Vintage Wine, Beer, & Spirits Label Exhibition in SF

5 May, 2017

Like some sorta typographic-acid flashback, the last few days have brought many random flashbacks of my awesome time in San Francisco last January. I been remembering a lot of my visit to Kadam, Tânia, and Frank, and finally getting to see the Bay Area. Most of the time was spent buried in books or cocktails – both at Frank & Tânia’s library & kitchen, or many of the cities book shops and bars. Books and drinking, that was pretty much the theme of the visit.

So over the next few posts I’ll be sharing photos of misc SF finds.

First up was a great exhibition at the California Historical Society on Vintage Wine Beer & Spirit Labels. Sadly I’m posting this after the closing date (it ran December 8th 2016 – April 16th, 2017), so hopefully you caught it while it was up if you are nearby. The collection of labels was produced by the Lehmann Printing and Lithographic Company of San Francisco. The exhibition stated:

Designed during the terrible privation and unrest of the Great Depression, Lehmann’s labels graced hundreds of thousands of bottles of mass manufactured, highly alcoholic wines and liquors, invoking deliciously unrealistic fantasies of peace, plenty, and the high-class life. Marrying design with consumer ideology, the Lehmann oeuvre represents a forgotten high point of American commercial art.

Founded in 1911 by Adolph Lehmann with an initial investment of $190, the firm expanded into a major industrial printing operation valued at $600,000 by 1935. A dazzled correspondent for the Inland Printer dubbed Lehmann “the printer who hasn’t heard about the depression.” The company employed one hundred people, including a permanent staff of anonymous artists who designed each custom label with skillful care. To meet an ever-increasing demand for labels, Lehmann also pioneered a stock label service in the mid-1930s, creating catalogs of generic labels with stock vignettes that could be applied to a wide variety of products.

From a typographic standpoint I of course enjoyed many of the labels on display. There were numerous great examples, only a few of which are shown here. My only complaint would be that the lighting made photography extremely difficult. The exhibition was very both well organized and beautiful with its differently colored thematic rooms and archival photos, stories, and other ephemera along side the labels to put things in context and explain the lithographic process and business side of things in more detail.




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