Irish bars and pubs across the world have decked themselves out with tons of Guinness memorabilia through the years in tribute to the famous Irish stout. But has it ever crossed your mind, while enjoying a pint, that the beer mat it’s sitting on be worth more than the pint itself?
Guinness has created some highly memorable icons over the years and produces everything from beer mats to lamps sporting their latest advertising ploys.
Some of these products, with thanks to their rarity or the artist who designed them, have become highly prized objects, and memorabilia collectors pounce on the chance to own them, often handing out hefty sums of money to do so.
Such is the price that certain objects now fetch at auction that the second half of a Guinness collection put together by Englishman Steve Smith is expected to reach as much as $127,000 (£90,000)!
Smith began collecting beer mats from the pubs in which he played darts during the 1980s. Over time Smith focused his collection on Guinness beermats and, later, Guinness-only memorabilia.
Smith died of cancer two years ago at 58-years of age, leaving behind his collection as a windfall the rest of his family were certainly not expecting.
Known under the username “theguinnessman,” Steve was a regular on ebay and in auction rooms across England and Ireland as a Guinness advertising collector.
He started off his collection before other Guinness collectors joined in making it trendy. His house was converted into a shrine.
He sold off the first half of his memorabilia collection in September 2015. It reached $52,000 (£37,000) with certain pieces in the second set believed to attract even more attention.
In particular, pieces designed by artist John Gilroy, who worked for Guinness from 1929 until the 1960s, are expected to attract big buyers on the lookout for his famous toucan, ostrich, pelican and sea lion illustrations.
An laminated showcard featuring the Toucan, for example, fetched an incredible $917 (£650) in the first auction.
“Its status [Guinness memorabilia] reflects the fact it is seen as one of the mightiest advertising campaigns, particular[ly] from the classic period in the 1950s and 1960s,” said auctioneer Alan Blakeman.
And these pieces can be found anywhere. One of Smith’s prized pieces was one found in the trash, Smith's brother Paul told the Daily Mirror.
“One very rare item being sold this week is a big Guinness toucan that lights up. It was actually found during a house clearance from a loft in Wales!” he said.
“There’s always something that’s been found in a drawer, or loft, or in a shed. Advertising show cards, for instance, often turn up in the back of an old picture frame,” continued Blakeman.
“They’ve been used as they were made of stiff cardboard but if it’s a now rare advert a collector will pay a decent price for it.”
Although they can be picked up the strangest of places, it doesn’t mean that anything with Guinness brand on it is going to earn you a bit of extra cash. In fact, there’s a guide to what’s good and what’s not – “The guide to Guinness collectables” authored by David Hughes, Britain’s foremost expert on Guinness memorabilia.
“They’ve got to have some age and got to have some rarity,” he explained.
“There are some wonderful Guinness items to collect from artwork of the original Gilroy posters from the 30s through to waiter trays, ashtrays, clocks and even thermometers.”
“Guinness was always getting sent prototypes by manufacturers, many of which were never taken up, meaning there are many one-off and extremely rare items,” Hughes continued.
Hughes knew Smith personally and was also happy to learn that his feat will not be forgotten.
“We have lost a valued collector but maybe now as his collection is sold and spread around the world (all items carrying an identifying ‘Steve Smith Collection’ sticker) it will perhaps inject new life into the hobby,” he wrote.
“I think Steve would very much like that.”