I joined the BBCS in Feb 1977, in the prime of my youth, too young at the time to drink in pubs. My collection started when I used to join my Dad on his delivery van distributing wines and spirits to pubs, clubs and off- licences during the school holidays. If memory serves me right I learnt about the Society's existence through an advert in the Exchange and Mart paper. Having sent off my joining fee, I promptly received my first magazine, Society membership mat, the Guide to Tegestology handbook and a Society enamel lapel badge. A few weeks later Dennis Harle called at my house to introduce himself. When he left I felt as if I had robbed him, having probably increased my collection by a further one thousand mats. I think Dennis may have picked up one or two off me out of courtesy but I am sure he did it not to embarrass me with not really having anything he needed.
My interest in collecting grew when I was old enough to drink (legally) in pubs. My collection encompassed all sorts of issues – UK brewery, foreign, foreign beers in UK, whisky, vodka, cigarettes, airline, trade etc. You name it, I would have collected it. I did a lot of postal swapping with a few collectors on the basis of “you send me 50 of your local recent issues and I will do the same in return”. This soon built up my collection and required extra-floored loft space to accommodate it. Furthermore my interest in collecting brewerania soon expanded to labels, pump clips, books etc. I joined various other related Societies – Brewery History Society, Labologists, Campaign for Real Ale, Scottish Brewing Archive as well as subscribing to various brewery publications. Fundamentally out of these activities I made many good friends and a sound knowledge of the brewery industry.
One day I took the decision to concentrate on collecting only UK Brewery mats. Storage space and time was the problem. Most collectors I know have made similar decisions over the years. At that point I reckon that I had around 30,000 mats in my collection and by giving away non-brewery I was down to about 10,000. I now seen myself as a serious collector, willing to travel that extra mile or upping that auction bid by a further ten pence! Often returning from a local meeting I found myself having bought mats that I already had. I decided it was time to invest in a BBCS Brewery catalogue. My postal orders were sent off and several envelopes arrived by return. Working shifts around that period, allowed me free time to start cataloguing my mats and yes, to protect them in plastic bags. Being fortunate to having chosen a career in computers, I put my skills to work and having trawled through the catalogues I finally produced a “wants list”.
I started to attend National meetings, travelling with Dennis. We have had great fun over the years and have many great stories to tell. I clearly remember my first adventure where we decided to try and sleep in the car on the eve of the event (never again) to the “Scotland/England/Rest of the world” pub games organised as a Social get-together on the eve of the national. These days I enjoy playing my part and for several years have volunteered to work on the door signing people in and demanding the entry fee. This give's me the opportunity to put faces to the names, say hello to everyone as well as providing assistance in handling general queries. I was involved in organising the Dundee and Stirling Nationals. I have also tried my hand at auctioning although I must admit to being more comfortable as a bidder.
One year I took up the role of Hon. Editor (1988-89), a job which I must say I thoroughly enjoyed and did my best to try and ensure that it was of interest. Unfortunately due to family and work commitments I decided I could not continue and decided to step down from the position although I did remain on the committee for a further two years. I remember attending London committee meetings. Up early to catch the first train down from Edinburgh, getting there for lunchtime. The committee and society meeting took up the afternoon and early evening before jumping on the last train home (which arrived back in Edinburgh at 6.45am – more or less a 24 hour trip!). Great times, looking back, especially on one occasion returning on the train with fellow Scotsmen returning from the World Cup – yes knocked out in the first round again, but you would have thought that we had won it.
My job took me all over the country and I often arranged my business commitments around the Society calendar often stopping off so I could attend advertised meetings – Birmingham, Croydon, Cambridge, Telford. Rather than stay in my hotel bar I would venture out to look up local members for a pint, visit pubs to track down mats, visit breweries, beer festivals etc. Over the years I have diverted miles in the hope of getting that elusive mat, some trips have been successful others disappointing.
In December 1985 I was on National television news program – “Scotland Today”, when I had a film crew come to my house to do an article on my collection and to promote a local meeting in Edinburgh. After the filming we all went down my local for a few beers. Over the years I have also appeared on local radio stations and local press article's to promote the hobby.
In more recent years I have been involved in maintaining the BBCS British Brewery Catalogue. In conjunction with others, for the first time, the catalogue appeared in a format for use on a computer. Seeing the finished article proved worthwhile after all those hours in front of a computer. My only concern regarding the catalogue is that we often get too bogged down in trying to justify minor variations. Whilst we do now more or less adhere to the Cataloguing guidelines there's still too many dubious entries in there for my liking. Work is on going to further improve and clarify descriptions, merging currently listed variations and moving certain mats into more appropriate sections. In an ideal world, a catalogue displaying scanned images would be the answer.
Going forward, I feel collecting has become more difficult. Mats are becoming more difficult to obtain. Not all pubs use them, some have them delivered and simply dispose of them. Breweries themselves have restricted budget and may only produce small quantities. Smaller breweries have higher priorities and see little “return on investment”. The bigger breweries in some cases use outside agencies and distributors to manage their promotions and therefore may not even see the mats in their stores. Some mats are found or reported too late, and therefore us collectors have little hope of ever obtaining a copy. Some breweries will not respond to postal requests, not participate in the Society organised schemes, or indeed some even go out of their way to make things difficult for collectors (you know who they are!!). To be fair they have a business to run and well us collectors may be low on their list of priorities.
On the other hand, on a positive note some breweries welcome the Society and collectors with open arms. Breweries are now using the Internet to sell their products and often include promotional bits in their shop page. The Society has developed good relationships with many breweries, individuals, printers and other collectors Societies. We now hold joint meetings with other societies. The use of the Internet and e-mail systems have helped speed up the passing on and availability of information. The Society still offers recent mats through the Society shop to those collectors who maybe can't make their local meetings. There's the foreign liaison scheme, which is welcomed by our overseas members. Membership numbers have never returned to their high of the mid-seventies despite subscription levels still being kept relatively low. Recent initiatives include Society promotional mats and the introduction of the Society's own web-site.
Who remembers the Solly Teff collector of the year award? the Society scrap books? Ships stores? a Publicity officer? Committee meeting minutes? swap boxes? The cry of “mats down”? How about the return of the magazine liaison scheme listings? Postal auctions? “Only here for the beermats” badges? National sponsors and brewery visits ? Summer draw tickets? Congratulation mats? Illustrated magazine covers? Beginners bargains?
On a positive note, I love this hobby. I enjoy the chase of the recent mat, the arrival of the postman, the unexpected e-mail, the grapevine gossip as to “what's out there”. I have many great friends that I regularly correspond with. Over the 25 years that I have now collected, I now have approx. 20,000 UK Brewery mats. Each mat has a story as to how it was obtained. Whilst I do view myself as one of the “hardcore” members I do appreciate that there's more serious things in life and dare I say it I will never have them all. None the less this is part of the fun . Please remember that at the end of the day, they are only bits of cardboard initially produced to advertise products and to slop up your spills.
I shall finish on this note – I am often asked, “what is my favourite beermat in my collection?” – there's only ever been one answer – “THE NEXT ONE”.
Anyway, hope you enjoyed my nostalgic trip down memory lane. Here's to the next 25 years. Cheers!
(Coasters / Sous-bocks / Bierdeckel / Posavasos / Sottobicchieri Birra)
I am a member of the following societies -
. British Beermat Collectors
. Brewery History Society
. Scottish Brewing Archives
. FVB (Germany)