MEDALS AT THE SUPERMARKET, 1995

 

"Palman qui Meruit Ferat"

 

By Stanley Hunter

 

Most Victorian-age exhibitions are now long forgotten, except among enthuastics. There are exceptions, such as the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Philadelphia "Centennial" of 1876, the "Columbian" of 1893 and the Paris Universal of 1900 which are regarded as historical and artistic high-water marks. As these great shows were devised to showcase the best of each product, awards were made. These could be cash premia, certificates or even medals.

While researching the U.S. World Fairs, I was struck on how certain food products became commonplace after a major exhibition. Shredded Wheat, the first packaged cereal, appeared at the "Columbian" 1893. The ice-cream cone took the world by storm after St. Louis 1904, etc. Glasgow first met candy-floss in 1938.

Other products which achieved fame as competitive exhibits are also still remembered. The exhibitions themselves are also recorded in your larder or drinks cabinet. I doubt whether many people notice this. We may study the amount of E-numbers on the label but how many have studied the links with the early exhibitions? Can you describe the medals displayed on a "Vulcan" matchbox? (Moscow Vienna 1873, etc.). It was a very common box.

To demonstrate their excellence, manufacturers often displayed reproductions of those medals on the labels of their goods and on their stationery. Printed letterheads of the Victorian era were often quite elaborate and are often still available at moderate cost.

I have built up a small collection of stationery showing medals of various Scottish exhibitions and of Scottish-based winners at other exhibitions. Pride of place, of course, goes to competitors at the Great Exhibition itself. The London 1862 International medal is also an interesting


 

 

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find - on stationery, it could well cost as little as 1.50.

Displaying a "medal" brought kudos to a firm. It was not long before traders who were economical with the truth began adding "medals" to which they were not entitled to. Winners naturally felt aggrieved and agitated for legal controls to protect their hard-earned status.

As a result, a UK. act to prevent false representations as to Grants of Medals or Certificates made by the Commissioners for the Exhibitions of 1851 and 1862 was passed on July 1863. First offenders faced a 5 fine. Subsequent offences could attract a 20 fine (or up to six months imprisonment). I have a copy of "The Exhibition Medals Act, 1863" in my Crystal Palace collection.

 

 

 

Letter heading showing array of medals

 

 

Some exhibition organisers eschewed any awards. Certainly, some awards particularly at French exhibitions seemed rather partial. Edinburgh issued awards for her Internationals. (I have a fine "Silver" 1882 International Fisheries medal - for "Smoked Haddock").

Glasgow, on the other hand decided against medals in 1888. Exhibitors grumbled so much that the executive compromised by issuing "Certificates of Participation". No medals were awarded at the 1901 International. The French Section distributed a most attractive bronze plaquette to all its participants at Glasgow.

Product labels were sometimes designed to obscure the modest status of some of the more minor awards. Local trade fair or competition prizes are sometimes made out to appear awards at major international exhibitions. While it must be satisfying to score over one's peers locally, it can hardly compare with winning a gold medal, at, say Paris 1900. These minor awards are usually poorly reproduced and perhaps not attributed.

Medals are often shown on the back of Photographic Cabinet Cards, precursors of the postcard. These often include awards at photographic exhibitions.


Medals are usually issued with two sides (obverse and reverse)). It is sometimes difficult to tell in a row of "decorations" if half were simply "reverses" rather than other wins. Perhaps, someone will produce an illustrated guide to exhibition award medals.

Business stationery is now much more restrained. Labels are now so full of technical information, electronic bar-codes and diet benefits that the old medals have been squeezed off. Who wants to know that this lager won a medal at Bremen in 1874 or this rum took a gold at Barcelona in 1888?

Well as one interested in the whole concept of exhibitions, I do !

 

 

Bottle label

 

I decided to take a walk round the nearest supermarkets and delis and see if, despite slick computer-originated graphics, I could find any old exhibition links.


I knew that Beck beers had won a medal at the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876, but learned of their Bremen medal by studying the label. I also had found out that my Berio olive oil got a medal at Chicago in 1893 and the label shows also a Lyon 1872 gold medal. Tarradei virgin olive oil also displays awards (trade?). Guisti's balsamic vinegar from Modena lists seven medals including Paris, Brussels, Vienna and Italy.

Nestles Menier Swiss chocolate labels show an award listing and illustrate some medals in gold. The list includes London 1862 and Paris 1867 Hors concours, Grand Prix 1878 and 1900, and a Philadelphia 1876 gold along with various industrial exhibitions since 1832. Amaretti di Sarona range of Italian confections illustrate medals from Turin 1902, Brussels and Argentina in 1910.

Campbell's Soups show their Paris 1900 medal, while Coleman's mustard tins show "the only 1878 Paris gold medal" along with the Exhibition Cross and the Legion of Honour! Burton's "Gold Medal" Biscuits is a long established baker. On inquiry, I was told that George Burton of Blackpool won a gold medal for his sugar confectionery, just after W.W.I. The firm still wins baking awards on the continent and the collection of medals is housed at Sighthill in Edinburgh. How did the "Gold Medal" pub in Edinburgh get its name?

Martinellis of California won a gold medal from the State Agricultural Society in 1890 and this appears on the label of their "Gold Medal" apple juice.

The Terry's of York box for its "1767" plain chocolates is decorated with five "gold" medals, York 1866, Adelaide 1881, New Zealand 1882, London 1899 and British Empire 1925. Beefeater Gin labels recall London awards in 1873, 1011 and 1924. Was this at Wembley?

Cigar boxes and cigarette packets also show medals. "Romeo y Julieta" Havana cigar packets show about eight such awards. Mitchell's "Prize Crop" showed Edinburgh 1886 and the much rarer Glasgow Industrial Exhibition of 1886. (They were frequent exhibitors and produced a splendid set of cigarette cards for the Empire Exhibition, Scotland 1938.)

