewing. Oddly enough, they still bothered sewing a pair of tassels to these minis. Many different pennant makers produced mini pennants with painted spines; but, if it has a pair of tassels, odds are Keezer made it.
Along with any available maker’s marks, which we’ll discuss in the next section, the above characteristics will help you identify a Keezer pennant from those by their competitors.
Perhaps the single greatest characteristic of Keezer’s pennants was their artwork. Whether they were making high school pennants, or professional baseball pennants, all featured unique graphic designs found no place else. This artwork was the product of an art department that consisted of more than a dozen graphic artists.
The Art Department was located on the second floor of Keezer’s Plaistow factory, in one of two interconnected buildings located on the original site. There, these talented artists would hand draw an illustration for every school, team, or camp Keezer did business with. Once the design was approved, it was screen printed onto the pennant. Many of these designs were used for decades; others were periodically updated, e.g., when a team relocated to another city.
Here’s a sampling of some of the interesting pennant artwork Keezer’s Art Department cooked up for their baseball pennants between the late 1940s through the late 1960s:
Here's a fairly comprehensive collection of Keezer minis featuring some of this artwork in its full glory:
[Photo credit: Rick H.]
In addition to their line of baseball pennants, Keezer also produced baseball patches or “emblems” as they were then known. These patches were available as both jacket emblems (5” average size) and cap or sleeve emblems (average 2” size), with the latter being iron-on patches. All were made of 100% wool felt and screen printed in a “Velvety Keko-Knap finish.”
As with their baseball pennants, the Art Department created a second unique design for every team’s emblem. In some cases, this emblem artwork was also featured on a felt pennant. This ca. 1950 excerpt from a Keezer sales catalogue showcases all 16 baseball emblems then available:
They looked even better in color:
Burton Pecukonis recalls the Art Department all too well. One artist in particular worked for his grandfather for many years until her untimely death. In the late 1970s Pecukonis and his friends would sneak into the factory at night to drink beer. On more than one occasion he recalled exiting the plant only to observe that this deceased artist’s table light had been left on. Being the good grandson and loyal employee that he was he promptly led his friends back inside to turn the light off ... only to find it off. So they would leave; and upon walking away from the plant, they observed the same light back on again. Naturally they inspected the lamp’s wiring; but everything checked out. Burton surmised that this artist’s ghost had returned to her old work station to complete some unfinished drawings.
So either the place was haunted … or young Burton had too much too drink that night. Regardless, it’s an awesome story.
MAKER’S MARKS, TEAM LIBRARY
Keezer’s felt pennants are today among some of the most recognizable pennants ever made. That’s because they typically marked their pennants with their name and location. Not every pennant maker did.
During the first 20 years, when the company was known as “The Felt Crafters,” the company seems to have mostly favored using sewn labels for maker’s marks. By the 1950s, when known as Keezer Mfg. Co., the company transitioned to a stamped logo on the reverse side of their felt novelty products. The benefit to this was that the stamp was immutable to the tests of time. Unfortunately, the company did not consistently stamp the same product over the years. Many made it out of Plaistow with no mark at all. This inconsistency has led to some confusion among collectors as to what pennants Keezer was responsible for. We’ll try and clear all that up below….
New York Yankees
Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers
New York/San Francisco Giants
Houston Colt .45s/Astros
Boston Red Sox
Pennant Fever wishes to thank those that contributed to the writing of this piece. First and foremost, Mr. Burton Pecukonis: Thank you for letting me pepper you with questions for an hour and a half with zero notice. Your memories of your grandfather and your family's business provided a critical perspective an article like this depends upon. Second, Greg Manco: Thank you for helping me appreciate the beauty of Keezer's pennants; and for allowing me the use of your many photos of Keezer pennants from your vast collection.
Note: All unquoted material on these pages is © 2020 K.R. Biebesheimer & Son. All rights reserved. Short excerpts may be used after written permission obtained and proper credit is given.
Locations: 476 W. Broadway (ca. 1949-52); 3rd/Johnson streets (ca. early 1950s); E. Sanborn St./Mankato Ave. (ca. 1950s); 5th/Olmstead streets (ca. late 1950s); 102 Walnut St. (1962-68); then 1205 E. Sanborn St. (1969 - 1982; 1982- ).
Closed: Became a division of WinCraft in 1982; d/b/a WinCraft, Inc. today.
