I know I’m not the only beer person who also digs local history. Thus, I can’t be the only one who’d enjoy the California Historical Society‘s Vintage Beer, Wine, & Spirits Labels exhibition. The exhibition opened in December, but I live under a rock so I just went last week. It’s not really beer-focused, but there’s some beer in it. (Kind of like this blog lately.) If you plan on being in San Francisco at any point in the next two weeks, it’s an inexpensive, quick trip to the 1930s.
It turns out the California Historical Society has an absurd collection of alcohol labels, including many from the focus of this exhibit, Lehmann Printing and Lithographing Company of San Francisco. A journalist called Lehmann “the printer who hasn’t heard about the depression” due to the company’s rapid expansion and its products’ festive aesthetic.
There are definitely some signs of the times that times have changed since the ’30s. Several beer labels contain selling points like “less than 1/2 of 1% alcohol” — it must have been Prohibition — and “high in extract.
When you’ve seen the exhibit, if want to explore further the California Historical Society’s library could easily take up the rest of your day. Patty from CHS (a fellow beer lover) suggested I go in there and ask for some more labels to look at, because they don’t have room to exhibit most of them. The librarian returned with three giant boxes of wine labels, out of a total of eight boxes they have. Talk about drinking from the firehose. I was overwhelmed, but it’s good to know someone’s keeping track of this stuff.
I’d never been to the California Historical Society before and I’m glad I went. It also has a cute gift shop where you can buy, among other things, books of the spirits and wine labels on display. If you want to check out the exhibit, you have until April 23 (not the 16th as it says on their website). There are a whole bunch of other museums nearby and it’s convenient to public transit. Not to mention it’s near Bartlett Hall, Mikkeller Bar, and Thirsty Bear. Cheers to drinks, design, and history!
Thank you Patty Pforte for making sure I found out about this exhibition.