It is in the booze department, however, that many of the "medals" survive.

I found I had a label from Cabinet Verzenay Champagne which shows both 1886 and 1890 Edinburgh International exhibitions, plus the Adelaide Jubilee Exhibition medal. The Edinburgh medals would have been won by the local shippers, Rutherford & Kay. Another label I have is from a bottle of St Emilion Bordeaux. It shows the two Edinburgh medals, Melbourne 1888 and Bordeaux Gold of 1895.

Bacardi Rum boasts Madrid 1877, Barcelona 1888, Paris 1889, 1900, Chicago 1893 and Buffalo 1901. I noted a few other awards to spirits. There was of course, Lang Bros. Of Glasgow's "Gold Medal" Banana Jamaica Rum won at the Edinburgh International in 1886. The Bols range of drinks show eight awards. The popular schnapps from Steinhager claims "250 awards and medals since 1883". That could have made an interesting label!

Stolichnaya and Starka, which I first met on a voyage to Leningrad in the early 'sixties display a medal gained at the 1968 Leipzig Fair and at Brussels in 1958, at which the old Soviet Union was a major exhibitor. I took up a recent offer to get a free tee-shirt, replicating the label. I was surprised to find that the Brussels Medal obverse had been replaced by another Leipzig medal. I can only surmise that the male nude on the Belgian medal might have offended some of the more sensitive vodka drinkers.

M & S's vodka, distilled by Burn Stewart of Glasgow, shows groups of three (Russian?) medals. Tesco's White Rum has three medals, one of which shows the old colonial arms of Jamaica. I wonder if this relates to the 1891 Exhibition shown on a later postage stamp. Another Jamaican speciality is Red Stripe lager, with its "award winning recipe". Cans show four modern(trade fair?) medals.

Surprisingly I could not find any whisky bottles with medals. Recently at an antique fair in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, I was offered a whisky stoneware flask for Catto's Highland Whisky, Aberdeen. There is a transfer print of prize medals for Paris 1878, London 1884 (the "Healtheries"?) and the International at Crystal Palace. The flask was 295 - and it was empty!


Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey does not illustrate medals but lists its awards on the side of the label, such as St Louis 1904, the Anglo-American Exposition of London, right up to 1981. Old Bushmills Whiskey shows six sets of medals, including Adelaide 1886 and (I think), an 1893 Chicago medal.

Sheridan's of Dublin ("and Best") offer black and white concoctions which could well be whiskey-based. A special miniature twin-bottles offer shows two medals(one portraying Queen Victoria) but the standard label has the medals in outline only.

Pimm's does not illustrate medals but some bottles list 14 awards on a separate label. These date from 1880 to 1951 but do not appear to be major events and were probably trade fair events.

Jose Cuervo's tequila bottles show seven medals, rather difficult to identify, as is the gold medal shown on Sol labels of Mexican lager. The label of Luxardo Marashino cherry liqueur is like a display chart of medals. There are a couple of dozen and all are identified. They include Bronzes at London in 1862 and Paris 1867. This label is certainly the finest one I have found.

Other Italian medalists include Averna's Sicillian Fratelli (four medals and a diploma), Laazroi Amaretto and Amaro Montenegro (also four medals). Sari Maraschino labels show seven medals for their cherry liqueur.

The Aalborg Danish akvavit label shows seven sets of medals, including Copenhagen 1872, 1888, Philadelphia 1876 and Paris 1900. Peter Heering's Danish cherry liqueur illustrates a series of gold and 1st class medals. Courvoisier Cognac has a medal of rather doubtful design. Angostura Bitters displays its 1873 Vienna International Exhibition medal and the label mentions that "at the principal International Exhibition(s) it has received the highest recognition."

The Vermouths were obviously competitively inclined. Martini has medals from Philadelphia, Paris, Alexandria and Dublin. Filipetti has only an 1932 Italian medal while Cinzano goes back much further, Florence 1861, London !862 and a Victor Emmanuel II Industrial Exhibition medal (i.e., pre-1878). VNP Vermouth Bianco labels show three medals which appear to be Turin awards, but this is not clear. Gaudin's Vermouth also shows its medals.

Sherries were also prize winners. Bodegas Garcia de Leane show three medals, while Safeway's sherry produced by Emilio Lustan of Jerez shows a Paris medal of intermediate date and origin.

Stella Artois lager shows Belgian medals, one portraying Leopold II. Heineken won a gold at Paris in 1876 and 1888 (?) and a Diploma at Amsterdam in 1883. At Paris 1900, the firm was hors concours and a member of the jury. Murphy's stout has a Manchester medal along with one for Dublin 1892. Newcastle Brown labels show a medal - the 1928 Breweries & Allied Trades International Exhibition & Market.

Belhaven Brewery in Scotland labels show seven medals which may be mainly trade exhibitions. Schlitz ("The Beer that Made Milwaukee Famous") shows the gold medal for the best American Lager, awarded in 1992.

Legend has it that Eau de Cologne was originally a spirit. To evade an early occupation tax on liquor, the distillers declared it a perfume. "4711" labels show some nice medals including Philadelphia 1876 and Paris.

I propose that the Group establish a sub-committee to prepare a shopping list of all current products which carry labels showing medals gained at exhibitions. This hard-working committee would be required to sample all such products, including chocolates, wines, beers and spirits and declare whether they still meet the high standards demanded at these early exhibitions. It might also be necessary to group these products by exhibition, for sampling. Senior members of the committee will have to sit on individual sub-committees of the more important events, such as Paris 1900.

Seriously, if you can add to the list of medals still on display on current products, or even identify the more obscure ones, I am sure this will be of interest.

© Exhibition Study Group 1995

 

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