St. Stephen porter beer - The good catch!
Pre-war 1 Sheet (cca. 63 x 95 cm)
Fine, restored, backed on Japanese paper.
This year, in August of 2015, Hungarian beer fans were greatly surprised by good news: the St. Stephen porter beer became available again after 100 years. The bishop of Székesfehérvár announced ceremonially after the Votal Holy Mass that the one-time Hungarian beer speciality is produced again. The bishopric reconstructed the traditional recipe and employs modern methods for the production. While one can taste the flavours of the past by trying the old-new beverage, this original vintage commercial poster evokes the historical atmosphere of the elder days by its visuality. András Biczó’s graphics advertised the St Stephen porter beer in 1927.
Although the porter dark beer type was originated from London, it soon appeared in other countries. The St. Stephen porter beer was also a classic favourite in Hungary for a long while with its malty, bittersweet flavour. The product was one of the most popular ones of the Kőbányai Polgári Sörfőzde (Civilian Brewery of Kőbánya). The brewery was founded by Vilmos Freud Tószeghy (1847-1910), and the factory was operating from 1894. Several other fine beers were produced from the beginning, such as the St. Stephen Double Malt, the Friend, the King, etc. They soon became favourites of consumers; in addition, they were awarded with the honorary diploma of the Millennium Exhibition in 1896 by Franz Joseph Austrian-Hungarian emperor. The company started to export its products which led to international recognition: the beers won the Golden Medal of the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900. A stock limited company was established by a union with another factory in 1922, but this giant company was first nationalised and then split up after the World War II.
The creator of this poster, András Biczó was a popular poster artist of the time with his typically playful and humorous works. His joyous and colourful compositions were designed in a realist style which resulted in charming, light-hearted posters. He illustrated numerous books, designed covers and created several posters between the 1920s and the 1940s. He often created folksy designs with a historical character and he liked following the taste of the given period.
This work is also typical of him. It precisely depicts the St. Stephen porter beer in its original look, the dark brown bottle with a specific graphical packaging design. The bottle is held by a strong male hand, and the whole composition appears in front of a bright yellow background. At the top the slogan reads: ‘The good catch!’, while the name of the product is written at the bottom of the poster in a red and brown typographic design.
The appearance of the original packaging is really interesting. The colourful graphics of the bottle-label shows an old paper reel in the centre with the following script: ‘St Stephen Porter Beer – Enjoyment and medical beer speciality – Produced by the Civilian Brewery of Kőbánya. Original manufactured filling’. It was designed in a Gothic typography with decorated initial letters. There was a male figure on the left side and a female figure on the right side of bottle-labels, but the latter figure hardly appears here. Both figures are wearing traditional folksy costumes, the clothing of the male figure can remind of the ‘huszár’ (hussar, a specific Hungarian combat arm soldier) military attire. He is holding a huge, old-style, metal beer stein with cover. Under the old paper reel a hilly landscape can be seen with a castle. At the bottom of the label, the trademark of the product is placed in the middle: it is pictured as the red wax stamp of the old paper reel with the image of St. Stephen.
The name of St. Stephen can sound familiar for several people. However, while internationally it is mostly used for the first martyr of Christianity, in Hungary Saint Stephen was the name of the first Hungarian king. He was crowned in 1000 or 1001 and ruled until his death in 1038. He spread Christianity in the country and also protected the independence of his kingdom from the invading troops of the Holy Roman Emperor. After his death he was buried in the new basilica which he had built in the city of Székesfehérvár and had dedicated to the Holy Virgin. He was canonized in 1083. His right hand, “The Holy Right” is housed in the St. Stephen Basilica in Budapest. His feast day is celebrated on 20 August in Hungary, which is also a public holiday commemorating the foundation of the state.
St. Stephen has been one of the most popular saints in Hungary. Hence initiating a St. Stephen trademark for several beer products was a clever idea of the Civilian Brewery of Kőbánya. The product line had a unique design as it is visible on this poster, too. The bottle-label was connected to the trademark appearing again, above at the bottleneck with thin strips containing the script ‘Rich in malt content, refreshes, heals.’ in the same Gothic-style typography as the label used.
As the packaging design of the advertised product was quite complex, no surprise Biczó didn’t use many other elements on the poster. Nevertheless, in contrast with the simple composition, the drawing of the male hand and the bottle is decoratively detailed. The contour lines, the shades and the transitions of colours and shapes are beautifully highlighted. This attractively lined, figurative portrayal, dominant on the male hand image, can evoke the Art Nouveau style. It was the leading international decorative style from around 1890 until the World War I. The biggest name in Art Nouveau poster design was of Alphonse Mucha, the outstanding Czech artist who was also the master of the most famous Hungarian representative of the style, Géza Faragó. As internationally Art Nouveau posters were precious artworks of the Belle Époque, the style had a predominant influence in Hungary as well.
However, the whole design recalls another style as well. The homogenous background enhances the flat-like nature of the poster, while the angle in which the bottle is captured puts an emphasis on the perspective. These features, together with the focus on the advertised product prove the adaption to the tendency of the “Sachplakat”. The style’s greatest advocate was Lucien Bernhardt who made a revolution in German poster art in 1905 with the striking simplicity of his commercial posters. These “object posters” contained a realistic depiction of the product and a clean, bold typography. In Hungary Márton Tuszkay was the first one to introduce the new approach in advertising in the 1910s.
This Biczó-poster is also a good “object poster”. The concentration on the product is given here by several aspects. First, the colour of the background is in a strong contrast with the colour of the product, which is a highlighting visual effect. In addition, the only one other element (the male hand) doesn’t distract the viewer, but it helps creating a humorous atmosphere. Because of this keynote, this work can be paralleled with a poster of Sándor Bortnyik from 1915, created for Unicum, a herbal spirit. There, in front of a black background an invisible waiter pours Unicum from the bottle to a glass with his white-gloved hands. Both designs are based on the bold cut-out, the hand-motif separated from the human body which gives a grotesque modality for them. However, the atmosphere is different on the two posters. Unicum was a fancy liqueur of the upper social classes, so the Bortnyik-poster represented high-born elegance – the white-gloved hands of a waiter served spirit to a lord. In case of this St. Stephen beer-poster we can see a plain, muscular male hand holding a glass of beer at its neck – the design reflected the fact that the product was available for ordinary people, as beer was the traditional beverage of the lower social classes. The rhetoric of the slogan (‘The good catch!’) also enhances the representation of a simple-minded mentality.
Of course, it contributed to the jocular character of the poster, too, as in Hungarian ‘good catch’ also means ‘good deal’.
It is interesting that Biczó created several other designs in the 1930s for the beer with a similarly humorous character. But then they depicted the beer in front of a background with a Gothic church tower and the slogan was: ‘St. Stephen Porter Beer in the Sky High’. All these works can show Biczó’s ability to engage the audience with the playfulness of the design, and the folksy atmosphere which was represented by the advertised product itself.
The St. Stephen porter beer used to be a popular beverage in Hungary. The newly again produced handcraft beer speciality can be an old-new favourite as the tradition has been revived by the Székesfehérvár bishopric. This commercial poster from 1927 is a historical relic and a fine piece of art as well. It has brought several exciting aspects of Hungarian history up; moreover it revealed the complexity of how an artwork can be connected to international and local, previous and contemporary cultural tendencies.