Maker’s mark: Various marks printed on the reverse side of photo pennants of the 1960s; use of ASCO insignia on pennants of the 1970s.
I’ve covered a handful of pennant makers on Pennant Fever over the past year and a half. That list includes some of the most significant manufacturers of the past century. Although you may not have heard of them all by name, you likely have seen their products; and there’s little doubt all made serious contributions to the industry.
Now I want to cover a manufacturer whose contributions are a bit less appreciated. Honestly, I can’t say they did anything too amazing during their short run; but, what they accomplished in such a short period of time, especially in terms of growth and market share, was amazing. And because this company morphed into the largest supplier of pennants today, I think their story is worth telling. I’m talking about a little known company out of Winona, MN called ASCO, Inc.
Never heard of them? Well, today you may know them as WinCraft, a company located in the very same Minnesota town.
I know what you’re thinking. When you think of well-made pennants, WinCraft does not come to mind, does it? But us pennant snobs cannot totally hate on them just because they don’t make contemporary products the way others used to. If they did, they probably would have folded long ago. Then nobody would be left making pennants today, and … who wants to live in a pennant-less world, right?
So, be patient. Keep an open mind. And please: read on. Maybe this post will leave you with a new found appreciation of modern day pennant manufacturers, and the challenges they have had to overcome to remain in business in this ever changing world.
ASCO was started in 1949 by Lars H. Granberg. Granberg was a teacher and athletic coach at Houston High School located in Houston, MN, not far from Winona. Like his contemporaries, Coach Granberg was an underpaid teacher looking to supplement his meager wages with a second income. Today we’d call that a “side hustle” and, let’s face it, nowadays coach would probably be driving for UBER on the weekends. But ride sharing wasn’t a thing back in 1949, which meant Coach Granberg had to find a more creative use of his spare time to make a buck.
As an athletic coach, Coach Granberg was constantly outdoors interfacing with students, parents, and spectators watching his teams play. Although we think of Minnesota for its brutal winters, it can actually get pretty warm in the summer months there. Coach Granberg came up with an idea: make sun visors out of cardboard and sell them to spectators attending these outdoor athletic events. His products were a hit! For the next few years, Granberg and his wife converted the kitchen of their Winona home, located at 476 W. Broadway, into a small factory where they made sun visors whenever school was not in session. If their kitchen was the factory, his car served as the office, which enabled him to travel across the country to various schools and colleges in search of new buyers of his product.
In 1952 Coach Granberg was still coaching basketball and baseball in the Winona area; but the side-business that would become ASCO was now turning a profit. What’s more, the Granbergs' kitchen could no longer accommodate production demands.
So they moved to the garage. But they outgrew that space as well. Still making exclusively sun visors, the business was forced to set up a proper shop at different downtown Winona locations that could accommodate their growing needs throughout the decade.
On July 5, 1955 Lars Granberg formally incorporated his new company under the name “ASCO, Inc.,” a Minnesota corporation. He would serve as the company’s first president. What does ASCO stand for, you may be wondering? I wish I knew for certain. I noticed that many newspaper articles of the day covering the company’s growth referred to it as an advertising specialty company. I would therefore guess that ASCO once stood for Advertising Specialty Company; however, every maker’s mark, advertisement, or catalog of theirs I have seen used only the abbreviation “ASCO” or “Asco” without anything more. Since their legal name was never anything more than “ASCO, Inc.” they likely intended from inception to be known solely by this acronym.
Expansion into pennants
In 1962 ASCO relocated yet again to 102 Walnut Street, a three story building located at the corner of 2nd/Walnut streets in downtown Winona, not far from the Granbergs’ home. Interestingly enough, this building had formerly been occupied by a continuation of different textile manufacturers. Perhaps this factored into ASCO’s desire to move there, as the company hoped to use this location to manufacture felt pennants, in addition to buttons and other novelty products they were already known for.
ASCO launched its new pennant line in 1962 shortly after occupying the first and second floors of what came to be known as the “ASCO Building.” It’s not entirely clear what teams this first run of pennants included. Not surprisingly, the majority concerned the Minnesota Twins. They also made pennants for the Vikings and, later in the decade, the Minnesota North Stars, too. But they also churned out pennants for out-of-state teams experiencing great success throughout the decade, such as the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Early pennant characteristics
There’s a few noteworthy characteristics to these 1960s-era ASCO pennants. First, many (all?) were photo pennants. It’s possible they manufactured traditional pennants in these early days; but, as they only placed their maker’s mark on the reverse side of photo pennants in this era, I’m only aware of their photo pennants.
