From “The International Book of Beer Labels, Mats & Coasters” published by Chartwell books in 1979
Bottled products bore paper labels in the seventeenth century. Early drug phials had a label which covered the whole of the glass and early in the following century, patent medicine vendors were using paper labels widely. The first use of labels on alcohol bottles seems to have come in the middle of the eighteenth century, it is known, for example, that a black and white label was being used for port wine in 1756. Up to the 1860s, bottles of wine were sold in cases largely’ to members of the upper and middle classes, and were therefore not distributed widely; around that time, however, concern that a wider public should have access to wine (partly to counteract the widescale consumption of spirits) gave rise to legislation to allow any retailer to sell wine in single bottles, and each bottle had to have a label.
Beer labels were probably unknown before the 1840s. In England, beer was not bottled to any great extent until 1834, when the duty on glass was repealed. Before that time, the customer had his own bottles which were impressed with his own seal=usual ly showing a coat of arms or name, together with the date~ just below the neck of the bottle. After 1834, bottles were still sealed by hand. The name of the brewer and a description of the contents were stamped into the neck of the wax seal. Because of expanding trade, a quicker method of identification was developed: a metal foil capsule, similar to those still used today for the bottling of wines and spirits, was soon introduced. This depicted the brewer’s name and nature of contents. There was, however, a disadvantage in that when the bottle was handled roughly the cap soon became illegible. Printed paper labels were therefore the answer.
The growth of cities caused by the Industrial Revolution in England enabled brewers to ‘mass produce’ their beer, while in rural districts, the decline of home brewing increased the sales of country brewers. Population increases in American cities, largely through immigration" also led to brewing on a large scale, although it was predominantly national in character. Anheuser-Busch, the largest brewery company in the world, was founded in St. Louis by a German immigrant in 1852 and was the first to market beer right across the United States.
With beer being sold on an increasingly wide scale, brewers recognized the importance of identifying their products properly, and for this the label was vital. One result of British settlement in India was the export of light ale specially brewed for the climate, appropriately named ‘East India Pale Ale‘. Because bottled beer has a longer life than casked beer, it was more extensively used for this brew, which is invariably found advertised on the earliest labels. Labelled bottles were probably in general use in the United Kingdom by 1855, due to the extensions of the railways and canals which allowed the brewers to expand their markets. During the Crimean War, they were being exported in quantity. (A bottle with a faded label from that period is kept at William Younger‘s Brewery in Edinburgh.)
Owing to changing methods of sealing bottles, a new type of label came to be used: the stopper label. As the yeast in beer naturally builds up large quantities of CO2, the cork was usually sealed with wax or foil cap and wire to prevent the force of the gas driving the cork out, particularly with export ales. In 1872, the screw stopper was patented by Henry Barrett of England and began to replace the cork, although corks were still in general use in England in the 1930s, while in Ireland they lasted to 1970. (In Belgium, Liefmans Brewery of Ouedenaarde still uses corked litres and jeroboams for its beers, and Gales of Horndean, England, have corked bottles for their Prize Old Ale. Hardy Ale, when it was introduced by Eldridge Pope, of Dorchester, England in 1968, appeared in similar bottles.)
In 1892 crown corks (metal closures with a corrugated edge which fit on the lip of the bottle and which can be levered off with a bottle opener but not satisfactorily replaced) were invented by William Painter, and they further reduced the use of ordinary corks. When screw stoppers were brought into general use, top straps to cover them soon followed. In 1901 in England, the passing of the Intoxicating Liquors (Sale to Children) Act made it necessary for all bottles that could easily be opened to bear such a strap label, some straps even mentioning the Act. In England, the stopper label is now largely a thing of the past, owing to the increased use of the crown cork on pints and quarts. Because of the small size of the stopper, label, its design shows more ingenuity and taste than that of the larger ‘side’ label, and this is the reason why stopper labels can add a final touch to any collection.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of stopper labels is the wide variety of inscriptions. The most common is ‘Observe (or see) that this label is unbroken’. This is varied occasionally with ‘This label should be unbroken when received’, and sometimes the word ‘unbroken’ is replaced by ‘intact’ or ‘entire’, another slight variation being the substitution of ‘capsule’ or ‘seal’ for ‘label’. In a slightly different vein is the delightful ‘This label must be entire when bottle is handed to messenger’. Another common inscription to be found on the stopper label is ‘Replace the stopper when empty’. Some brewers were more polite, however, adding the word ‘please’ or ‘kindly’ to the request, while others were more direct, giving the order ‘screw stopper tightly’. Advice to the drinker is frequent, with ‘pour out with care’, ‘do not shake the bottle’ and ‘none genuine without this label’. At times, the price of beer appears.
The name of the brewer or brand of the beer is occasionally seen on the tab, but this is mostly reserved for the centre of the label which fits over the stopper itself. Of equal fascination to the collector is a similar type of label used in Germany, Holland and other European countries. This fits vertically on the neck of the bottle and is sometimes the only label used. Grolsch of Holland use bottles with porcelain ‘swing’ top closures (devices for removing the cork or stopper by pressing two wire bales which pass through the stopper and lock against the neck of the bottle) for some of their beers, and the raised lettering on the bottles themselves necessitates a label on the neck rather than the main part of the bottle.
In the early days of bottled beer, the majority of brewers in Great Britain and Ireland left the bottling to individual shops, public houses and wholesalers. Most brewers established their own bottling stores in the early twentieth century, but Whitbread of London founded theirs in 1868. The early labels of the London breweries Barclay Perkins and Combe & Company and Guinness in Dublin bear names of different bottlers, and a selection of Guinness labels issued by various bottlers can be seen at the company’s museum at the St. James’s Gate Brewery, Dublin.
