Saturday 1 March 2014

Cardboard Stupid - More Box Than Beer #beerylongreads

Cardboard stupid
More Box Than Beer

A blog about cardboard, are you serious?
Isn't your blog called 'Get Beer. Drink Beer', not 'Get Box. Write About Box', where's the beer element?

Cardboard, a heavy duty paper in all its forms, from the box your latest online order came in to the handy beer mat you scribbled that telephone number on in a hurry has had a long association with beer and our drinking habits, but there won't be  any writing about the 'cardboard' off-flavour caused by oxidation. In fact there will be no beer reviewed in this post at all.

And it's not the history of the cardboard box either.

The first cardboard beer mats were produced in Germany in 1880 by the Friedrich Horn printing company and was manufactured as cheaper alternative to the felt mats that drinkers were placing over their glasses to prevent insects and other debris from falling into the beer. Germany it must be remembered has a tradition of outdoor beer gardens which developed in the kingdom of Bavaria in the early 19th century and the danger of leaves, twigs or other undesirable objects falling into their Dunkel, a dark lager, was more than a 'Trinker' want to spoil their beer and their appreciation of the gardens. The first mats were just that, plain without any printing on them and it wasn't until 1900 that printing first appeared. Initially simply displaying the manufacturers name, they soon carried simple designs with plants and particularly flowers being popular, reflecting and mirroring the surroundings.
Bartenders also started marking them to keep a tally, or tab, of the amount of beer that a drinker had consumed. It wasn't long before advertising started appearing on them, with all sorts of products, services and establishments appearing on them, and not necessarily beer related either. With the potential to reach consumers whilst in a relaxed environment it is unsurprising that they caught on quickly in many other countries, especially in the US with its large emigrant German population where they are commonly referred to as coasters, however the advent of prohibition in 1920 curbed there growth in popularity somewhat.

The earliest known to be produced by a brewery in the UK were made in 1922 by Watney & Co., and advertised their Pale Ale and Reid's Special Stout, however it is thought that some were produced before this date but were only for the export market.

There is, if you are interested in such things, a British Beermat Collectors Society formed in 1960 by English 'Tegestologist' Cris Walsh, and I was surprised to discover that the first Presidents of the society were none other that Morecombe and Wise. Pictures of them looking through beer mats and using them in an amusing way are also shown, however they do link to this video from British Pathe showing them 'collecting' and is well worth a view.

It's fair to that they really started to take off and become more popular in pubs from the late 1960s onwards, and I remember from my early drinking days seeing them on almost every table or surface it was possible to put beer down on, protecting the woodwork as well as providing advertising for the brewery concerned and whilst they can still be found, often in great number if you look a the tables festooned with them at Beer Festivals for example, in this age where we are bombarded with advertising during our every waking moment they don't seem to be as common as I recall.

I have acquired a fair few myself over the years even picking a few up at Craft Beer Rising this past weekend, and while I'd say I'm not an avid collector it's surprising looking through the ones them just how many I have. I've picked out a few of my favourites at the top of  this post, some old breweries with a few newer ones mixed in. The bring to mind beers I had from long ago, and pubs I've visited. Take a little time to have a look at them before I move on with my cardboard exploration as I think they are a thing of beauty. You may not agree but I find them a tangible link to those beers of the past, I can almost taste them.

Another familiar use of card in the public house is the playing card. The origins of the playing card go back to Imperial China sometime around the Ninth Century where they were playing with them alongside such games as dominos and mah-jong. Paper itself is generally agreed to have been invented in the year 105 AD where historical records show that the invention was reported by an official of the Imperial Court, Ts'ai Lun to the Emperor himself. Within three hundred years early examples were being used in India, Persia and Egypt, and it is believed that it was from trade with Egypt that they spread first to Southern Europe, and then onwards, sometime around the early Fourteenth Century.

The first cards were made by hand and therefore expensive to produce, however as paper production and printing techniques improved during the 1300s they became accessible to all classes by the end of the century and as the inn or tavern was the common meeting place, aside from the church of course, they caught on rather quickly. The increase in gambling along with drink proved a mixture that it was feared would cause a rise in immorality and both the church and state frequently intervened in order to curb their influence, and in fact the first English reference to playing cards was to them being banned by Parliamentary decree in 1462. Henry VIII, a king noted for being ostentatious and gambling, it recorded that he lost over £3250 on cards over two years, considered banning them as he feared that they were distracting his bowmen from training.

In 1682 Charles I granted a charter to the Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards which still exists today, and stopped the import of French playing cards to protect trade. He also imposed a tax of sixpence per deck, with the Ace Of Clubs being withheld by Customs until the tax was paid. This was strictly enforced and remained on the statute books until 1862, and there is even a recorded case of 1805 where a Richard Hardy of London was sentenced to death for forging the Ace Of Spades.

Early card games included Maw which is a basic trump and trick winning game for money, said to be a favourite of James VI of Scotland, One And Thirty and Bone Ace, both early ancestors of Black Jack, and Ruff And Honours, a team game which has some similarities with Bridge.

My wife is quite a keen playing card collector and over the years we have acquired quite a few packs manufactured for breweries or specific beers because, as with beer mats as I mentioned above, an opportunity to advertise on something used in an establishment where the product is available is an opportunity too good to miss. The earliest of these also seem to appear around the same time as the beer mat sometime towards the end of the Nineteenth Century and contain a mix of both product placement and information.