Second, early ASCO pennants never used tassels. To make up for this, they featured a slightly wider spine than those used by other pennant makers of the day. (Trench spines consistently measured .75” in width; whereas ASCO’s measured a full 1” across.) Together, these features help distinguish ASCO pennants from those by Trench Mfg. Co. of Buffalo, NY--at the time, the biggest pennant maker in the business. Compare for yourself:
Third, early ASCO pennants were primarily monochrome. This feature really helps distinguish ASCO’s pennants from Trench’s, the latter company having switched to primarily polychromatic pennants sometime in the previous decade.
Fourth, the earliest ASCO pennants were largely copies of Trench’s designs. As I have pointed out time and again in my previous posts, copying the artwork of your competitors was fairly commonplace in the felt novelty industry until the 1970s.
Here’s two side-by-side comparisons that illustrate the above points:
Note that the ASCO photo pennants on the right are tassel-less, monochrome, and pretty much a copy of Trench’s design on the left. That really sums these early ASCO pennants up. In essence, they’re inferior Trench pennants.
ASCO’s photo pennants are inferior in one other way: whatever adhesive they used to secure their photos to the felt did not hold up over time. Consequently, you’ll find many of these pennants for sale today; but, the photo will either be detached; re-secured with modern tape; or, sadly, missing entirely.
By the end of the 1960s sports pennants and other sports novelty items had become a huge part of ASCO’s product lines. But not all of their merchandise was sports themed. Campaign buttons were huge for them; and souvenir/travel pennants were also big, like these examples, below, all by ASCO:
The Button House, Idea Promotions, and the Winona connection
I spent a lot of time researching ASCO. No mystery has consumed me more than some inconsistencies I have spotted concerning what appear to be ASCO pennants; however, they bear another company’s mark. To make matters more confusing, these other companies identified themselves as being from the very same town of Winona; and at the same time ASCO was in business!
Have a look for yourself. Below is a pairing of World Series pennants from 1965. The Twins version bears a photo. On the reverse, the photo bears ASCO’s mark. So, ASCO manufactured the pennant, right? Duh.
But, not so fast! Here’s the above pennant’s sister for the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s otherwise identical to the Twins version above: full size photo pennant, no tassels, wide spine, monochrome, and the same layout inspired by earlier photo pennants by Trench. So, flip this gal over and you would expect to find an ASCO maker’s mark, right? Wrong….
Idea Promotions? This was the first I’d heard of this company. Doesn’t exactly sound like a felt novelty company, does it? I tried to find more information on Idea Promotions, but got nowhere. I did, however, find several other ASCO-like pennants with Idea’s mark thereon. And then things got really weird.
First, I came across this red variant of the above Dodgers pennant, which was purportedly by Idea Promotions. My expectations were that Idea’s mark, or ASCO’s mark, would appear on the reverse. That was not the case….
Blank?! How is that an option? It’s possible that the reverse side of this photo was always intended to be blank for reasons not entirely clear. It’s also possible that the maker originally placed a second card atop the photo’s reverse side; and this backing has since fallen off and been lost to the ages. In such a scenario, this missing backing may have had the maker’s mark printed on it.
Second, in my search for more Idea photo pennants, I found additional ASCO-like pennants with a third company’s mark on the back: The Button House, also located in Winona.
In the above pairing, these Twins pennants are identical. Only the photos are different, probably because they were made a year or two apart. I wondered how to make sense of all this. Was it possible that the small town of Winona had not one, but three pennant makers? (Actually four, if you count WinCraft.) That seems inconceivable to me.
I have to be completely candid with you: I don’t believe for a hot second that anyone but ASCO manufactured these pennants--or, at least the felt portion thereof. They are all just too similar. And if you’re thinking: “Hey, haven’t you been telling us that pennant makers routinely copied from their competitors; so, who’s to say Button House didn’t just copy ASCO’s designs?”
Fair point. But I just don’t think it’s likely that one small town could support four different pennant makers during the latter half of the 1960s. Maybe in a place like New York or Chicago … but not Winona. Especially because this was a time when felt novelty companies were getting out--not into--the pennant business due to the advent of licensing requirements being imposed in the late 1960s.
