Guinness makes for ‘stout’ breweriana collectibles

A Guinness Ale flat top beer can sold well over its high estimate at $2,500 + the buyer’s premium in September 2012 at Dan Morphy Auctions. Photo courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

At Morphy Auctions, a vintage Guinness Ale flat top beer can estimated at $400-$800 sold in 2012 for $2,500 plus buyer’s premium. Photo courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.com

NEW YORK — Everyone gets to be Irish on St Patrick’s Day, and what better drink to accompany corned beef and cabbage than a glass of good old Guinness stout? Few drinks are as Irish as a frothy glass of Guinness, which is a staple of Irish bars and served around the world. Even though the Guinness brewery in Dublin is no longer the largest brewery in the world, it still is the largest brewer of stout beer — a strong, dark, top-fermented brew. How did the Guinness craze start? Ireland is well known for its breweries but among its most successful stories is the day that Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease for the St James’s Gate Brewery, in 1759 in Dublin, home to Guinness beer ever since. Guinness first exported his ale in May 1769, sending 6½ barrels to Great Britain. Millions of cans and bottles are now sold  annually.

The global demand for Guinness beer owes much to its mighty advertising campaigns, particularly John Gilroy’s noted Art Deco era posters for Guinness with such memorable slogans as “Guinness for Strength” and “My Goodness, My Guinness.” Gilroy (1898-1985) created colorful advertising from 1928 to the 1960s, featuring imaginative illustrations of various animals, including toucans, crocodiles, a kangaroo and a sea lion balancing a glass of Guinness on its nose. It is said that he was inspired by circus animals and set out to create a colorful family of animal mascots for the Guinness brand.

 

Guinness

Royal Doulton ceramic bulldog touting Guinness pilsner, $1,800 plus buyer’s premium. Photo courtesy of Lion and Unicorn, and LiveAuctioneers.com

Reportedly, the “It’s a Good Day for A Guinness” ad campaign came out after marketers asked customers in Ireland and the United Kingdom in 1929 what they liked about Guinness and a common theme was people they felt good after drinking a pint of Guinness or that they thought the beer was healthy for them.

Other artists who worked on Guinness advertising include Richard Wilkinson (1911-?), whose poster (shown below) for the Guinness for Strength ad campaign is a whimsical depiction of working men with a steamroller to associate Guinness with strength.

"Guinness For Strength," $1,300 plus buyer's premium. Photo courtesy of The Ross Art Group and LiveAuctioneers.com

‘Guinness For Strength’ poster, $1,300 plus buyer’s premium. Photo courtesy of The Ross Art Group and LiveAuctioneers.com

Besides advertising posters, the Guinness logo has appeared on thousands of collectibles from ash trays, beer mats and bottle openers to calendars, clocks, trays, mugs, posters, die-cast vehicles and more. Beer cans as well as pub signs and mirrors with Guinness imagery are also highly collectible. Collectors have been known to spend thousands of dollars to fill their homes with Guinness items. Some people keep their collection only in a “man cave” or their home bar area, but there are passionate collectors like the late Steve Smith, a supercollector who turned his home in England into a shrine to Guinness, with hundreds of items that were sold after his passing, yielding a nice profit for his family.

Many items with the Guinness name were mass produced, so not all are valuable. Items that are rare, desirable and in excellent condition will usually bring the most money. Given the company’s success, manufacturers often sent prototypes to Guinness hoping to broker a merchandising deal, but many were passed on. Likely there are quite a few one-of-a-kind Guinness items out there somewhere. Echoing the animals seen in its animal campaigns, a popular collectible has been the Carltonware Guinness Toucan lamps. Retaining their original shades, several fine examples sold right around the $600 mark in 2020 at Victor Mee Auctions. Based in Ireland, the auction house, not surprisingly, has sold many Guinness items over the years.

Circa-1950 British pub interior sign, $1,900 plus buyer's premium. Photo courtesy of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.com

Circa-1950 British pub interior sign, $1,900 plus buyer’s premium. Photo courtesy of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.com

Some collectors restrict their Guinness collecting to a certain genre, such as beer cans or trays, for example; while others buy up anything that appeals to them that has the Guinness name and its distinctive Irish harp logo. The harp that Guinness incorporated is a key part of its brand identity and a longstanding symbol of Ireland. Based on a well-known Irish harp from the 14th century known as the O’Neill or Brian Boru harp, it became the company’s trademark in 1876.

Guinness items that were used in Irish pubs or at St James Gate are particularly desirable, such as the 78- by 42-inch Guinness extra stout St James Gate mirror that earned $1,913 + the buyer’s premium in May 2019 at Victor Mee Auctions. Attractively painted trade signs made for taverns or pubs are also sought after by collectors and can bring over $1,000 each.

 

Guinness painted trade signs for Irish taverns, $3,000 plus buyer's premium. Photo courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.com

Guinness painted trade sign created for an Irish tavern, $3,000 plus buyer’s premium. Photo courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.com

Many also like to collect vintage beer cans, especially the flat-top variety. So, if you crack a can or bottle of Guinness lager on St. Patrick’s Day, know that you have plenty of company. With an estimate of millions of pints that will be poured on this day alone, Guinness is synonymous with the holiday that honors the Emerald Isle’s patron saint. Some pubs no longer employ the double- or even triple-pour method, which is accomplished by pouring a portion of the brew, then allowing it to settle before pouring more. However, traditionalists are adamant that it should still take nearly two full minutes to pour a pint of Guinness, adhering to the company’s longtime ad slogan: “Good things come to those who wait.”