In a bygone era before the automatic bean grinders, electric coffee percolators and Starbucks’ steamed half-caf latte concoctions, the black brew was more luxury than commodity. These days, as we impatiently stand in line at the local coffee bar, we may overlook why it was so precious an item in earlier times.
The instrument, above, was used to transform whole beans into coffee grinds for brewing. Considering the amount of work involved to prepare a single pot, the slogan “Good to the last drop” must have really resonated with those who enjoyed a daily cup of joe.
This 1920s upright cast iron grist mill was sold in the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog for $2.39 (the price tag is still attached). Advertised as a one-stop machine for grain and coffee grinding alike, the original buyer — in this case, a man from Glen Ellen, Ill. — would have truly gotten his money’s worth. The price alone is astounding, given that the cost of a single cup in today’s market surpasses $2.39 by a dollar or more, depending on the extras one specifies.
Donated to the Museum of Mobile in the mid-1970s, the grist mill had made its way to the Port City as a possession of William Grosslaub (1901 – 1972). However, until now it has remained in storage, with questions about how it could be incorporated in a museum setting. The museum staff recently reexamined it as a piece of American history and a demonstration of how much technology has progressed. The grist mill will appear in an invention exhibit, “Contraptions, Gizmos, Gadgets, Whatsits, Widgets, Doodads, Thingamajigs, and So Much More, ” slated to open in January 2012.