It is my belief that ASCO made all of these pennants, despite the instances where other company names appear on the reverse. I suspect that ASCO made the felt portions; and, when it came to the photos they occasionally purchased these from other suppliers that could produce them to their desired specs. And, not surprisingly, they favored using local vendors capable of supplying these components, which to me explains why they’re all from the same town. Further, these photos could have been intended for multiple purposes beyond simply photo pennants, so they may have already been pre-stamped with this suppliers name on the reverse.
Alternatively, Idea and Button House could have even been purchasing blank photo pennants from ASCO as their pennant supplier, so they could place their photos in them and sell the finished product as their own item, with their mark thereon.
It’s also possible that these other companies were simply the distributors or retail outlets that sold ASCO’s products to the end consumer.
Either way, ASCO designed, cut, screen printed, and sewed the felt portions of these products--and in my eye, that makes them the manufacturer.
Or I could be dead wrong. If you know more, please contact me as I’d love to know what you think.
Since I first wrote this piece, I've come a bit closer to solving the above mystery: I came across a 1970 sales catalog by The Button House. The catalog showcased the company's various offerings made with the consent of the NFL, including felt pennants. The catalog plainly identified The Button House's mailing address as 1205 E. Sanborn St. This address, you'll soon learn, became ASCO's principal manufacturing location in 1968. Moreover, the catalog references Button House as a "DIVISION OF ASCO INCORPORATED."
So, by at least 1970, we can say definitively say that Button House and ASCO were one in the same company.
From hereon, I am operating under the assumption that all pennants featured in this post bearing an ASCO, Idea Promotions, or Button House mark, or no mark at all (blank), were in fact manufactured by ASCO.
By the start of 1968 ASCO had emerged as a very profitable company, well positioned for continued growth. Six years earlier they began making pennants. This was only made possible because they had moved to 102 Walnut Street, a building large enough to accommodate this new product line. The future had to look bright for ASCO President Lars Granberg.
That optimism was blackened on January 11, 1968 when a fire broke out in the northeast corner of the ASCO Building, spreading into the rooftop. The northeast corner of the building was damaged; and portions of the roof collapsed. Damages exceeded a quarter of a million dollars. Most of this damage was water related--not structural. Nevertheless, much of ASCO’s raw felt and pennant stock were completely destroyed.
With outstanding orders piling up, ASCO had to take action. Executive offices were temporarily moved down the street to 400 W. 3rd Street. After some clean-up, production eventually resumed at the old ASCO Building; but, their time on Walnut Street was limited. Lars Granberg wanted to continue growing his company; and to foster this, he needed a much larger, more modern plant.
A new home
So ASCO purchased the old Goodall Manufacturing Building located at 1205 E. Sanborn Street on the eastern edge of Winona. And on July 3, 1968 ASCO moved into their new 35,000 square foot plant. Almost immediately, they began expanding the site by another 22,000 square feet to provide even more manufacturing and storage space. By the end of 1969, ASCO’s new plant was fully operational and ready for the rapid growth the company’s founder envisioned. Just 20 years earlier, Mr. and Mrs. Granberg were making sun visors in their home’s kitchen. Now, that company was truly entering the 20th century.
ASCO in the 1970s
By 1970 ASCO had emerged as one of the nation’s biggest maker of promotion and novelty items. Their new Sanborn Street plant was occupied by a work force of 140 employees. Some of these employees staffed an in-house design and art department. Others worked in the graphic arts department where they utilized offset, letterpress, and silk screen printing equipment. For the most part, pennants and buttons comprised the bulk of their product lines. The previous year, these employees made 4 million pennants and 4 million buttons for nationwide distribution. To accommodate growing demand for these products the plant went on a two-shift work schedule for the first time in company history.
It’s important to realize that, by the end of the 1960s, the felt novelty industry had gone through some serious changes. I’ve documented this elsewhere in previous posts, so I’ll keep it short. By the decade’s end the big four professional sports leagues, plus most collegiate athletic conferences, began trademarking their team logos, insignia, etc. This meant nobody could (lawfully) make a pennant or a button or decal with this intellectual property without first obtaining a license. This cost money. Consequently, many novelty companies got out of the pennant business because they could not obtain these licenses, e.g., ADFLAG, WGN, just to name a few.
