Friday, November 21, 2014

Just for Laughs, Come Drink Beer with Me

Anyone who pays attention to beer ads today, particularly on television, knows that comedy plays a large role in selling the suds.  Even in the pre-Prohibition era, decades ahead of TV, brewery advertising employed a considerable amount of humor in trade cards, ads, and other ephemera.  I have collected a few that may bring a smile to the beer aficionado.
The first example was issued by the Christian Moerlein brewery of Cincinnati (see my post of November 22, 2013).  It is a take-off of the familiar nursery rhyme, reading:  “Mary had a little lamb; Its fleece was white as snow.  And everywhere that Mary went, The Moerlein’s Beer did flow.”  The main humor here is Mary’s elderly teacher seen through a windows downing a glass of beer before class.
Schlitz brewery issued several trade cards in the early 20th Century, parodying scenes and lines from Shakespeare.  Shown here is one taken from a climactic scene in Richard III in which the evil king has been bested on the battlefield and is seeking to escape.  Shakespeare has him cry:  “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.”   On the trade card Richard is willing to swap his kingdom for a glass of Schlitz Milwaukee Beer.
On two trade cards shown here, Miller Brewing of Milwaukee demonstrated a sly sense of humor.  The first, entitled “The Water Wagon in Milwaukee,” shows eight people sitting on top of a keg of beer and being served up steins of brew by a gent standing on a rear bumper.  The vehicle is being drawn by a brace of dachshunds toward the brewery buildings.  Note that the tires are rimmed with sausages, another Beer Town specialty.
Miller also was responsible for a second card dominated by a large man wear a sport jacket and a cap who has his hand comfortably on what appears to be — to use the scientific term —  “a beer gut” of enormous proportions  He is sucking on a bottle and intoning in what must be considered a German accent, “How Ish Dot for High Life Beer.”

Not all humor cards were the work of well-known national breweries.  Before the advent of the “walker,”  the Atlantic City Brewing Company from the New Jersey city of the same name had illustrated an invention that allowed a customer to travel distances with two kegs and three steins.  The rhyme in the corner says:  “In my Walking Chair, I have no fear, of two big a load, of A.C.B Beer.”  This was the principal brand of the brewery, opened in 1900 and said to be the only brewery in Atlantic City in the pre-Prohibition era.  It closed in 1920, never to reopen.

Another invention meant to speed beer consumption was illustrated on a postcard entitled “Beer Lift.”  It shows a pulley-like contraption that is carrying full steins of beer up to the waiting mouth of a seated gentleman and returning the empties from whence they came.  The man seems to be operating it by turning a crank with his left hand.  Although the sign on the wall says “Faust Beer,” a brand issued by the Anheuser-Busch Company of St. Louis, the card is from Herbert’s Bachelor Hotel in San Francisco.  The hotel made headlines in 1913 when Al Herbert, its bachelor owner and operator, got married.   One read:  “Bachelors’ Hotel Invaded:  Cupid Boldly Captures the Host.”

The following illustration, entitled “How McGinty and Family Enjoy Themselves after Drinking Dubuque Malting Company’s Beer.”  The McGintys, none of them evidently wearing bathing suits, are holding a rope while someone intones, “”Now then, all together: One! Two!! Three!!!  What they are doing is virtually inexplicable — but apparently the activity is fueled by beer.  The company responsible for this ad was founded in 1892 by the consolidation of four small Dubuque breweries.  When its new plant was opened for business in May 1896, a crowd of 20,000 early reportedly gathered for tours.  By 1910 Dubuque Malting was the largest brewery in Iowa and among the largest in the Midwest. Statewide Prohibition closed the brewery in 1915.  Legend has it that gangster Al Capone later used the facilities to brew and ship out illegal beer in milk cans.
The humor of young boys drinking liberally from a case of beer over the protests of a mother would certainly draw fire if the image were used today.   Before National Prohibition in 1920 it was generally acceptable to use children to advertise beer.  At least the D. G. Yuengling & Son Brewery of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, thought so.  Established in 1829, Yuengling is accounted as the oldest operating brewing company in the United States, now producing about 2.5 million barrels a year.  The trade card dates from the late 1800s.  
Prohibition also drove some breweries to humor.  Here is a postcard view of three men, wearing a variety of clothing,  all dangling from ropes as if they have been hanged.  The sign on the “hanging tree” says:  “If this town goes dry, us Germans vill hang togeder.”  A brewery in the background has been closed, but these are not the owners committing suicide —two have their hands lied behind their backs.  Some one did this to them.  But who? One would have to ask the Heileman Brewery of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, that question.  That’s where the image originated.
The final example is the label from a self-identified “temperance beverage” whose humor is in its name, “Brother Wiser.”  It is obviously a send up of Budweiser Beer.  Note that like the brew, this drink was made in St. Louis, Missouri.   Needless to say, Augie Busch and his company were not amused.  But the lawsuit that sunk the Brother Wiser was launched in Alabama, not on the grounds of trademark infringement, but to enforce a law that prohibited selling any beverage in the state that had the color, odor or general appearance of beer.  It made no difference that it contained no alcohol.  That decision was rendered by an Alabama Court of Appeals judge named Hugo Black who later would go on to make a distinguished career on the U.S. Supreme Court.
I hope these ten examples have demonstrated adequately that beer and humor make a nice fit together.  So lift one and have a good laugh.   

