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Beer Mug Collector Drinks in the History

The stories behind collections can be the most interesting part! Martin Kiely of Montreal collects drinking vessels of all sorts and then looks into their history and writes about it! You will find one of his stories in the October/November issue mailing out soon.
For beer stein enthusiasts, visit Stein Collectors International for more!

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Sardinia Air Weapons Unit Souvenir Mug

Sardinia Air Weapons Unit Souvenir Mug

The earliest people known to have lived on the island of Sardinia were the Sari (3,000 BC), hence the island’s name. The only traces of their civilization are circular stone structures (Nuraghi) made of basalt rock, culled from extinct volcanoes found on the island. It’s interesting that the nuraghi were built by overlapping stones-no mortar or similar substance was used-and some survive to this day. Official sources state there are 3,000 of them of various sizes on the island. Other estimates are double that. The largest examples, approximately 70 feet high, were used as fortresses and observation posts. To compensate for the entranceway, the stairs inside were narrow and difficult to navigate, making intruders easy targets for the Sardis standing on the upper levels. Nuraghi were placed within sight of each other, allowing for an effective early warning system of enemy attack.

Similar stone structures are found on nearby isles of Balearic and in Scotland.

Fast-forward to World War II, when Sardinia was an important airplane and naval base for fascist Italy. In 1940, approximately 200,000 soldiers were stationed there. Airfields in Sardinia were used to launch air strikes in the Mediterranean. American fighter planes in 1943 destroyed two convoys and damaged much of the airfields. Further allied attacks immobilized the German Air Squadrons, causing major damage to Italy’s naval base in Sardinia.

Moving ahead a few more years, NATO Command realizes Sardinia would make an ideal weapons training ground for their air force. In 1957 Canada, Germany and Italy plan to train their pilots for NATO exercises at Decimomannu, Sardinia. The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) decided to send their pilots there for Air Weapons Training.

The RCAF pilots went to Decimomannu for live firing practices over the Mediterranean. Someone decided the boys might be interested in a souvenir of their time at Deci. A local potter helped design a beer mug. The body of the 650 ml mug is in the shape of a nuraghe. There is an inscription: “Air Weapons Unit Decimomannu Sardinia.” Halfway up the mug we find the entrance to the nuraghe. The handle is in the shape of an Italian wall lizard common to Sardinia.

I purchased the mug at an antique shop in Ottawa.

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Burma RCAF Souvenir Beer Mug

Burma RCAF Souvenir Beer Mug

Burma is a country located east of India, which had long been ruled by kings. In the 19th century, Britain conquered Burma by force, turning the nation into a province of British India. Burma regained some control of her affairs in 1937 when India broke away from Britain, but not enough to satisfy the nationalists who, during World War II, welcomed the Japanese invasion, hoping it would further their cause of independence.

Late in 1943, an Allied drive was launched to retake Burma from the Japanese. In 1944, Canada sent two air force squadrons, the 435 CHINTHE (a mythological god that guards the temples in India) and the 436 Elephant to fly twin-engined Dakotas, a medium range transport plane, in the Far Eastern theatre of operations. The squadrons lived mainly in tents and contended with terrible weather, difficult terrain and the constant threat of malaria from mosquito bites; they also often flew under enemy fire. Basically, their mission was to transport supplies to the bases of the Fourteenth Army, air-drop paratroopers and provisions in the desired locations and fly out casualties.

Flight Lieutenant Nicholas George Jarjour of 435 squadron was injured and sent to recuperate in India. His commander asked him to investigate obtaining a souvenir mug for the two squadrons. Jack Hamilton of Canada House in India suggested he contact Eastern Amenities in Calcutta who dealt in decorative brass wares. They supplied him with about 500 mugs, which were sold to squadron members for around ten rupees each, which back then would be roughly $3. The mugs were sold blank, but most members had them engraved. The one I found at an antique show has “435 Squadron-Canucks Unlimited 1944-45” marked on it, while F.L. Jarjour has “435 Squadron NICK JARJOUR, LIMPY,” his nickname due to his injury.

The mug is ½ L capacity, brass with a glass bottom, probably hand worked. One side has an outline of the Taj Mahal, arguable the most beautiful building in India.