Just 50 years earlier there were dozens of manufacturers making felt pennants all over the country. But by the 1970s there were really only two companies left making officially licensed sports pennants: Trench; and, surprisingly, ASCO.
I find this surprising because ASCO had not manufactured a pennant until 1962, less than 10 years earlier. And what they had manufactured was largely based upon the design work of others. So, yes, it seems odd to me that ASCO continued making sports pennants at a time when other more accomplished manufacturers chose not to. But that’s precisely what happened.
Back to licensing. By the start of the 1970s ASCO had secured exclusive licensing agreements to make pennants, buttons, and other items bearing team emblems from the NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB; and the Big 10 Athletic Conference. These licenses were absolutely the key to their financial success. Without them, none of this rapid growth would have been possible. Simply put: these licenses allowed ASCO the chance to distribute their goods to national markets well beyond Minnesota.
Sometime after 1970 ASCO’s Lars Granberg left the company. I could find no information on his separation with the company, but I have to imagine he either retired; or passed away. By 1976 ASCO’s new president was John W. Arnold. Under Arnold’s leadership, annual sales reached $2.5 million that year. To help market the many products they now offered, ASCO circulated more than a million sales catalogs. Here’s one from 1976:
Note that by the 1970s the company was offering traditional felt pennants and in three sizes (no idea why the catalog says “4 Great Sizes”): 5” x 12”; 9” x 24” (shown twice); and 12” x 30.” Additionally, photo pennants were still available as late as 1976 and offered in two sizes: 9” x 24”; and 12” x 30.”
According to this 1976 advertisement, ASCO’s business now focused on three distinct areas:
By the way, did you notice this interesting little logo on the cover of the above sales catalog; and on the above advertisement? It looks like a circle with an arrow running through it; pointing due north.
Sometime around 1970 ASCO adopted this symbol as their maker’s mark. We’ll re-visit this mark later on in the Maker’s Mark section; but, for now just know: on traditional pennants from the 1970s, look for it in the bottom left corner, next to the spine. Here’s a few examples:
WinCraft, Inc., yet another Winona novelty company
I told you up front that WinCraft would enter into this story, didn’t I? Well, that time is now.
WinCraft, Inc. was founded on June 20, 1961, some 12 years after ASCO was founded. Its first location, however, was a bit larger than the Granberg family kitchen that ASCO hatched in. WinCraft’s first location stood at 107 Lafayette Street, directly above a downtown Winona watering hole called the Sunshine Bar. This was just one block west of the ASCO Building. It was a humble operation consisting of only two full-time employees, and one part-timer working out of a few small rooms. Like many novelty companies of the day, they were strictly a mail order company. Their first year was a success. They made over $61,000 in sales that year.
As best I can tell, WinCraft’s first products were limited to pom poms and buttons. Their first customers were local high schools. In other words, their business model looked a lot like ASCO’s in the 1950s. That would soon change.
By 1969 WinCraft had expanded their product lines somewhat. Pom poms were still their money maker; but they now offered Chenille letters, bumper stickers; and, yes, even felt pennants. See for yourself:
According to their catalog, WinCraft offered felt pennants with tassels in five different sizes, including lengths of 18”, 24”, and 30.”
Even by 1970 WinCraft’s business was heavily focused on high schools. The big question is: did WinCraft ever offer felt pennants for professional sports teams, as ASCO had begun doing, in the 1960s?
As best I can tell the answer is: maybe. If they did, it would have occurred in the mid-1960s, before the era of licensing really took effect. Additionally, it would likely have been limited to Minnesota sports teams.
It’s quite possible they made a handful of pennants for the expansion team Minnesota Vikings during the early to mid-1960s. This one resembles the Viking artwork depicted in the above WinCraft catalog; and the size is about 18” in length, which we know they offered as per the same marketing.
Of course … there probably were plenty of high schools throughout Minnesota using “Vikings” as a team name. So, at the end of the day, I cannot really be certain WinCraft made this pennant; or, that it was made for the NFL Vikings. Hence the uncertainty of my answer.
WinCraft’s rapid growth would continue through the early 1970s with their relocation to a modern plant of their own located at 1124 W. 5th Street, on the western edge of town.
