Q&A: Who Started Branding Glassware, When, and Why?

‘I’m interested in the history of the branded beer glass in pubs. Any idea when it came about, who started it and why?’ Mark Dredge

Oof. This turned out to be too big a question for us. Mark originally asked back in December and we’ve been trying, on and off, with some effort, to find a definitive answer since then.

We didn’t get one.

In the hope that someone out there knows, or might fancy doing some research themselves, here’s what we have learned.

1. Britain

In his monograph Pub Beer Mugs and Glasses (2007) Hugh Rock includes photographs of a vast range of antique British beer drinking vessels. There are several late Victorian earthenware mugs bearing the names of pubs (to help prevent theft, presumably); and a couple of glasses from around 1890 etched with what appear to be beer or brewery names. But the earliest examples of what we would recognise as mass-produced branded glassware, with colour logos, date from as late as the 1960s.

Print advertisements from the 1950s, even for heavily marketed national brands, show them in plain glasses — surely if there were printed glasses with logos available, they’d have used them for this, if not actually in the pub?

Details from 1953 print ads for Whitbread Pale Ale and Double Diamond.

Andrew Campbell’s 1956 The Book of Beer has a very substantial section on beer glasses but he makes no mention of logo-branded glassware.

We did find a 1960 ad for SKOL lager featuring a glass with a logo, though, and this 1966 advertisement is the earliest we’ve found from Watney’s featuring a branded glass, on the far left:

Watney's 1966 ad with a line of beers next to their cans and bottles.

So we reckon it’s safe to say that, even if there were odd examples earlier in the century, this practice really got going under the rule of the Big Six (or Seven) — Guinness, Watney’s, Whitbread et al — in the 1960s when the marketing of certain bottled and keg beers really stepped up, and they attempted to distinguish otherwise very similar products using custom-designed glassware. (See also: pump-clips.)

2. The USA

But what about the US? There, examples of branded glassware can be found in advertisements for big brands much earlier, e.g. this for Budweiser from 1937:

 

Detail from 1937 Budweiser advertisement.

 

And US magazine Collector’s Weekly suggests that, actually, the practice may have taken off even before that:

During the 1880s, as breweries expanded and pasteurization allowed them to send products longer distances, beer-glass advertising became popular. A few of these early advertising glasses used color-embossed logos, but most relied on an acid-etching silkscreen process… Once alcohol was legalized again in the 1930s, glassware designed for beer was often colorfully painted with a brewery’s name and company slogan, such as “Walter’s Beer tastes better” or “Arrow 77: It Hits the Spot.”

We emailed the American National Association of Breweriana Advertising to see if anyone there might have more definitive information. George Baley put the question to the Association’s board whose responses included the following from Donald Roussin:

I do not know who was first but having gone thru every issue of American Brewer and Western Brewer on file in the Anheuser-Busch corporate library (the latter of which goes back to the early 1870s) I don’t remember seeing a trade ad for glasses until the late 1870s… The earliest glass I know about is from Anheuser-Busch. It is a goblet style, and is simply embossed with ‘Anheuser-Busch’.  This glass is generally dated in collector circles as being produced in the 1876-1880 period.

3. Continental Europe

Which left us with another question: might American brewers of German origin have got the idea from the Old Country?

Here, unfortunately, we drew almost a complete blank. Emails weren’t answered, collectors’ websites are generally information-light, language barriers notwithstanding. Most of the collections of decorated beer glasses we could find online, however, date the earliest examples of what we would recognise as branded glassware to around 1900. This Austrian beer glass collector’s website says (our very loose translation):

Beer glasses were first used as an advertising medium from the turn of the century. Until then, beer was not transported far and was drunk only within the close vicinity of the brewery. Only when beer began to be stored and transported did breweries begin applying branding to distinguish one beer from another.

4. Provisional Conclusions

Branded beer glasses are probably an American invention, and probably date back to the 1870s and, until someone convinces us otherwise, we’re giving Anheuser-Busch the credit.

Now prove us wrong.

20 thoughts on “Q&A: Who Started Branding Glassware, When, and Why?”

  1. Have you looked at Martyn Cornell’s Beer Memorabilia from 2000, that might have some answers.

  2. The when is for historians. The why is fairly obvious I’d of guessed. It reinforces branding in the overall customer experience. By reinforcing branding more people choose a brand and ask for that brand rather than just ask for lager or bitter.

  3. I do know that Walkers Brewery had just one word, their name ‘Walkers’, etched on their glasses in the 1960s. I have at least one, a Babycham-shaped glass, which wasn’t pinched: the licensee, my uncle, gave it to my mother.

    1. That’s interesting and adds to the sense that, for British breweries, all these brightly coloured logos and marketing gewgaws were a bit frowned upon until relatively late in the century.

    1. They’re certainly very into them now but we couldn’t find any evidence that they pioneered the idea. Most vintage ads we could find showed plain glassware up until (guesswork because most aren’t well labelled) the 1920 or 30s. One Belgian glass collector quoted online has two glasses dating back to ‘the end of the 19th century’, which is pretty vague.

  4. If AB invented the branded glassware, would it be un-craft to brand one’s own glasses then? Ideological purity and all that stuff.

    1. As it happens, we had an email from the archivist at Guinness, Eibhlin Colgan, who says the first branded glasses were introduced in the 1950s but not distributed widely. They introduced the ‘Waterford’ tankard with logo in 1964 (Ireland) and 1965 (UK).

  5. It’s not as early as the American or Belgian examples, but doesn’t John Mills drink from a branded Carlsberg glass at the end of “Ice Cold in Alex”? I guess that would have been unusual to a British audience when the film was released in 1958.

    1. Just checked — he does! Good spot. Certainly in line with the idea that Continental breweries got there before us.

    1. You’d think so wouldn’t you but, again, plain glasses in ads up until (off top of my head) the 1960s, and no antique specimens turned up online or in books we looked at.

  6. There’s a big difference between standard glasses carrying brewers’ branding, and glasses with a distinctive brand-specific design.

  7. Here’s some good ones from U.S. for circa-1900. I like the Edelweiss one at the bottom. http://www.ebay.com/sch/Pre-Prohibition-Beer-Collectibles/568/bn_2310385/i.html

    I think the old ones were better than today’s where the blotchy labels cover a lot of the glass and you can’t see the colour or movement of the fizz, etc. Takes half the enjoyment away. Oddly perhaps, I don’t mind German branded glasses, maybe because the beer often is so good. But otherwise much prefer the plain sleeve or shaker glass.

    Gary

  8. I have a couple of branded tulip lager glasses for Barclays Pilsner (with Dr Johnson on) which cannot be later than 1963, when Courage stopped lager brewing at the Southwark brewery and put all its weight behind the new Harp brand, brewed at Alton. However, it’s quite possible these were made for the export and passenger ship market: Barclays Pilsner was a big “ships” brand.

    1. Some updates:

      Yesterday we found, in a Whitbread press clippings book at the London Metropolitan Archive, a 1954 Allsop’s lager ad featuring a branded glass, for what that’s worth.

      And another flick through David Hughes’s A Bottle of Guinness, Please yields (on p.159) an 1894 ad for Robert Porter Bull Dog brand porter with what looks like engraved logo-bearing glassware. (But that’s pretty much in line with what we’d gleaned from Hugh Rock’s book.)

  9. I’ve just found a GR marked half pint Calsberg tankard in my collection so must be pre 1953. Also gave my uncle Graham a Graham’s Golden Lager glass. It was rebranded Skol in 1959, so pre then.

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