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Guinness bottle washes ashore after 6 decades

Rick Farrell found this rare brown bottle more than six decades after it was dropped by Guiness as part of a promotional campaign. – © Rick Farrell

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES — Over two months after Fiona struck the Southwest Coast, evidence of the devastation caused can still be readily seen. From homes destroyed to garbage littering the shores, Fiona left a mark in the region, but somewhere in the debris Rick Farrell found something a bit out of the ordinary. Farrell was out for a ride when he happened upon a bottle that looked out of place.

“After Fiona, I went out for a ride on my bike on the rail bed, and I stopped in a couple of spots, just seeing the destruction on the sand dunes and everything. There was so much litter and plastic that came in from the ocean, and I just stopped at the right spot because, when I looked down, there was a brown bottle just sticking out of the sand,” said Farrell. “I thought this bottle was an old Javex bottle, so I picked it up, put it on my bike and took it home. When I got home, I looked into it and it looked like three or four pieces of alders or something in the bottle, and it had a cap, little cork into it. I took it in the garage and opened it up and took out the papers that were all rolled up into this small bottle, and it was a drop bottle done up by Guinness.”

The papers inside included some facts and information on Guinness beer, a label to commemorate Guinness 1759-1959, and a ‘King of Neptune’ bottle drop certificate for the finder of the bottle.

In response to email inquiries, Guinness shared information from their archivist on the original bottle drop, which took place 63 years ago.

“The bottle drops were part of a promotional campaign to celebrate 200 years of Guinness (founded in 1759). 150,000 specially embossed bottles were thrown overboard from 38 different ships over the course of 6 weeks during the summer of 1959 and we have reports of them being washed ashore literally in all corners of the world. It is the longest public relations campaign that Guinness have ever run, as the bottles are still being found today. “In the Guinness Archive collection, we have several examples of these bottles within our bottle collection. We don’t, however, have a listing of all bottles that have been found over time. The bottles campaign was run by our overseas subsidiary company, ‘Guinness Exports Ltd.’, which operated out of Liverpool in England, and unfortunately the records of Guinness Export Ltd., including any registers relating to the bottle drop, have not survived since the company closed in the 1980s.”

An archive fact sheet was also shared that offered more detail on the campaign, and provided a bit more insight into Farrell’s bottle.

“In 1954, the Guinness Company undertook an unusual publicity stunt. The Company dropped 50,000 bottles in 11 locations in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. Each sealed bottle contained a ‘parchment’ message informing the finder that he/she had found a special GUINNESS bottle and requesting the finder to provide his/her name, address and location and date of where the bottle was found to Guinness Exports Ltd., in Liverpool, England. The first of the 50,000 bottles was located in the Azores within three months of the Atlantic bottle drop.

“Building on the success of the 1954 bottle drop, the Company decided to recreate the idea as part of the Guinness Bi-centenary commemorations in 1959. In July of that year, Guinness celebrated 200 years since the establishment of the company. To mark the occasion, 150,000 specially embossed bottles were dropped into the Atlantic Ocean from 38 different ships over a period of 6 weeks.

A King Neptune map was one of the documents inside. Below: Guiness Stout info was also inside. – © Rick Farrell

“The bottles were sealed to protect the small number of documents they contained. The most interesting of these was a colourful certificate from ‘the Office of King Neptune’. In addition there was a little booklet recounting the story of Guinness, a special gold-coloured GUINNESS® Stout label and some instructions on how to turn the bottle into a table-lamp. Sometimes the bottles contained other items such as an advertisement for Ovaltine (who helped sponsor the bottle drop) or a notice about the ship concerned.”

In terms of advertising reach, it’s hard to argue the campaign hasn’t proved successful. In the past few years, bottles have been found in California, Texas, South Africa, Wales, Canada and the Bahamas. And while it’s certainly interesting, it unfortunately does not mean a windfall for Farrell.

“The bottles do not have a large financial value, but they do create interest as collector’s items (especially if unopened),” stated the company.

Farrell said he also contacted Guinness himself after finding the bottle and reading the contents, and he was told, had he not opened the bottle, it would be worth approximately $450 US, but it’s now only worth $60 US since it has been opened.

The experience overall was a positive one for Farrell and he is happy to have the chance to share the find with the community.

“It’s amazing what can be found in our oceans, what can wash up on shore,” said Farrell. “It’s something different, unique, and very interesting to tell the public and let them know about. Things like this are out there, and I was lucky enough to find it. I thought it was quite interesting.”

This is not the first interesting find in the wake of Hurricane Fiona. A note tossed from a ferry was found, as well as its author, after 39 years by Patricia and Brent Cousins (Note in a Bottle, Oct. 17, 2022 edition). Meanwhile up on Grand Bay West beach a former residence dating back to the mid-1800s was also unearthed from beneath years of mud and sand (A glimpse into the past, Oct. 17, 2022 edition).

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