Merger with WinCraft
By now you have to be asking yourself: how many more pennant companies can Winona support? Don’t worry. From hereon, the number starts contracting.
By the 1970s ASCO and WinCraft were competing for much of the same business. When this occurs, you either have to drive your competition out of business; or partner up. It’s the old adage: “If you can’t beat’em, join’em.” It looks like the latter occurred.
As early as 1979 the two companies began working together, according to a 2015 story in the Winona Daily News. Legally speaking, however, the merger was not filed with the Minnesota Secretary of State until August 31, 1982. The resulting company was officially named “WinCraft, Inc.” From hereon, all products were branded under the WinCraft name/logo; however, for the remainder of the decade, all licensed sports products bore additional reference to the “ASCO Division” thereon through 1991 or so.
Why the merger? It appears to me that each company had something desirable that the other lacked by the end of the 1970s. At WinCraft, their School Division had taken over control of that lucrative market. At ASCO, their Professional Sports Division was thriving thanks to their exclusive licenses obtained from all of the major professional sports leagues/conferences. Merging the two companies made sound business sense. Excess resources could be consolidated, thereby lowering production costs. For example, two pennant production lines could be consolidated into one. Same with buttons. And with ASCO’s licenses, the new company was free to expand their existing product lines into new areas, such as sports apparel. All of this translates into increased profits.
That’s why you merge.
WinCraft, Inc. today
For better or worse, WinCraft is now the industry leader in pennant sales. Actually, they’re probably the industry leader in just about every other type of officially licensed sports merchandise available. Much of that success is attributable to Lars Granberg and the small company he started in his kitchen known as ASCO. More importantly, WinCraft is one of the only remaining companies left in the felt novelty business making officially licensed sports pennants; the others being RICO, Winning Streak, and Collegiate Pacific.
They survived when other novelty companies with far more experience making pennants perished. Why?
Because their management saw the writing on the wall! That is to say: they correctly saw that licensing agreements were the future of the industry; and they predicted that those in possession of such agreements would be uniquely positioned to keep making not only pennants and buttons and decals; but, lanyards, key chains, beer koozies … you name it.
Sure, the quality of their pennants today is hardly worth blogging about. But, look on the bright side: at least someone’s still making pennants in this country using American labor, right?
Amazingly, WGN’s partnership with Notre Dame survived for nearly 60 years. As the football team kept winning, fans flocked to Notre Dame Stadium, and WGN’s concession business thrived. As a byproduct of this relationship, WGN developed an ever changing inventory of felt pennants and other novelty items that were adored by millions of fans season after season. Some of the designs on these pennants were unique to Notre Dame; however, with only a small modification, most could be adapted for other teams and sold at Notre Dame Stadium or other campuses or stadiums.
And that’s exactly what Mr. Newbould did. As you look through the Notre Dame portion of the Team Library that follows later in this post, you’ll note that much of this original artwork was recycled for use on other collegiate and professional sports pennants WGN supplied to additional teams. Like this pair below, each from the 1940s and 50s, respectively:
Moreover, the quality of their artwork was generally commensurate with other premium pennant makers of the day. Although much of their artwork was generic and thus interchangeable with different teams, a few designs were team specific, such as those made for local Chicago area teams. And of the artwork that was generic, WGN updated these designs so frequently they never seemed to get stale.
The question today is: who was responsible for this artwork? Most pennant manufacturers employed an art department responsible for the illustrations and layouts on their felt products. When I spoke with WGN’s Gus Porter about this artwork, however, he advised he was not even sure his company designed their own pennants. “We did use contractors in Florida and elsewhere to help make some of our products.” To that point, he believed there was a time in the 1960s and 70s when WGN used another Chicago pennant maker as their pennant supplier; and he believed that company was the G.B. Feld Co., yet another felt novelty manufacturer located on the south side. As concerns the mystery artist’s identity, he was certain of one thing: it wasn’t Mr. Newbould. “My [great] grandfather wasn’t much of an artist.”
And, on at least one very early Notre Dame pennant--perhaps their first ever--WGN stamped their name on the reverse side of the pennant in ink. If this type of mark sounds familiar, it’s because this same practice was employed by other pennant manufacturers of the day, viz., Keezer Mfg. Co. and New York Pennant Co. With that said, I know of no other WGN pennant bearing this type of mark. As you can see, it not only identified the pennant’s maker as “W.G. NEWBOULD CO.”, but, it also provided their address: 7522 Clyde Ave. According to the Porter family, they believe Mr. and Mrs. Newbould may have once lived on Clyde Ave. before moving to 8000 S. Chicago Ave.
