Frequently Asked Questions
(© Copyright Thor Kampfer 2004-2013)
Types of Labels
- How can you tell if a label is from the pre-Prohibition or Prohibition era?
- What is a U-Permit label?
- What does IRTP stand for?
- What is a "soaker"?
- What is a diecut label?
- What is a foil label?
- What is a neck label?
Grading Labels / Determining Values
- How are beer labels graded?
- Are there beer label reference books?
- Are used beer labels worth anything?
- Are there fake labels?
- Why do two similar beer labels vary so much in value?
- What beer labels are most valuable?
Building Your Collection
- Where do all these vintage labels come from?
- Where can I acquire vintage beer labels?
- Are there clubs or shows I can attend?
Display / Removal / Restoration
- How can I display my beer labels?
- How can my labels be removed from a mounted surface?
- Can my stained / damaged beer label be restored?
- Can I frame my beer labels?
Have a Beer Label Question That's Not Answered Here?
Pre-Prohibition: Beer labels produced before the onset of National Prohibition (1920) usually exhibit elaborate designs and text common to the flourishing intricate lithography work being produced during the turn of the century. Patriotic themes such as bald eagles and American flags were often present. Pre-prohibition labels may list no contents and refer to "brewery bottling" or list a seperate bottler. Very early labels were hand-applied and may be diecut (often oval), as a generic rectangular shape was not yet standardized for automated labeling machines.
Prohibition: Labels used on "near beer" products during National Prohibition (1920-1933) were restricted from using words refering directly to beer, ale, etc.. Instead brewers referred to their products by names such as brew, beverage, dark, and so fourth. Alcohol contents of "Less than 1/2 of 1%" were listed throughout Prohibition, with a Federal L-Permit present during the later part of Prohibition. Many breweries were also forced to change their names to Beverage Co., Products Co., etc..
U-Permit: The end of National Prohibition (Repeal of the 18th Ammendment) brought about an increased taxation of alcoholic beverages by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). A Federally mandated Internal Revenue Tax Permit (U-Permit) was required for each individual brewery. This "U-Permit" was required on all beer containers produced by any brewery from April 7th, 1933 to early 1936. Immediately following Repeal a few labels escaped this mandate, but not for very long.
IRTP: Internal Revenue Tax Paid was a statement required by the IRS on all beer containers produced between April 7th, 1933 and March 1st, 1950. This statement was included with the U-Permit of 1933-1936. IRTP statements took many forms, with the Withdrawn Free From Internal Revenue Tax for Exportation statement signifying containers exempt from taxation that were produced for government consumption, mainly by U.S troops during World War II.
Beer labels removed from bottles (or other surfaces) are often termed "soakers". Although still collectible they are less desirable than unused labels.
Some beer labels were cut by printers/lithographers using dies in various shapes, other than square or rectangular. Diecut labels were popular before 1900, and again after 1950. Varying methods of applying labels mainly dictated the rise and fall of diecut label popularity.
During the 1950's through 1960's (and still today) an alternative type of label was produced. It was a two-part label, consisting of a thin printed foil face layer fused to a paper backing. Foil labels postdate World War II due to obvious wartime raw material restrictions. As collectibles these labels tend to be very condition sensitive.
Not all beer bottles contained one label. The main (or base) label was often accompanied by a smaller "neck" label affixed to the elongated neck (throat) of the bottle. Although much smaller, when paired with the matching base label the value of the label set is greater than each label individually.
At this time there is no standardized grading system for beer labels. Labels are classified as used or unused and general flaws are noted. Some collectors use a grading system similar to those used by stamp and/or general label collectors.
Due to the magnitude and sheer number of varied beer labels produced, one definitive reference book seems unrealistic. Numerous collectors continue to compile label databases from their respective areas of interest. Regional label reference guides have also been compiled.
Unused beer labels are most desirable. Used labels retain a fraction of the value of pristine labels. The value of a used label is directly related to the condition and scarcity of any given label.
Unfortunately there are fascimile labels in circulation, and more are likely to be produced as labels increase in scarcity and value. Some early beer labologists produced label copies in abundant quantities. These labels can be difficult for the novice collector to identify. With digital imaging and similar advancing technologies, counterfeit labels may pose a threat to future collectors. KNOW WHERE YOUR LABELS ORIGINATED!!
As with any collectible, scarcity and condition are major factors influencing value. Slight differences in condition can quickly drive similar label values apart. Minor brand variations, differences in contents and short-run labels, in addition to scarcity and geographical demand, will also affect the value of similar labels.
There are too many factors and varying opinions to determine which category of beer labels can be considered most valuable. For the most part, ornate labels produced before the 1900's are quite scarce. Some of the largest variety of graphic labels were produced from 1933-1936, while Bock, Holiday and other seasonal labels are also very desirable. Remembering labels are condition-sensitive, and demand varies geographically, one definitive type of beer label cannot be considered "most valuable".
Breweries ordered labels in large quantities, many larger breweries by the millions. Collectors over the years have managed to obtain stocks from closed bottling departments, brewery archives, printer / lithographer samples, as well as from numerous collectors that wrote breweries requesting samples to build their collections. Just remember... labels don't take up much room, so there are plenty left out there undiscovered!!
Good places to find labels for your collection include: ephemera related auctions / shows, breweriana shows, other beer label collectors, internet auctions / sites, general label collectors, and so on. The more you search them out the more you will find !!
Although currently there are no vintage-beer-label-specific clubs or shows in the U.S., you can join breweriana clubs and / or attend beer advertising shows. Try the USBL LINKS page for some suggestions.
When choosing a display option for your beer labels, be sure the labels will be kept flat in in a neutral environment. Avoid excess humidity, extreme temperatures, pollutants, pests and sunlight. Whether placing your labels in albums, frames or temporarily on bottles, DO NOT PERMANENTLY AFFIX THEM ! Removable labels = more valuable labels, and they will be easier to handle in the future. Stamp hinges are a great way to mount your labels without permanently affixing them. I like to think of beer labels as big stamps and make use of established stamp collecting display methods. Most stamp and postcard supplies will provide economical and archival storage / display. I prefer to protect and display each label individually in toploader plastic sleeves that are most commonly used for storing sports cards and postcards. I find the 4 x 6 size to be the most useful to fit various size labels. Be sure to use the corresponding size Ultra Pro soft sleeve inserts to prevent the labels from scratching and make them easier to remove.
Removal of most labels is not for the novice. The type of adhesive must be indentified, the composition of the mounted surface should be considered, and the age, condition & color of the labels will also dictate the removal options. When in doubt, leave the label(s) mounted. A mounted label is more valuable than one that has been damaged by poor removal.
There are techniques used by ephemera conservationists that may be applied to beer labels. Most methods are tedious and should only be attempted by qualified individuals for the restoration of scarcer labels.
Framing beer labels can be expensive. The frame should consist of a UV-inhibitive glass and / or be sure to keep the labels out of direct sunlight. All materials enclosed within the frame should be of acid-free or archival quality. Securing the labels on all four corners with an approved method will also keep your labels from curling or shifting.