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1889 Cap Anson and Buck Ewing "Burke Ale" Beer Poster

1889 color stone lithograph for E & J Burke (Guinness Brewing Co.)

Offered here is the finest known example of the preeminent baseball advertising poster of the nineteenth century: the "Anson-Ewing Beer Poster." In fact, this iconic poster is universally recognized as one the great masterpieces of all American advertising posters. The glorious multicolor stone lithograph poster was issued in 1889 in promotion of Guinness Brewery's "Finest Pale Ale" and "Extra Foreign Stout, " both of which were sold under the company's "E. & J. Burke" label.

In addition to its obvious extraordinary quality and display value, as intended, the content of the poster gives it even greater dimension of historical significance. During this period the consumption of beer and ale was quickly becoming America's second favorite pastime next to baseball. In fact, the American Association, a rival Major League that was later referred to as "the beer and whiskey league," was formed in 1881 in direct response to the banning of beer and Sunday games by the National League. Guinness sought to promote that burgeoning relationship by seeking the endorsement of the two greatest ball players of the era, Cap Anson of the Chicago White Stockings and Buck Ewing of the New York Giants, for its Finest Pale Ale and Extra Foreign Stout. This was a project that spared no expense, both with reference to the caliber of the players from whom they sought endorsement, or the artwork and uncompromising production values of the poster itself. The result of the collaboration between Guinness Brewery, the players, and Wagner & Co. Lithographers, one of the country's master lithographers of the era, was the production of this extraordinary advertising display.

Both Anson and Ewing are pictured in their respective uniforms as they take a break from a game to enjoy a refreshing glass of beer. Anson is seen enjoying a glass of Finest Pale Ale, while Ewing opts for a glass of Extra Foreign Stout. The timeless appeal of this piece, aside from the colorful graphics and high-quality production values, lies in the artistry of the scene as a whole. In what was then a nostalgic homage to the game's early history, Anson and Ewing are pictured relaxing outside a large retiring tent. Such tents, which were holdovers from the game of cricket, were a common site at ball games during the 1850s and early 1860s, but were no longer in vogue at the time. A large banner displayed above the tent reads "Champions," which most likely refers to the many championships won by each player's respective teams in the preceding years, to which they now toast. Pictured in the background is a game-in-progress scene (presumably between the White Stockings and Giants), with the field bordered by a filled-to-capacity grandstand. The foreground image further promotes the company's products, as Anson is sitting on a keg of Finest Pale Ale and Ewing is resting his arm on a barrel of Extra Foreign Stout. Boxes of "Burke's Old Irish Whiskey" and "Garm Kirk Scotch Whiskey" are also visible among the barrels. Perhaps the most amusing detail are the numerous empty bottles of each respective beverage that are strewn all along the ground at their feet, along with various pieces of baseball equipment (base, ball and box, and bat). Also in the foreground, lying next to a beer barrel, is letter of endorsement from the brewery that bears an "Arthur Guinness Son & Co." seal. The name of the lithography company, "Wagner & Co. Lith - 75 Murray St. N.Y.," is printed in the lower right corner of the poster.

One of the most interesting aspects of this piece, discovered during our research (and for which we gratefully thank definitive Anson biographer Howard W. Rosenberg) is a near-contemporaneous newspaper reference to the poster. From this newspaper account we learn that the scene pictured here was not borne in the mind of an artist, but was instead actually staged. In 1897, Charles Zuber of the Cincinnati Times-Star wrote an article about baseball players being paid for their appearance in advertisements that made specific mention of this piece, including the amount Guinness paid the two stars:

There is only one case of (sic) record where ball players received a large remuneration for acting as models for an advertisement. Those players were Capt. Ewing and ‘Old Man’ Anson. It was before the Brotherhood War (of 1890, the year of the rebel Players’ League), when Ewing was in the very zenith of his glory. A certain ale manufacturing concern wanted a taking ad. (sic) for its goods and decided that a base ball picture was the best thing. So when the Chicagos came to New York this firm arranged for Ewing and Anson to sit in front of a tent on which the ad of the company was emblazoned. Barrels and cases of the product were placed in close proximity and Ewing and Anson, in their uniforms and each with a glass of ale poised graceful in his hands, were in the foreground. The ad made a big hit and Ewing and Anson received $300 and a case of ale each. It was quick and easy for them.