Friday, November 7, 2014

Celebrating Churchill in Ceramics

As one of those many who believe that Sir Winston Churchill was the greatest personage of the 20th Century,  some recognition was required that this month of November is the 140th anniversary of his birth on November 30,1874.  What better way to memorialize him than through the many ceramic items that have been issued with his likeness over the decades.  

The collection of items above are among just a few that the Royal Doulton pottery firm of England issued bearing his face and figure during Churchill’s lifetime and after.  Two items should be noted,  the former British Prime ministers is almost always depicted with a stump of a cigar in his mouth and a bow tie.  The item at left is a  Doulton “Toby jug,” with the handle made up of the traditional English bulldog and the British flag.  The items at right are two full figures that could be stood on a shelf or used to hold and pour cream or syrup.  Note the lip in the hats.
Churchill, of course, achieved his greatest leadership in his face off against Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany.  The next Doulton Toby shown here, designed by Ray Noble, shows a cigar-less Winston with the handle composed of the faces of his wartime colleagues.  From top to bottom they are, General Eisenhower,  Field Marshal Montgomery, Josef Stalin of Russia, and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.  The juxtaposition of Ike and “Monty,” is interesting since in life they did not get along.

A number of pottery items have been designed around famous speeches Churchill made during and after World War II.   The somewhat crudely done statuette shown here is of Winston flanked by the bulldog once again. It was modeled by Douglas V. Tootle for the Kevin Francis pottery in Staffordshire, England.   On each side of the base is a word.  Together they read “blood, toil, tears, sweat.”   Those words became famous in a speech by Churchill to the British House of Commons on May 13, 1940.  Three days earlier he had replaced the Hitler-appeasing Neville Chamberlain and on the 13th he asked the House to declare its confidence in his leadership, while predicting that the future would bring blood, toil, tears and sweat.  The motion passed unanimously.
The next ceramic jug shows a full bodied Churchill, cigar and bow tie with his arm around the symbol of England, the lion.  The Latin inscription on the base, “Tantum Mirabile Est.”  Translated it means “So Much is Owed.”  It makes reference to another famous Churchill speech.   He delivered it on August 20,1940, during the “Battle of Britain” when Royal Air Force pilots were fighting a pivotal air battle with the German Luftwaffe as Hitler was planning to invade the British Isles.  In commending the bravery of the British pilots, Churchill said:  “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” On the base is another quote from the man:  “The Nation Had the Lion’s Heart, I Provided the Roar.”
The ceramic bust of Churchill shown left was the product of an anonymous American pottery showing the Prime Minister at his pugnacious best with scowl and cigar.  He was always a popular figure with Americans and he frequently cited the fact that his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, was an American, born Jeanette Jerome in Brooklyn.  A strikingly beautiful woman, she often has been credited with inventing the Manhattan cocktail at the bar of the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

The next statue showing Churchill giving a speech at a podium and flashing his famous “V for Victory” sign is actually a whiskey decanter issued by the Ezra Brooks Distillery. It memorizes a speech he delivered  at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946.  With U.S. President Harry S Truman in the audience, Churchill condemned the Soviet Union’s policies in Europe and declared:  “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”  The speech has been considered an opening volley in the Cold War that lasted some 45 years and the term “Iron Curtain” became common parlance.

Not all Churchillian ceramics are politically inspired.  The British particularly are noted for depicting their royalty and other major figures on rather mundane objects.  The object at right is an example. It shows Winston in his night clothes, including pajamas, night cap and smoking jacket — with cigar.  Take off the tasseled red cap and below a tobacco jar was revealed.  Another pottery piece depicted Churchill in his naval uniform.  He served as Lord of the Admiralty during World War One and frequently was seen wearing navy duds.  This item is an egg cup.

Contemporary use of Churchill’s face and form in pottery tends toward the humorous.  The black and white image of the man on a coffee cup comes from the pseudonymous English graffiti artist known as “Bansky.”  He executes his art with a distinctive stenciling technique that often is transferred by others to commercial items.  Known for his satirical approach to government and society,  Bansky here has given us a sympathetic and perhaps nostalgic picture of Churchill.  The impression left is one of a man both strong yet not devoid of humor.
The final Churchill ceramic is from the hand of Noi Volkov, a Russian now living in the United States.  He is a potter and painter whose recent exhibition was entitled “Reforming the Masters — Unleashing the Humor in Art.”  His specialty is taking famous paintings, adding items and fashioning them all into teapots.   This depiction of Winston is just so.  Note the spout sticking out of one ear.  The handle, citing Churchill’s naval background, is the handle.  The ridiculous top hat is the lid.   While its utility as a teapot may be in question, Volkov has given us a evocative face of the famous man.
These are just a small sample of the ceramic images of Winston Churchill to be found.  My library has a book that contains dozens more.  It is called “Churchill:  Images of Greatness,” by Ronald A. Smith, dating from 1990.  Collectors will find it a great source of information about a wide range of Churchill memorabilia.