Gin, Cognac and Pencils

Last time on the blog we looked specifically at the beer bottle labels from our Akaroa site. Today’s blog post is essentially a part two, where we’re going to take a look at the other labels found on the site. Most of these were for spirits of various types. Unlike beer, which was brewed in New Zealand, spirits were almost always imported from overseas. Between 1841 and 1868 distilling spirits in New Zealand was illegal, and even after being made legal in 1868, the removal of protective duties in 1874 meant that the small local distilling industry, which had began to develop, immediately collapsed as it was unable to compete with imports. Of course, just because distilling spirits was illegal doesn’t mean it wasn’t done. Places like Hokonui Hills were infamous for their illegal grog. However, it’s very unlikely that we will ever find archaeological evidence for the consumption of illegal alcohol. Funnily enough when people break the law, they tend not to provide evidence for it, say like labelling their bottles of sly grog to read “this bottle contains illegally distilled spirits” (an archaeologist can dream though).

This spirits bottle contained my favourite type of alcohol: Gin! Brothers Walter and Alfred Gilbey founded their business in 1857 in London, as wine and spirits merchants and soon began to produce spirits, particularly London dry gin. The third brother, Henry, joined the firm in 1865. They opened branches in Ireland, Scotland and by the 1920s the company also had gin distilleries in Australia and Canada. Gilbey’s gin was widely advertised in New Zealand newspapers from the end of 19th century onwards (New Zealand Herald 7/09/1895: 1; Evening Post 11/07/1945: 4). Image: C. Watson.

The best thing about researching spirits are the advertisements. If James Bond was alive in the 1800s, he’d drink Gilbey’s Gin. Image: Press.

The Gilbey’s Gin bottle had three different labels on it. The bottom one, with all the writing on it, was a letter of endorsement by Sir Charles A. Cameron. Cameron was an Irish chemist and scientist, most well-known for his work in detecting food adulteration from 1888 onward. For manufacturers, operating in a time period with relatively loose food safety laws, providing endorsements was a way of legitimising their products. Interestingly, Cameron’s endorsement focuses on the health benefits of drinking gin, something I plan on remembering next time I’m sipping on a GnT. Image: Grey River Argus.

Normally, when we think about gin with medicinal benefits in the 19th century Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps is what immediately springs to mind (read “schnapps” in quotation marks- it was a grain-based alcohol flavoured with juniper berry essence, a.k.a gin). Unfortunately, the Udolpho Wolfe label we found at our site was in fragments (note the bottle pictured here is from a different site), but from what we can read the label promotes the medicinal benefits of the product. This makes sense given the bottle held “schnapps” not gin… Image: C. Watson.

An 1875 account of the “medicinal” benefits of Udolpho Wolfe. Image: Press 27/10/1875: 3.

But wait, there’s more. We also found a JDKZ gin bottle label on the site (note the bottle is from a different site). JDKZ gin was produced by the De Kuyper distillery in Rotterdam. The De Kuyper distillery has a long history, having been established in 1695 when the family began making wooden casks for transporting beer and gin. From 1729 they began to use characteristic square shaped gin bottle and in 1827 began exporting their products to Europe and the colonies. In 1911 the distillery moved to Schiedam. Image: C. Watson.

It seems have taken until 1926 for the De Kuyper’s to have realised the medicinal wonder drug they had on their hands. Luckily once they did, they made sure to advertise its many benefits. Image: clockwise from top left, Press 18/03/1926: 11; Press 19/03/1926: 4; Press 23/03/1926: 4; Press 25/05/1926: 13.

Gin not your cup of tea? We had two different Hennessy Cognac bottles at the site, one embossed and the other labelled. Hennessy’s Cognac was founded by Richard Hennessy in 1765, made famous by his son James, and continued to be produced throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Hennessy was advertised as being imported into New Zealand from at least 1843 (New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator 20/09/1843: 1). The embossed Hennessy bottle we found at our site was imported into New Zealand by the Neil Brothers. Neil and Company was a Dunedin company founded in 1886 by Mr P. C. Neil. The company acted as general importers, merchants, and ship and insurance agents (Cyclopedia Company Ltd 1905:350). Image: C. Watson.

I like this advertisement for two reasons. Firstly, the artefact nerd in me appreciates that the label pictured in the advertisement is the same label that we found on one of our bottles. Secondly, there are many different interpretations of what the effects of a “universal stimulant” are, but the one that I’m picturing in my head does not go well with being in the middle of a golf course wearing a suit… Image: Press 12/07/1924: 7.

And just to mix things up, a pencil box label. Prior to the beginning of the 19th century, pencil making was a specialist craft in Nuremberg, with pencils manufactured exclusively by the Nuremberg carpenters’ guild. In 1806 Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the administrative restructuring of Bavaria, resulting in the Nuremberg carpenters’ guild being stripped of their power and pencil manufacture available to anyone. In the wake of this, Johann Froescheis registered as a pencil manufacturer. In 1868, Johann Froescheis II registered the brand Lyra, along with the Greek lyre trade mark. The company still operates today. Image: C. Watson.

Unlike the other brands, which had thousands of advertisements in the newspapers, I couldn’t find a single advertisement for J. Froescheis and the Lyra brand. The closest I came was to German pencil cases (which came in silver and gold cases #fancy). This ad is from a larger advertisement from a Mr Alport who was selling off his household in 1854 as he was leaving New Zealand. Our pencils are likely to be from later on in the 19th century, or possibly the start of the 20th century, when pencils were more common, but it’s an interesting reminder that something we take for granted, such as a pencil, was once an expensive commodity.Image: Lyttelton Times 18/03/1854: 2.

And to end the blog I couldn’t not put this in, because how amazing is the thought of a giant pencil tombstone (I’m thinking of a 10-foot high trowel for my grave). In a complete tangent that’s not related to anything else in this blog, the advertisement on the left is from 1895 and the one on the right is from 1905. The fact that something that happened 10 years earlier was still considered recent in 1905 really shows how much the news-cycle has changed in the past hundred years…

Clara Watson

References

Cyclopedia Company Ltd. 1905. The Cyclopedia Company of New Zealand [Otago & Southland Provincial Districts]. Available [online]: http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-corpus-cyclopedia.html

One thought on “Gin, Cognac and Pencils

  1. G’day,
    Although not involved in anything-equine (although I guess I was, by proxy; my youngest daughter & granddaughters had/have neighing quadrapeds), I am behooven to proffer the following:-
    In regard to “… labelling their bottles of sly grog to read “this bottle contains illegally distilled spirits” ….”
    Is it possible to research oral history?. Perhaps in doing so (also journals/newspaper snippets, diaries & the like), you could discover a common-labelled bottle that was used illiscitly* for this clandestine spirit’s hiding-in-plain-sight?.
    *Yes I know I’ve misspelled it, but it’s far more fun.

    Thankyou for the great article. I really enjoy them 🙂

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