Collecting pub memorabilia

By Geoff Harris

Apart from travel and Mixed Martial Arts gyms, it’s harder to think of an industry sector which has been harder hit by Covid-19 regulations than hospitality.

Many pubs were struggling before the pandemic, and for some landlords it’s been the final straw – especially with the new 10pm curfew. This has been particularly demoralising as pubs stayed open during both World War I and World War II to lift people’s spirits (no pun intended).

While we’d never encourage profiting from somebody’s else loss, there has been an upsurge of interest in collecting items from a wide range of pubs. The Dog House Antiques, for example, based in Bloxwich in the West Midlands, has been selling items ranging from neon signs to beer mats. As quoted in the local newspaper The Express and Star, sales assistant Fay Rutter believes this trend has been spurred on by people having more spare time during lockdown, which has allowed them to carry out DIY projects such as converting sheds into bars and bringing a holiday feel to their homes. "This is what our customers have been saying. People weren't allowed to pubs during lockdown so they have been making their own in their gardens…Everyone has been buying pub-related items," she said.

Then there are older pubs that get refurbished – and a lot of the existing décor doesn’t fit in with the new look. Back in August, the entire contents of The New Inn, a historic country pub in Priddy, Somerset, were sold at auction. Russell Sage, an interior designer, decided to pretty much gut the place so quite a large antiques collection went under the hammer. If you know of an interesting local pub closing (or god forbid, being redeveloped), it could be worth making a few enquiries or contacting local auction houses.

A striking old pub sign can be a real talking point. Larger online auction sites such as Selling Antiques are worth checking out, and signs do tend to crop up every now and then at larger antiques fairs. Expect to pay several hundred pounds as a starting point for a vintage, hand-painted sign, but as well with all pictures, it’s important to try and establish at least some kind of provenance on more expensive items.

Of course, the interiors of pubs are also rich hunting grounds. The collective term for pub memorabilia is ‘Breweriana.’ “The market for breadwinner is expansive and includes not only beer and ale breweries but also distilleries for spirits such as gin and whisky, vineyards, and other types of liquor,” explains Legacy Antiques, which regularly sells such items. “Famous items sought after by collectors include memorabilia displaying the Guinness Toucan, the Scottie dogs from the ‘Black and White Scotch Whisky’ campaign, and of course the iconic Babycham chamois.”

Old pub mirrors in particular can be very valuable, particularly hand-painted or gilded ones, and can fetch thousands of pounds – meanwhile if you see somebody selling an original wooden cash register from the 1890s, bite their hand off (particularly if it comes with shipping documents or a serial number).

We mentioned beer taps early on, and beer tap logos, or ‘clips’ can also look attractive when framed. Many long-closed independent breweries, particularly in more rural locations, commissioned some very attractive illustrations for their labels and taps. Then there are beer trays, bar runners, beer mats, stained glass window designs…

If you are interested in this fascinating topic, we recommend joining the Association for British Brewery Collectables. It’s free to join, and gives you access to a newsletter, improve and increase your breweriana collection and hook up with other collectors and experts (probably virtually at the moment).

It is, of course, a great shame that so many historic pubs are closing or having all character ripped out of them, but it would be even more of a shame if some of the attractive artefacts which graced their interiors ended up being scrapped, too.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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