MEDALS AT THE SUPERMARKET, 1995
"Palman qui Meruit Ferat"
Most Victorian-age exhibitions are now long forgotten,
except among enthuastics. There are exceptions, such
as the Great Exhibition of 1851, the
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
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
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
Letter heading showing array of medals
Some exhibition organisers eschewed any awards.
Certainly, some awards particularly at French exhibitions seemed rather
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
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
Well as one interested in the whole concept of exhibitions, I do !
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
Nestles Menier Swiss chocolate
labels show an award listing and illustrate some medals in gold. The list
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
Cigar boxes and cigarette packets also show medals.
"Romeo y Julieta"
It is in the booze department, however, that many of the "medals" survive.
I found I had a label from Cabinet Verzenay
Bacardi Rum boasts
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
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
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
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
Other Italian medalists include
Averna's Sicillian Fratelli (four medals and a diploma), Laazroi
Amaretto and Amaro
The Aalborg Danish akvavit label shows seven sets of medals, including
The Vermouths were obviously competitively inclined.
Martini has medals from
Sherries were also prize winners. Bodegas Garcia de Leane show three medals, while Safeway's sherry produced by
Emilio Lustan of
Belhaven Brewery in
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
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
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 199 5
© Exhibition Study Group 199