Trade expansion led to an increase in competition among brewers, and inevitably, undesirable practices crept in. Imitations of the best ales were sold; for example, Scotch ale by an American company was sold as Scotch in the United States. And before legislation was introduced from 1875 onwards governing trademarks, other companies could copy these without the established or authentic users having the full protection of the law. Guinness, William Younger and especially Bass suffered from this practice and an album of some 1,900 forgeries and copyright infringements is still retained at Bass’s brewery at Burton-on- Trent.
The Bass red triangle, as depicted on the Pale Ale label, is perhaps the world’s best known trade mark. The story is that a loyal employee sat on the steps of the registrar’s office all night to ensure that the red triangle was the first trade mark to be registered in 1890 under the Trade Marks Acts; Bass’s diamond trade mark was the second entry. Both marks had, however, already been used for many years. The Bass label has a further claim to fame: it is shown on a bottle in Edouard Manet’s famous painting of 1882, ‘Le Bar aux Folies Bergeres’,
The decade 1880-90 saw great expansion of bottled beer production due to the introduction of machinery for that purpose. This is borne out by the fact that about one third of all breweries in the United Kingdom date their first labels from that period. Owing to the amalgamation of many breweries after the First World War, and loss of overseas markets, there was a considerable decrease in the number and variety of the labels used.
Just before the Second World War, bottles with permanent fired-on or stencilled labels were introduced in England. While they were of some use during the wartime paper shortage, they were not popular, because of the time that had to be spent in sorting at the bottle store. Brewers which made use of the fired-on label included Bullard’s, Steward & Patteson and ‘Morgan’s of Norwich and Campbell Praed of Welling borough. They are still used for the bottled abbey brews of Chimay in Belgium.
The paper shortage in the Second World War also meant that some brewers, especially in the United Kingdom, stopped issuing labels and instead designated the type of beer, in small bottles, by the colour of the crown cork. Others, such as the Senderby Bryggeri in Denmark, McLennan & Urquhart of Scotland and Truman’s of England reduced the size of their labels. One English brewery-Ind Coope & Allsopp even went as far as to specify the reason for the change: ‘Miniature label necessitated by War Conditions’. The beer label today is still essentially a means of advertising. To promote the product, and to attract the required custom on the bar shelf, a good label must be simple and bold in its design. The manufacture of special beers tends to give rise to special labels, and foil has been used in a number of countries, especially the United States and Canada. British labels have in the past tended to be rather conservative. Unlike many labels from other parts of the world, they are not pictorial, but generally depict the brewer’s name, trade mark or motif and brand name, although the introduction of regulations affecting contents and the country of origin has, in the opinion of some, devalued the design to a certain extent, as the additional wording tends to clutter up the label. D. H. Tew, in an article entitled ‘A Critical Study of Beer Labels’, written in 1948, described beer label design as falling into two main categories. Some brewers, such as Schous of Norway, use a standard design and stick to it for all their products, while others use different designs and even different shapes for each brand. The former practice makes the public familiar with the label and the latter enables the customer to recognize what they want at a glance.
Many brewers have continued the original designs of their grandfather’s day, possibly to appease their customers who might find it difficult to recognize the product in a new package; others may be reluctant to change because of the tradition associated with the beer. Some British brewers, notably Brakspears of Henley Thames and the Donnington Brewery, have actually returned to the old design after using labels in a more modern style. And Australian drinkers caused such an uproar when Carlton & United Breweries removed Ballarat Bertie from the Ballarat Bitter label in 1972 that he was reintroduced within two months. One of the most famous British designs which changed little between 1907 and 1965 was the head of a ,cape buffalo, depicted on the Rustic Ale originally brewed by Brandon’s Putney Brewery, and later continued by Mann, Crossman & Paulin Ltd. and subsequently Watney Mann.
The cape buffalo design was popular partly because it lent itself to the circular label-the earliest beer label shape. Bass of Burton-on-Trent were, by 1843, using a small circular printed label .similar to the wax seal and fastened to the bottle in the same position. Labels grew in size from then on, and became more colourful, particularly when used for export, although small circular labels similar to the Bass labels, which were printed black and white, were in use for Guinness Stout up to the 1930s.
After the circle the next shape to evolve was the oval, probably the most common beer label shape. The conventional design of the oval label consists of a part cut out in the middle in the shape of an ‘0’, with a band stretched (either horizontally or diagonally) across it. On the band is the brand name and the name and address of the brewer appears in the top and bottom parts of the label respectively. The use of rectangular labels has increased in recent years owing to the introduction of high speed labelling machines. Rectangular labels have always been more common in North America, although the transition from oval to rectangular in other countries has been gradual, and has often been effected by combining the basic oval shape with a black rectangular background.
Over the years, there has been much variation in the basic shapes of labels, of which there are 15: circular, oval, pear-shaped, rectangular, square, shield, barrel, triangular, diamond, octagonal, hexagonal, parallelogram, saddle, crescent and loaf. There are also many variations within these basic shapes, and the great variety can only be really appreciated by reference to illustrations.
Although the collector will mostly confine himself to bottle labels, a keen enthusiast will also gather a number of barrel or cask labels. These are mainly circular in shape, of simple design and are usually printed in one colour, the most common being red. With the advent of aluminium casks and kegs, however, there are far fewer interesting cask labels around and small selfadhesive stickers of a bland, tasteless design tend to be used instead, giving little or no scope to the collector.