As we say farewell to the Guinness Six Nations (for the time being, at least), this month’s featured object from our collection is a Guinness advertising sign from the 1960s. Made from large wooden boards, the rugby-themed advertisement features the famous Guinness toucans along with the brand’s well-known advertising slogan.
The sign, measuring 91cm in height and 182.5cm in width, shows two toucans standing on a rugby pitch with a rugby ball at their feet. The sign is constructed using wooden cut-outs – the toucans and ball are raised from the background to give a three-dimensional effect. This has left parts of the sign vulnerable; a pint of Guinness once represented balancing atop the rugby ball is now unfortunately damaged. The toucan on the right wears a red Wales jersey. He is shown flipping a bottle top decorated with an image of a harp, the Guinness logo since 1862. The green jersey worn by the toucan on the left – also featuring the harp emblem – alludes to the brewery’s Irish origins. In large red letters in the top left-hand corner of the board is the famous slogan, ‘GUINNESS IS GOOD FOR YOU’, first used in 1929.
In the 1930s, the Guinness family had hired the advertising firm S.H. Benson, which employed the English draughtsman John Gilroy as a poster artist. The family specified that they did not want a ‘vulgar’ advertising campaign with the focus solely on beer. Instead, they wanted the new adverts to appeal to families whilst highlighting the beer’s purported health benefits. Unable to decide what an ideal Guinness-drinking family should look like, Gilroy is said to have been inspired by the sight of a sea lion balancing a ball on its nose at the circus. He went on to produce around 100 adverts and 50 posters for Guinness featuring bears, ostriches, pelicans, kangaroos, crocodiles, tortoises and – most famously – the toucan, who was often depicted balancing a pint of Guinness on his beak.
The sign was made in the 1960s and was originally one of three displayed at Twickenham Stadium – a second sign is also in our collection. On this sign, the toucans wear jerseys representing Ireland and New Zealand, and the carefully-balanced pint of Guinness remains intact. By the mid-1960s, the three signs were installed high up behind the West Public Bar, situated towards the north end of the old West Stand. They were taken down and put into storage in the late 1980s, around the time that Guinness switched advertising firms and stopped running their zoo-themed adverts. However, the ties between rugby and Guinness have remained strong and today the brewery is the title sponsor and official beer provider of the Six Nations Championship.
We hope you have a very happy St Patrick’s Day! Needless to say, please drink your Guinness responsibly…