“Why not pour yourself a beer, sit down and take a trip back through history”, is the highly tempting invitation from Richard Percival on his specialist website.
Dedicated to breweriana, it features not just a wide array of trays but items such as jugs, ashtrays, showcards, labels, mirrors and much more.
Here he tells us about how his renowned collection began and has developed into a well-known resource of information for this market.
ATG: How did you get the collecting bug for breweriana?
Richard Percival: It started due to my favourite football team, Notts County. Forty-one years ago (1981) I was on an away trip to Brighton. It’s always been a tradition to try local real ales and this I did on this trip, in a Young’s of Wandsworth pub (brewery now closed).
One of my fellow supporters collected beer mats and asked the landlord for a specific example. The landlord hadn’t got a mat but offered a tray. I took it just because of its functionality and that’s where the bug hit me – every away trip I’d ask for a local brewery tray.
Did you have a wider field of collecting and then narrow it down to brewery trays?
Actually, on the contrary. I began with brewery trays and 10 years later I started to broaden the collection. I also collect pre-war ceramics such as jugs, ashtrays, ceramic coasters and matchstrikers as well as Victorian and Edwardian mirrors and showcards. In addition, I also collect any item from Thomas Salt & Co of Burton-on-Trent which closed in 1927.
Where do you find items to collect?
Amassing my collection has moved through stages. At first I simply asked landlords for trays, then I moved on to car boot sales and flea markets – soon I was travelling all over the country to specialist antique and advertising fairs. More recently I favoured eBay and Facebook but as trays have become more difficult to find I rely on fellow breweriana collectors and a few dealers.
What is the most you have spent on one item?
For a tray I once paid £500. A tray from Baddows Brewery near Chelmsford in Essex; an absolute rarity from the 1920s in fabulous condition. For a single item I recently paid over £1000 for a 1900s wonderful Thomas Salt & Co showcard (advert). For pre-war trays, however, I’d normally pay about £50-100. These have black backs (coloured black when you turn them over) and usually have manufacturer’s marks such as Sir Joseph Causton, Hancock Corfield & Waller, BAT or Reginald Corfield.
How large is your collection?
I have over 1500 British trays all pre-dating 1970. Within that I focus mainly on pre-Second World War trays, of which I have around 500 examples. I have about another 1000 other items including around 300 jugs from c.1880-1930.
How do you display the items and where?
I have converted a double garage which has become a ‘mini-museum’ with 350 pre-war trays on display and some superb mirrors and showcards.
When did you create the website for your collection?
I started creating my website about 10 years ago. All the items in my collection have been photographed and also others that I am still looking for. After three years someone hacked into the website and destroyed it so I had to start again, which was soul destroying. It’s now a database of all the known pre-1970 trays that exist.
The website also includes other stuff such as videos of my TV appearances and manufacturer’s history. I’m told it is one of the best existing collectors’ websites around.
How many more trays are you hoping to collect?
There are around 80 trays but my top five are: a Bullard & Sons Norwich Brewery tray, c.1920s; Showell’s of Oldbury oval tray dating from the 1910s; Soulby Sons & Winch of Alford, Lincolnshire which is round and dates from c.1930s; Lamb’s Brewery of Frome, c.1930s; and Wrekin Brewery Co, c.1920s rectangular tray.
What advice would you give a new collector?
Choose an area (like Yorkshire or Scotland) or an era such as the 1960s and 1970s where bargains are still to be had. Use eBay to start to purchase great examples and Facebook groups, such as ‘UK Brewery Trays’ for advice. Failing that, contact me for help. But be patient, it doesn’t happen overnight.