Vintage liquor ads

For months now, I’ve been combing through the digital archives of various magazines, building a “collection” of liquor ads. Starting today, I’m going to post ads here, once a week. If I have anything to say about the ad or the brand, I will, but often I’ll just post the ad itself without commentary.

I now have hundreds of ads, and so far from only three magazines–Vanity Fair, Life, and Playboy–so I know I’ll have plenty of fodder to keep this going indefinitely. In small doses, it’s really absorbing, watching the tastes and mores of the United States change over time. It’s also a fun way to learn about drinking habits, and how they’ve changed over the decades.

Brands come and go; I’ve seen brands I had never heard of prior to finding the ad. In one amusing coincidence, I saw an ad for a blended scotch whisky called Vat 69. I did a little research into the brand, and then a few hours later came across a reference to it while reading a Leslie Charteris short story about Simon Templar, a.k.a. The Saint. I was so amused by the coincidence that I laughed aloud and had to explain myself to Jen.

In the earliest of these magazines, there are no ads for vodka or tequila brands. These spirits arrived rather late to the American palate. Instead, there are many ads for gin, whisk(e)y, brandy, wine, and beer. And yes, although wine and beer are normally outside the remit of this blog, I’ll be including them here as well. If there’s alcohol in it, it’ll be here.

Some of the ads are funny (intentionally or not), some are lushly illustrated, and some are banal. I’m going to post them all, at least for as long as I keep the blog alive and retain interest in posting these ads.

I know I’m not the first to tread this ground. Cask Strength did a post recently on booze ads in Seventies-era Playboy. And James Lileks just turned his wit on the topic, with Forgotten Hooch. But I think my approach to it is different enough to be somewhat new. At any rate, I had no intention of stealing anyone’s idea. I’ve been planning this for months and wanted to be sure I had enough material to keep it going for a while without running out.

Now I’m ready, so once a week, every Friday morning, expect a new booze ad.

First up, an ad for Old Schenley Rye, from the January 1935 issue of Vanity Fair (click through for full size):



4 thoughts on “Vintage liquor ads

  1. Vat 69 was the preferred tipple of Captain Nixon in the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers”. The only reason I know that is that I, too, was intrigued because I’d never seen it on shelves.


  2. I love this shit. I’m currently looking at a 1947 copy of the New Yorker with a priceless Johnnie Walker ad: there’s an illustration of Johnnie himself coyly striding — you wouldn’t think someone could coyly stride, but they make it work here — up to a group of smiling captain’s-hat-and-ascot goofs with the headline “Here he is now!”


    • Yeah, it’s pretty great stuff. I have a trove of ads from LIFE magazine on my hard drive, awaiting uploading to Flickr. Among them are some wonderful Walker ads.

      And honestly, I want to get a New Yorker subscription soon just so I can raid its online archives for old ads.

      Right now, though, if I continue posting only one ad a week, I’ve already got enough material for the next two years. It’s amazing.


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