Beer Labels Post-Prohibition
Beer bottle labels since Prohibition have more importance than a simple mention in that Sheryl Crow song. Labels are a great way to trace a brewery’s lineage, as the part on the label that includes the brewery’s name and city is mandatory. For example, brands like Ballantine, Pabst, Hamm’s, Black Label, Stroh’s, Blatz, Schlitz and Falstaff have all been brewed in more than a dozen cities over their checkered histories.
Collectors can determine the age of the brand, the city of origin, the type or style of beer, and even the alcohol content from various text that appears on the label. Unfortunately, few labels list the date of issue, but here are some quick ways to pinpoint the age of a particular beer label.
The letter U followed by a number was the federal permit number assigned to the brewery to operate after Prohibition. If the statement, Internal Revenue Tax Paid (IRTP) appears on the label, it was issued after Prohibition’s repeal in 1933 and before March 1950. Alcohol strength was also prominently displayed on the post-Pro labels.
During World War II, neck and body labels encouraged the purchase of war bonds and the use of bottles for victory. Bottles were returnable and reusable, which made them strategic to the war effort. The larger the bottle, the better. This is when pints, quarts and even 40-ounce bottles came into use. Some labels after WWII boasted of the brand being “Pre-War” strength.
Since Prohibition, glow-in-the-dark or scratch off designs, embossing, die cuts and other gimmicks have been used to add distinction to various brands. Some labels that appear to be die cut actually are rectangular with brown space to match the bottle. This allows the label to be applied quickly by machine yet have a unique look. Faster and cheaper was the key following Prohibition.
Labels of the late 1950s and early ’60s were usually three colors or fewer with simple graphics. During this period, many labels followed the social culture of the day and imitated television. Some were even cut or designed in the rounded rectangular shape of the TV screen.
When the zip code replaced postal codes in 1963, they soon began appearing on labels. The late 1960s and early ’70s saw the use of metric measurements. The UPC bar code started to appear in the mid-1970s. The ’70s also saw the addition of the state bottle deposit and redemption values. During this period, metalicized (foil) paper came into use, thanks to technological advances in glues and waterproof papers.
The poor economy of the late 1970s and early ’80s saw the return of larger sized packages. Half-gallon and 48-ounces bottles came onto the scene, mostly for economic reasons and the growth of the malt liquor category. Generic and non-branded beers were introduced to appeal to the thrifty shopper.
After fall 1989, all beer labels had to include the Government Warning. (Between the contents of diet soft drinks and the ingredients used to make beer, you have to ask yourself which one really needs a government warning.) In the 1990s, we began to see web addresses and dated packaging, along with the return of the alcohol content to beer labels.
Beginning with the 1980s, we’ve had the influx of brewpubs and microbreweries. These labels take the unwritten laws of bland and simple graphics and throw them out the window. Labels from these small, freethinking entities will continue to reward and entertain the collector as well as the consumer.
Beer Dave Gausepohl has collected breweriana since 1974 and has a personal collection of over 400,000 items.