Cheers (To the Designers of These Great Cocktail Artifacts)!

Artifact (in an archival context): a man-made, physical object

While Special Collections isn’t artifact-driven–that is, we don’t go out of our way specifically to find artifacts–that doesn’t mean they don’t find us. Between a Civil War-era rifled musket, Corps of Cadet sabers, a football trophy, and more recently, a snare drum from a student who attended VPI in the 1940s, we do have a range of museum-type items. If we’re talking food history, we even have a 19th century stove here! Most of the food-related artifacts are on the smaller size: toys sets to teach nutrition to children, an old cast iron kettle, or, for the Hokie-spirited, an empty bottle from a Hokie-branded beer (probably from an event several decades ago). Last week’s post, though, alluded to some new cocktail artifacts and let’s face it, I couldn’t wait to share them. In the last month or so, we’ve acquired a handful of unique early and mid-20th century cocktail artifacts. Here are a couple of them…

This vintage faux cocktail shaker is about 5 1/4 inches tall. It’s chrome on the outside and the rotary on the inside features early Bakelite panels (Bakelite was created in the late 1910s) and is probably just pre-Prohibition era in terms of its date.

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Each of the remaining 23 panels contains a cocktail recipe:

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Basically, there’s a mini-rolodex inside and twisting the knob drops a new panel into view until it cycles through and starts again. Of course, the panels are small, so there are no directions, other than the list of ingredients. But, for the most part, these are traditionally shaken cocktails: Pour all the ingredients over ice, shake, strain, and enjoy!

The second item dates from about 1940:

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This is a long scroll on two spindles. You can turn either knob to “scroll” forward and backward. In it’s original case and box, this is leather over a case of metal and plastic. “Baron Fougner’s Bar Guide: Standard Recipes for Cocktails, Mixed Drinks, Canapes” came with two choice of colors: walnut or mahogany (ours is the latter). “Baron Fougner” was actually G. Selmer Fougner (1885-1941), a journalist and columnist. From 1933 to 1941, he wrote a daily column for the New York Sun called “Along the Wine Trail” that covered wine, food, and even recipes. He also wrote several books including New York City restaurant guides and a history of his role in several “dining societies.”

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The panel on the back contains an index to the sections and kinds of drinks and food included. (Unfortunately, it didn’t photograph too well through the textured and slightly wrinkly surface.)

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Our bar guide came with a pamphlet pointing out its use, efficiency in the home bar (look, it’s spill-proof, unlike those pesky books!), and what it includes. And it’s in the original 1940s box.

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So, “cool” factor aside, there really is research value to items like these. They can clue us into popular cocktails of a time period, show us who the “authorities” in the cocktail world were, what kinds of quirky items people were collecting, and, in the case of these items, how the “home bartenders” were learning their skills. In addition to these items, we’ve also recently acquired a retractable tape measure with inches on one side and cocktail recipes on the other; a key-chain with cocktail recipes on small cards inside a metal case; a glass tube with recipes on long narrow cards (which are protected from spills by the glass); and an Art Deco era cocktail betting game (more on that one another day). It turns out collecting and researching cocktail history is even more fun than you might have guessed! If you’d like to learn more, you’re always welcome to drop by and check these items out in person–we’ll be here!

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