So imagine the excitement across the Pond when a previously unknown fourth poster surfaced for sale with low-key cataloguing at the Victor Mee saleroom in Belturbet, Co Cavan, Ireland, on May 8. It was consigned with other collectables from a local couple.
“We sell mainly British and Irish advertising memorabilia so it was a surprise to see it come in for sale. And even more of a surprise to see how much it fetched,“ said operations manager Bryan Mee.
The lure of the 2ft x 18in (60 x 45cm) print, marked in the lower right corner for Wagner & Co. Lithographers and dated 1889, is its subject matter.
Enjoying Finest Pale Ale and Extra Foreign Stout – two beers sold by importers Edward and John Burke under licence from Guinness – are two of the best-known players of the era: Adrian ‘Cap’ Anson of the Chicago White Stockings (the team that would become the Cubs) and William ‘Buck’ Ewing of the New York Giants (now the San Francisco Giants).
The scene – the first in the US to use a sportsman to promote an alcoholic beverage – will have struck a note with its original audience. At the time the USA’s favourite pastime was a battleground for the moral struggle that would lead to Prohibition, the National League having recently banned beer and the playing of Sunday games as it sought to remain an ‘apple pie’ game suitable for the entire family.
The inclusion of a striped canvas ‘cricket’ tent, a common site at ball games during the 1850s and early 1860s but obsolete by the time the poster was made, was another nostalgic nod to the game’s early history when a player might be permitted to enjoy a beer with friends.
Bidding for the poster initially came from the UK but beyond €10,000 the contestants were Americans. The hammer price of €25,600 (18% buyer’s premium) appeared a relative bargain compared with previous prices but a huge uplift from the €200-400 estimate.