The other side of the mug has an etched map of the area showing Burma, India, Afghanistan etc.

Considering that the conquest of Burma was accomplished by a consortium of forces from various countries, it’s only fitting to end with a poem written by an American who trained as a pilot in Canada and received his wings at Uplands, Ont., called John Gillespie Magee Jr. He joined the R.C.A.F. and flew with the 412 squadron during World War II. His poem has been adopted as the unofficial anthem of the Royal Canadians Air Force.

High Flight

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth.
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
Where never lark, or even eagle flew’
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Pilot Officer Magee died at the age of 19 in a mid-air training collision over Lincolnshire, England in 1941. The poem, a copy of which had been sent to his mother, was found in his pocket.

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Sharing Irish Mead Wine

Sharing Irish Mead Wine

Mead was the drink that first introduced man to the pleasure and pain of alcohol. Viking warriors celebrated their victories by drinking mead from cups fashioned out of their enemies skulls. A true and brave warrior would be met at Valhalla (the Viking version of heaven) by a beautiful maiden proffering a full cup of mead.

The Irish claim monks discovered mead in ancient times. Legend has it that a honeycomb dripped honey into a puddle of water in the forest. Windblown spores of wild yeast fermented the liquid turning it into mead wine.

The first time I encountered mead was on my honeymoon when Yvonne and I attended a medieval style banquet at Bunratty Castle, county Claire, Ireland. Unknown to us at the time, the drink was appropriate to our new status. The term honeymoon comes from the Irish tradition of supplying newlyweds with enough honey wine to last the first month (one full moon) of their marriage to increase fertility. At the end of a traditional Irish wedding, the guests toast the newlyweds with these words:

On this your special day our wish to you,
The goodness of the old, the best of the new,
God bless you both who drink this mead
May it always fill your every need.

Today, everything seems to be triple wrapped to protect us from germs. Our ancestors weren’t so particular. Drinking from a communal cup to express friendship was quite a common practice in olden times. This is an 825 ml Irish pottery mead cup called a mether (mather), a four-sided, four-handled drinking vessel designed to be shared among four friends. The shape allows each person to claim a corner from which to sip. It is decorated with incised bands in a traditional Irish crisscross pattern.

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Hungarian Beer Mug

Hungarian Beer Mug

Plum jam in Hungary in the 1920s was sold in a one-liter earthenware mug. Once emptied, it served as a sturdy, thick mug ideal for keeping beer cool on a hot day.

The term jam is a bit of misnomer. The plums are cooked for a week till the peel totally disappears. The end product is quite hard and can only be cut with a knife. It cannot be spread like jam. Hungarians use the plumb jam to garnish potatoes etc. The earthenware vessel kept the jam mold-free for many months without refrigeration. The top of the mug was sealed with a wax paper. The mug is glazed on the inside where it is in contact with the jam. The outside is unglazed. Prune marmalade was also sold in these mugs.

The front of the mug is stamped Szilvaiz (plumb jam) Cukrozott (sugared) Kecskemet (the name of a town) Konzervgar (preserving factory). Kecskement, population 67,000, is located in the southern great plain of central Hungary, between the Danube and Tisza rivers, an area well known for the quality of its agriculture. Apricots grown there are considered the best, bar none. Some are used to make the world-famous “whistling” apricot brandy.

There is also the coat of arms of Kecskemet found on the mug. The town name in Magyar means, “where goats are grazing.” St. Nicholas, patron saint of the oldest church in Kecskement, gave every new convert a present of a goat in the 13th century. The coat of arms has gone through changes over the years. In 1946, the crown of St. Nicholas was removed and in 1949 the communists banned it outright. Currently the goat rampant under the crown of St. Nicholas is the proud symbol of Kecskemet.

Each village in Hungary uses a colour code to distinguish their handicrafts, linen and pottery. Kecskement’s mark is a band of thin white lines.

Today, it is increasingly difficult for collectors to find quality antiques at reasonable prices. At least one Montreal antique dealer travels twice yearly to Hungary to purchase furniture and pottery, which is sold here at very competitive prices. Some pottery mugs from Hungary can be classified as folk art.