One segment of breweriana collecting that has seen tremendous growth is items from the British Isles. The demand for glassware, pub towels, bar mats (coasters), ashtrays and draft equipment is on the increase. I attribute the interest and demand to the increasing number of British beer imports into the United States and the number of Americans who have crossed the Atlantic and experienced great ales right from their source.
A famous series of desirable collectables is from an Irish source: the Guinness ads drawn by artist John Gilroy (1898-1985) that became famous throughout the United Kingdom and beyond. These are the “My goodness, my Guinness” and “Guinness for strength” ads featuring toucans, along with other animals such as seals, lions, pelicans and ostriches. The popularity of these ads turned slogans like “Lovely day for a Guinness” into catch phrases echoed in pubs across the Isles.
Guinness was promoted for years as a beverage to give good health. At the request of the brewery, Gilroy illustrated a number of books that were offered as gifts to doctors’ offices at Christmas time. This Guinness campaign featured a parody of characters from the Lewis Carroll classic, Alice in Wonderland. These books are now rare, especially the pre-war editions. The books helped to promote the healthful benefits of Guinness as a therapeutic tonic, similar to the way in which we sell cereals to adults today. One slogan stated simply, “A Guinness a day is good for you.”
Just as we rallied behind our troops in WWII, Gilroy helped to muster the British with a stunning group of “war effort” ads. Advertising messages were restricted during the war to those promoting victory. “Guinness for strength” fit the bill. Posters showing a successful victory garden harvest and numerous depictions of Hitler as a buffoon were among the best.
The “Guinness for strength” ads proved very successful when tied in with a sports theme. Classics include a Gilroy drawing of a man holding spectators on his outstretched arms to view a sporting event over a fence. Another shows a man sculling with a pint of Guinness on the front of his boat for inspiration. And, in a third, a relay race is run with the baton replaced by a bottle of Guinness.
The toucan proved to be the most successful of all the Gilroy characters. Pottery versions of this icon were created in a number of sizes. The Guinness “Air Force” was prominently displayed in many pubs. Usually, the toucan was depicted with two pints perched on its bill. The tagline, “How grand to be a toucan; just think what toucan do,” helped to drive this point home.
When TV became available, most Britons did not have one in their homes because the neighborhood pub had one. For many British citizens, pubs were the country’s living rooms where the hours from dinner to closing were spent. Despite this fact, and the growth of the new medium of TV, Guinness never became a large advertiser on the telly. The company has preferred the more permanent and lasting point-of-purchase approach, rather than fleeting TV ads.
The collector appreciates this approach as well.