As noted earlier, alcohol consumption was increasing greatly during this period and many fans found the ballpark to be the perfect place to wet one's whistle on a hot summer day. In fact, many team owners also owned breweries and thus were able to increase their profits through the sale of their own beer at the ballpark. A number of prominent ballplayers were known to "bend the elbow" on a regular basis as well, and some were as equally famous at the local saloon as they were on the diamond. Anson was actually the rare exception to the stereotypical "hard-drinking" ballplayer and he seldom drank alcoholic beverages, nor did he gamble or smoke cigarettes. While the money Anson received for appearing in the advertisement (as cited by Zuber in his article) was substantial (the $300 he received is approximately the equivalent of $6,000 today), Buck Ewing remembered the amount he was paid slightly differently. According to another published newspaper account regarding the poster (also located for us by baseball scholar and author Howard Rosenberg), which appeared in the March 18, 1895 edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer: Buck Ewing was at an inn in Mobile, Alabama during spring training in 1895 and he came across a copy of the poster displayed on a wall. Looking at it he commented openly "That firm gave me $500 for having that photograph taken." Whether Anson and Ewing were each paid $300 or $500, one thing is known for certain, the fact that this event is documented and commented upon at all is a testament to the great significance of the arrangement with reference to the early history of product endorsements by ballplayers. This 1889 advertising poster represents the first documented paid endorsement of a product of any kind by baseball players. It is also certainly the first advertising piece featuring players in promotion of an alcoholic beverage, which is ironic in that the use of alcohol at games in the 1880s and 1890s was such a big issue that there was concern for the future success of the game itself, as a pastime suitable for attendance by the entire family, and not just for a “rough and rowdy” crowd.

The exalted status of this advertising piece is also due in part to the great stature of both Anson and Ewing. Adrian "Cap" Anson batted over .300 in twenty-four of his twenty-seven seasons and was the first player to amass 3,000 hits. He also proved to be a fine manager, leading the Chicago White Stockings to five pennants between the years 1880 and 1886. Anson started the practice of spring training and was also the first manager to feature a platoon system. Today, Anson is looked upon as baseball's first superstar and is considered by many historians to be the greatest sports figure of the nineteenth century. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939. William "Buck" Ewing was also a player of extraordinary talent, and he is recognized by many as the best all around ballplayer of the era. A feared hitter, he was perennially among the League's top sluggers and in 1883 he became the first player to hit ten home runs in a season. He also excelled in the field and was regarded as the finest defensive catcher of his day. At the time this poster was issued, Ewing was the king of the New York sports world, having led the Giants to consecutive World Championships in 1888 and 1889. Along with Anson, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939, becoming the first catcher to enter Cooperstown's hallowed halls.

The Anson-Ewing Beer Poster lithograph is exceedingly rare. Only three examples are known to exist. One resides in the permanent collection of the Hall of Fame and one is in the permanent collection of an extremely advanced private nineteenth-century baseball collection. The example in the Hall of Fame, which originates from the legendary Barry Halper Collection (it was one of his signature pieces, and one of the key items acquired by the Hall of Fame directly from Halper prior to the historic sale of his collection at auction), is currently on tour as one of the highlights of the Hall's "Baseball As America" exhibition. The other example, discovered in 1998, is also in lesser condition and can be found pictured in its original state on the cover of the July/August 1998 edition of The Vintage & Classic Baseball Collector and in its current state in the book Smithsonian Baseball: Inside the World's Finest Private Collections by Stephen Wong. Of the three known examples, the offered piece is in by far the finest condition. It is essentially perfect. This poster grades minimally Excellent to Mint condition. All of the colors are strikingly bold, flawless, and vibrant; and the poster exhibits no tears, creases, or stains so common to similar displays of this vintage. The poster (18 x 24 inches) has been professionally cleaned for preservation purposes (no restoration) and has been handsomely mounted and framed (with special UV protection glass) to total dimensions of 26 x 32 inches.

The Anson-Ewing Beer Poster is one of the greatest and most legendary icons in both the historic baseball and classic American advertising poster collecting worlds. This is a true museum-caliber item that would be a centerpiece in even the most advanced private or museum collection. In fact, as noted, that is literally already the case with the other two known examples. This poster is one of the most extraordinary items Robert Edward Auctions has ever had the privilege of offering. We have always hoped to someday have the opportunity to present an example of this poster at auction, but had no idea it would take 37 years of waiting. It was worth the wait. This spectacular example is by far the finest in existence of the "Anson-Ewing Beer Poster," considered by many to be the single most beautiful baseball advertising poster ever created, and one of the most magnificent and important of all American advertising posters. Please Note: Due to the size and/or weight of this lot, shipping costs (depending on where it is sent and its method of shipping) may be substantial. Reserve $50,000. Estimate (open).


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