Every pennant maker has a particular font they like to use, and WGN was no exception. One style they used throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s was a stencil font. It’s subtle, but look carefully and you’ll see that these letters were ideal for stenciling because the floating centers are all connected to the body of the stencil. This surely expedited the production process.
In 1936, two years after the fair closed, Frank founded the Advertising Flag Co., a wholesale manufacturing company specializing in the production of novelty items. Their first location stood at 543 S. Dearborn Street. In these early days the company primarily made promotional items for local businesses (hence the name). Souvenir pennants celebrating Chicago landmarks no doubt made up much of this business.
But then came the war.
Expansion into sports pennants
By 1946 the war had ended and Frank returned to Chicago. ADFLAG faired well in his absence. As president, Frank relocated the company to 415 S. Clark Street that year. By this time the company’s principal products included custom Shriners’ fezzes and felt hat bands, along with custom felt novelty pennants for a wide variety of events, such as circuses, rodeos, and fairs.
By 1947 ADFLAG had begun making American and National League baseball pennants, as seen in this advertisement featured in The Billboard magazine of March 29, 1947:
Mark #8 (ca. 1960s).
This "WC" was Trench's mark for West Coast Novelty. In the early 1960s West Coast served as a regional pennant distributor for Trench. As with the above concessionaire's marks, Trench placed a "WC" on pennants specifically destined for West Coast and their retail partners, e.g., sporting goods stores. Because they were only a regional distributor, these pennants were limited to San Francisco Bay area teams and retailers.
Look for this mark discreetly placed within the artwork of San Francisco Giants pennants; and University of California pennants.
As with the Sportservice marks discussed above, you will find variations of these same pennants with and without this "WC" mark. That's because Trench supplied pennants to others in the bay area market, such as the concessionaire's that ran Candlestick Park and Memorial Stadium.
Label #1 (ca. 1960s)
Trench made a lot of collegiate pennants in the 20th century, but this is the only example I know of with a sewn label. The pennant it was affixed to was part of a brief experiment making a premium pennant line intended for sale at college bookstores. These pennants featured flocked graphics and a sewn label, which was atypical for Trench.
According to the Official Gazette of the US Patent Office, Trench filed for a patent on this mark in 1960; having first used the design in 1959.
This premium pennant line didn't work out and was abandoned shortly after it launched.
Header #2 (ca. 1980s?); Ames, IA?
From the looks of this header, I'd say it was used in the 1980s or early 1990s. Note that it identifies the company as "Collegiate Pacific" [no hyphen]. That suggests to me it was used by the current ownership, after they acquired the Roanoke facility in the mid-1990s. But, this header also plainly identifies its location as "Ames, Iowa." So, it could have been used in the 1980s, maybe even earlier.
Label #1 (ca. 1910); 1105 E. 63rd St., Chicago, IL
This is the oldest Chipenco pennant and label I've come across! It represents the earliest surviving work product by company founder H.J. Hansen. Since the company only existed at this address for its first year or two, pennants bearing this label are extremely rare.
[Writer's note: My thanks to reader Hiroaki Yamaji for sharing this image with me for use on this site.]
Label #2 (ca. 1912-13); 1212 E. 63rd St., Chicago, IL
No definitive known label at the time of this writing....
It is possible that this St. Mary's pennant/label, on the right, dates from that brief era and location. The bottom line reads “College and Advertising Pennants,” the only instance I know of where that verbiage appeared on Chipenco labels. Unfortunately, we cannot confirm its precise origin as the bottom portion of the label appears to be missing. The address, more than likely, would have appeared here, thereby allowing us more confirmation.
Still, there's no question this was one of Chipenco's earliest pennants; and, I've never seen another label quite like this one. This label had to have been in use sometime between 1910-18, and probably for only a short while.
I collect vintage pennants and banners. Soon after getting into this hobby, I became curious about the companies responsible for their production. I had to look hard, but eventually found a lot of interesting information on many of them, and their products. This site is my repository for that research. Periodically, I will dedicate a post to one of these featured manufacturers. I hope other collectors will find this information useful.