Breweriana is memorabilia connected to the history of the brewing industry. Items can range from bottles and cans, coasters and beer towels to vintage advertising, glassware and neon signs.
It is collected in a similar manner to other areas of industry memorabilia such as automobilia, in that many of the items collected are ephemeral and trace the history of the industry as a whole as well as those of individual companies.
Vintage advertising also offers a view of the changing attitudes towards alcohol over the last 200 years, and can be studied as an important part of 19th and 20th century culture.
The history of the brewery industry in the modern sense began during the Industrial revolution. Beer itself is one of the oldest known beverages, dating back to around 6000 B.C, and has been recorded by most ancient civilisations. But for thousands of years the brewing of beer remained on a purely domestic scale, although it was produced for commercial purposes by monasteries as early as the 7th century.
The development of the brewing process using hops by German brewers in the 13th century meant beer could last far longer without spoiling, and larger breweries employing up to 10 people started to emerge in Germany producing beer for commercial export. This practise spread slowly around Europe, reaching England during the late 15th century.
This development of commercial brewing led to organisations such as the Worshipful Company of Brewers, a group of London brewers granted a royal charter by Henry VI in 1437. Many of the operations were on a similar scale to modern micro-breweries, and several have remained in one form or another to this day.
The Industrial Revolution led inevitably to the industrialisation of beer, and inventions such as the steam engine in 1765, the thermometer in 1760 and hydrometer in 1770 all helped develop and refine the brewing technique. Large scale industrial breweries were built throughout Europe, and the modern industry was born.
These new brewing techniques made their way to America with immigrants from England, Germany and the Netherlands, and commercial breweries began to appear in New York in the early years of the 19th century. By 1920 there were close to 1,400 breweries in the United States, but the industry was all-but destroyed by the enforcement of the Prohibition laws which outlawed alcohol production.
The laws were repealed in 1933, and commercial production began again (although on a smaller scale). The post-war years saw the massive consolidation of the American brewing industry, leading to a lack of variation in product, but in 1978 news laws were passed which allowed people to brew beer for private consumption.
This led directly to a demand for greater variation from commercial breweries, and during the 1980s a large number of microbreweries appeared across the country. Today there are over 1,500 breweries in the United States, from the largest national corporations to the smallest brew pubs.
There are certain breweries that draw great attention from collectors, whether due to their interesting history, the quality of their beer, or their range of advertising memorabilia and merchandise.
Budweiser was founded by Adolphus Busch in 1857, a German immigrant to America, who partnered with his father-in-law Eberhard Anhueser to create the Anhueser-Busch Company in 1864. The brand name Budweiser was introduced in 1876. Vintage Anheuser-Busch bottles are popular as collectible items, as are Budweiser coasters, beer trays and other items of merchandise.
Schlitz is an American brand of lager beer produced by the Joseph Schlitz company since 1858. In 1902, the company became the top beer producer in the world. Popular items of merchandise include antique Schlitz beer bottles, antique and vintage Schlitz beer trays, vintage Schlitz lamps and Vintage Schlitz beer displays.
Guinness is an Irish dry stout, one of the most successful brands in the world. The company was founded in Dublin in 1759, and is still in the hands of the same family. Guinness is interesting to collectors, as they refused to advertise for much of their history, and grew in popularity regardless, becoming a symbol of Ireland. They began to employ advertising from the early 1900s, and their advertising memorabilia from the 1920s onwards is now highly sought after.
Ballantine is one of the oldest brands of beer in the United States, founded in 1840. Their most successful period was during the 1940s and 50s, and much of this was due to intelligent marketing and advertising. Much of the merchandise from this era is widely collected. Popular items include vintage Ballantine beer trays, vintage Ballantine beer signs, and Vintage Ballantine beer cans.
Blatz beer was produced by the Valentin Blatz Brewing Company from 1851. It is particularly remembered for an outrageous advertising campaign advocating the drinking of Blatz for the health of newborn babies. Popular collectibles include Vintage Blatz beer trays, Vintage Blatz beer statues, and Vintage Blatz beer sweaters.
The Coors brewing company was established in 1873. The drink was secluded in Western America for most of its history, and became a novelty in the East, often taken home as a souvenir. It maintained the image of being ‘brewed with pure rocky mountain spring water’, and much of its advertising featured mountains.
Jax beer was first produced by the Jax Brewing Company from 1913. The height of their advertising history was through the 1940s, and memorabilia from this era is popular with collectors. They were renowned for using many, often contradictory adjectives to describe the taste of their beer. Popular collectibles include vintage Jax beer signs, vintage Jax beer trays, vintage Jax beer cans and vintage Jax beer ashtrays.
Hamm’s beer was founded in 1865, and was extremely successful during the 1950s and 60s. Popular items of memorabilia include neon signs and large motorised Scenorama signs produced for taverns and bars, beer steins, clocks, and items featuring the Hamm’s mascot, Sascha the bear.
See our list of types of breweriana for more.
The variety of brands, breweries and beers throughout history has resulted in a diverse and vast number of collectible items. Collectors of breweriana often focus on a specific area such as a particular brewery, time period, brand of beer or type of item such as beer cans. Much vintage breweriana is collected because of nostalgia, a beer often representing an era of popular culture for many collectors, and brands that no longer exist symbolising the past.
Vintage brewery advertising signs are some of the most popular items of breweriana for collectors, as are antique bottles, cans, trays and displays.
The value of vintage breweriana can alter depending on age, condition and rarity. Unusually, some of the most valuable items can come from little known small town breweries, that perhaps existed for a short time and whose beer never left their area. While these are not collected by the majority, the few who focus on these items are prepared to pay large amounts to secure them, due to their extreme rarity. Unlike soda advertising collectibles, where the big names like Coca-Cola are the ones that are the most collectible, with breweriana it is often the unknowns that are worth more.
Breweriana can be found at auction, on eBay, at second hand stores, at garage sales and flea markets.
There is a large community of breweriana collectors worldwide with dedicated websites, publications and organisations such as the American Breweriana Association, the Association for British Brewery Collectibles and the Australian Beer Can Collectors Association.
One thing to be wary of as a breweriana collector is the huge number of fakes and reproductions on the market. Breweries often produce reproduction vintage items to mark an anniversary or similar, which may get mistaken for genuine vintage examples. There are many imitation items that are produced due to the current fashion for a vintage aesthetic, and while many of these will advertise themselves as reproductions, some unscrupulous sellers may try to pass them off as originals. Learn to spot the difference, and be wary of sellers on eBay or similar platforms who seems to be offering many identical 'vintage' items.
- Association for British Brewery Collectibles
- American Breweriana Association
- Brewery Collectors’ Club of America
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