Our History – 59 years old and much, much more!
The common paper beer bottle label was first introduced when the heavy duty on glass was repealed. As a result bottled beers began to feature more prominently in the brewer’s repertoire. The label has come a long way since the original, small, simple, strikingly beautiful examples of the designers art began appearing around the 1840’s.
Although the collection has not been discovered yet, acquisitive individuals being a type always present in society, the first collector of beer bottle labels must have begun conserving labels from that time.
In 1911 a young collector called Norton Price remembered as a boy soaking labels (some now unique) from returned bottles in his father’s off-licence, and during both World Wars, when soldiers were forbidden to mention details of their postings in letters home, a simple beer bottle label from a local bar secured in a small album, served as an aide-memoir for future reference.
However it was not until 1958 when three label collectors got together, originally with financial support from Guinness Exports Ltd., Liverpool, that the Labologists Society was formed with the idea of uniting collectors world-wide. Today the interest in Labology is truly international with clubs and societies in the Americas, Australasia, the Far East and throughout Europe.
At the time of the formation of the Society the label had changed little since its inception, the first labels stated just the type of beer and the brewery name. Sometimes this was accompanied by an illustration loosely related to the beer type, a pictograph of the trade-mark or more rarely an illustration of part of the brewery. An occasional addition was a declaration around the circumference of statements as, ‘This label is issued only by (brewery name) Ltd.’ or, ‘This bottle is a vessel to convey beer not a measure.’ An early addition to the single label in the UK was that of the ‘stopper strap’ with a reference to the ‘1901 Intoxicating Liquors, Sales to Children Act’. Bottlers using the easily opened screw-stopper containers added a paper seal usually with the wording, ‘Make sure this seal is unbroken and with the caution about selling to under-aged children.
It was not until the, ‘1963 Weights and Measures Act’ that label design began changing apace. The Act included a requirement that all sealed containers of alcoholic beverages sold to the general public had to state a ‘Minimum Content’. Soon more Acts of Parliament began demanding even more information from the brewer and hence added to the toil of the label designer. ‘Original Gravity’ has given way to ‘Alcohol by Volume’, there is the ‘Best Before End’ date, measures are given in ml, cl, fluid ounces and various divisions of pints.
Also very important to exporters are the various Health Warnings, Warnings to Pregnant Mothers, Drink and Drive Warnings and the different bottle Refunds for recycling in “green” Countries or certain States of the USA. Other additions can include the Export Company’s name, a small history of the Great British Brewery who brewed the beer, hints on pouring a ‘bottle-conditioned-beer’, instructions probably to those ‘dudes’ in Los Angeles to “Serve Cool” and of course the ubiquitous European “e” mark.
As more information about products is sought by the public and is drafted into legislation the simple label stating beer style and brewery name burst its seams. To contain all the new facts the designer first came up with the three-piece-suite’, a front label, back label plus neck strap and later for the large, ‘designer’ bottles, the more easily applied, eye-catching, full panorama of the ‘wrap-round’ label. The label designer’s art in the evolution of these small adverts assures Labologists of an exciting future.
This evolution adds another aspect to collecting labels, woven in with the graphics are the collectors own documentation, the brewery heritage, the architectural and technical knowledge and the biographies of individual brewery personal. Label collections are not only unique, treasured, mini-art galleries but also superb little, industrial history books. They tell the story of the rise of the larger country brewer over the home brewer, there are grave hints of the struggles of the two World-Wars and then the domination of the corporate, mega organisations as post-war take over mania took hold. They tell of the near decline from British, individual brewing tastes to a mass-produced, universal blandness and of the ‘bull-dog spirit’ of the still independent brewers to stop the rot together with the emergence of the micro brewery, begin the history almost all over again.
In its 59th year the Society is healthy and thriving, organising meetings for the barter of labels and social exchange and producing a newsletter, six times a year. In addition we organise our annual ‘Label of the Year’ competition to recognise the assistance we receive from breweries and bottling companies, by raising money for nominated UK charities.