Trying to choose my ten favourite labels has been a difficult task – and has taken me quite a long time. What criteria should I use? Rarity? Attractiveness? Historical Significance? In the end I decided to select labels which have meant something to me during my collecting endeavours, either because they have a local connection to where I was born (hence the bias toward Kent) or they have some other personal significance. Some reasons are obvious – the visual impact or some other quality, other reasons are more quirky. There is no particular order and I’d find it even harder to pick my top three!
I have no connection with Sheffield but just think this label has a wonderful 1930s feel to it. However what really fascinates me is the incongruity of the imagery. The glamourous, elegantly dressed women – reminiscent of a film starlet or “screen goddess” holding aloft a half pint of Nut Brown Ale is unusual to say the least. Needless to say that I doubt if she would have been among the regular clientele of Sheffield pubs or working men’s clubs, but one can always hope…
The Russell’s Pale Ale is my first choice with a local connection. I was born and brought up in North Kent alongside the river Thames, although not actually in Gravesend. By the time I started collecting, Russell’s had been gone over 40 years, taken over by Trumans in 1930 but the parts of the brewery remained serving as their depot. I later found out that my uncle had been born in the boiler house of the brewery and his father was the brewery blacksmith and later a drayman. Again, I think this is a really elegant label and one of which I am inordinately fond!
I first came across an illustration of a label from this Guildford brewery in the 1977 booklet “The Beer Drinkers Guide to Labology”and thought it would be quite nice to have one to add to my just-started collection, not knowing how difficult that would be and how long it would take me to achieve that aim. Decades later I managed it but the reason I’ve included this in my selection is that it’s a great name for a brewery, albeit a bit of a mouthful! I just wonder what the locals would ask for in the pub – a pint of Ticky perhaps?
My fourth label choice is again influenced by the name of the brewery, or more specifically the public house at which the beer was brewed in Leeds. In these days of wholefoods and pure organic “artisanal” beers I think it’s marvellous to have a beer from somewhere called the “Chemic Tavern” reminding one of those old fashioned chemist’s shops which made and sold their own brands of non-alcoholic drinks such as cream soda, dandelion & burdock and sarsaparilla as well as the occasional herb beer or hop bitter. I took a long time to get hold of the label, but well worth it just for the name!
We move back to my home territory for the next label which dates from the first decade of the 20th century. It comes from the small industrial Thames-side town of Northfleet just a couple or so miles to the west of Gravesend and my birthplace. I was well aware of the brewery long before I started collecting labels as I used to see it as I went to the local library. The brewery tower is still there in Dover Road, although for many years the premises have been used as the local traders club and all the brewing equipment (as well as most floors in the brewing tower) disappeared years ago. Early in my collecting career I was given a neckstrap from a New Northfleet Brewery beer, I don’t know which one but it does have a picture of a parlour maid in the central roundel and their slogan on it “The Last Drop”. Clearly that whetted my appetite as I sought for a long time before obtaining a full label. With its connection to my home town, its age and the traditional design, on all counts this has to be one of my favourite labels.
I’m a sucker for labels that feature pictures of the brewery buildings. In trying to choose one for this selection, it was a close run thing between the Puzzle Hall Brewery’s Home Brewed Stout from Sowerby Bridge and the magnificent frontage depicted on the Anglo-Bavarian Dinner Ale illustrated. I guess the deciding factor (other than a soft spot for West Country breweries) was that the Puzzle Hall image is a bit more of a slightly exaggerated “artist’s impression” of the brewery rather than the Anglo’s more realistic presentation.
My next choice is the magnificent Fergusons Sparkling Pale Ale. I first saw an illustration of this label in a magazine that had a feature on label collecting, dating from around the mid-1970s, and immediately set my heart on it. I particularly like the tress of hops winding their way around the design. I’ve never actually lived in Reading, but did for a time live down the road in Newbury. Although I did often frequent a number of pubs in the town, I never came across any Ferguson’s breweriana and had to be patient for many years before being able to add this label to my collection.
It’s back to Kent for my next selection. Although the Medway towns are only a few miles from my home town of Northfleet, we never seemed to get there much except on “Navy Days” at the Chatham dockyard when my father, an ex-Royal Navy man, would take us aboard the ships that were open to the public. Not far from the dockyard was the site of Arkcoll’s Brewery, although it had long gone by the time we made our visits in the late 1950s. Many years ago I was shown a colour photocopy of an Arkcoll’s label and the hunt was on! It took many years but eventually I obtained this superb label to shine in my Kent collection.
We travel back to the West Country for my ninth label, Oak Ale from the Oakhill Brewery. I don’t really know why I like this label. In all probability the beer was named to reflect the company name and their trademark – a hill covered with oaks – although other companies also produced “Oak” ales – presumably a darkish beer. I think what attracts me is the pleasing traditional design conveying the impression of a rural country brewery. I also like the fact that the county is named properly as Somersetshire, not shortened as happens so often.
My last label has been the most difficult to choose. Should it be another Kent label? Perhaps another Russells? In the end I opted for this elegant design from the Cirencester Brewery, partly because it’s another West Country (well Gloucestershire) company but mainly the fact that I first saw it on a poster produced by Courage for their Bicentenary illustrating labels from the companies they’d acquired over the years. I thought wow! What a fantastic label, not ever dreaming that I might get an example one day. It just goes to show that collecting is a long game; persistence may one day pay off!
As a postscript I’d add that these choices are just a snapshot. I’ve still got many labels and companies I’d really like to have which are not yet represented in my collection so I’ve got my sights set on a few – this selection might change!