Unfortunately we don't have any of those early packs in the collection, but I have managed to pick up a few packs of games on cards which are different from the standard decks. The first was 'The Famous Red Lion' which bills itself as 'the classic game of British Pub Signs', with players try to get rid of their pub sign pictured cards by linking and matching them to each other. Then I came across 'Pubcrawler - The Pub-themed Card Game' in Oxford in which players take a virtual tour of 'iconic' pubs of historic Oxford via the medium of the humble playing card, taking drinks via drinking cards whilst all the time avoiding the danger cards such as 'Punting Mishap' or 'Dodgy Kebab'. I am unaware as to whether there are other version besides the Oxford ones available but as I am rather familiar with the city, my sister-in-law lives in nearby Bicester, I found this both amusing and informative particularly as it contains a rather useful map of Oxford and the pubs featured. However, it is the most recent acquisition, simply entitled 'Beer Cards - Belgium Series' which have caused the most delight. We picked these up in Bruges last summer and essentially a 'Top Trumps' inspired game featuring such beers as Duvel, Duchesse De Bourgogne, Orval, Pauwel Kwak and Oude Geuze Oud Beersel alongside Leffe blond, Hoegaarden and Stella Artois competing in categories such as Malt, Hops, Aroma, Flavour and Balance. Each card features a short piece about the brewery with some special foil-like cards and even 'ghost' where there stats are only revealed by the application of body heat. It's great fun to play and was a great game to play with the children while relaxing in some of the many many excellent drinking establishments that Bruges had to offer, and they still find their way into our bag for weekends away.

While we're on the subject of card games I'll just mention 'The World Of Beer' game that I came across online a while ago, and finally bought just after Christmas when the price dropped considerably. Dating from 2005, it is a 'Trivial Pursuit' style game with a board and two levels of questions: Barflies - based on beer and brewing with an entertaining edge, and Beer Geeks - questions on the history and craft of brewing. Players score points by answering questions correctly or performing tasks such as flipping beer mats or even buying a beer for the other player. The game, as you would imagine from the last task, is designed to be played in pubs however it works just a well at home (pouring, fetching or opening beer instead) and carries its own disclaimer that the brewing industry moves on rapidly as we all know, and if cards don't apply then just discard it and pick another. Examples of questions, which can be overly wordy and have an obvious US bent range from:
(Bar Flies) The Californian brewery Ale Smith of San Diego brews Trappist-inspired beers such as Stumblin' Monk and Horny Devil. But which European country is home to all 6 certified Trappist Abbey breweries - Ireland, Belgium, or the Vatican?
To those a little tougher:
(Beer Geeks) The Big Time Brewery is a popular brewpub in Seattle, USA. Among their speciality brews are Beam Me Up Scottish Ale and Slam Dunkel Weizenbock, which uses an American hop variety called Mount Hood. Which originally Bavarian hop variety does it derive from?
If you can look past its flaws there's a reasonably good game in there. As I write Amazon have one left in stock so if you're quick you might just grab it.

Trading cards, collectable cards made from thick often high grade card stock are descended from the trade cards that were first produced in the mid-Eighteenth Century to advertise products, much in the same way as a calling card would be presented at a household to announce a visitor. In the late Victorian era the Allen and Ginter Tobacco Company of Richmond, Virginia USA and slightly later, the British tobacco firm W.D. & H.O.Wills began inserting these in cigarette packets to protect the contents. As well as advertising, images from the natural world, historical scenes and sports were placed in them with the aim of encouraging the smoker to purchase more packets in order to collect the set. These cards became very popular, with cards appearing in packs of tea as well as bubble gum, however it was only when when the Topps Company started inserting cards based on popular films and television in the early 1950s shows that they really took off. Nowadays trading cards come without the stick of gum and can feature original artwork, autographs, costumes and even actual pieces of historical documents and can command many thousands of pounds for a single desirable card. I have to confess to being a trading card collector since I first came across the Topps Star Wars set in 1977 and have a few sets featuring a variety of subjects, and although I no longer actively pursue or purchase them I still retain an interest.

The earliest beer trade cards appeared in the USA around the mid-Nineteenth Century and strangely mainly feature children in period costume holding beer or in some instances crying over beer they have spilled. I looked a little further into this and found that most early colonial families brewed their own beer which was drunk by the whole family and these cards were produced to advertise the commercially available products that were becoming more widely available. Children were widely used to advertise all sorts of products so beer was just another one to appeal to the consumer. Surprisingly there aren't many trading card sets devoted specifically to beer and those that do were produced by the in the 1990s by large rival American brewers Miller and Coors in order to promote their product and focus on their early history and advertising, and can be seen as a direct response to the growing craft beer movement in the US as a gentle reminder that these breweries have a long lineage dating back many many years. Heritage produced a limited edition numbered set focussing on beer cans in 1993 however there aren't any other sets that I can find until in 2013 Craft Beer Cards produced a small run set focussing on US craft beer brewers in comic-book style artwork in comic-book style situations. Unfortunately for me they won't ship them to the UK so I can't add them to my collection of breweriana.

I could continue with the uses of cardboard in relation to beer, box packaging for instance whether it be for single beers, carriers or cases are all areas of interest for both aesthetic and historical reasons, is another area that is worth exploring if one wishes to look into the way beer has been presented and promoted and often reflects attitudes and fashions of the time, but I fear that I may have exhausted the attention span of the reader at this point. I have been toying with the idea of writing an article that could tie together some of the more obscure and arguably mundane areas of beer history and some of the more unusual ways that beer has been both promoted and celebrated within popular culture and I hope that I have achieved that here, or perhaps piqued your interest to look further or at least differently at some of the things I have presented. I'd loved to know what you think and embrace your comments and hope that you could share any other examples with me that you might have.

Much of the information featured here has come from various sites and sources. I found and the British Beer Mat Collectors Society a great help when researching beer mats, and House Of Playing Cards and Trad Games when looking into playing card history. The games and pictures in this post are my own.

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