In 1959, something bizarre and completely unprecedented happened in the Atlantic ocean.
I know what you’re thinking: Godzilla sighting…
Well maybe… but I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t there.
But one thing I DO know is that Guinness dropped 150,000 messages in bottles into the Atlantic ocean to commemorate their 200th birthday! Yes, you read that right: 150,000 messages in bottles. I have never heard of a larger bottle drop than this.
Unfortunately, no one has been able to produce images from the boats that dropped these messages into the ocean. But if you, dear readers, know anyone who may have been working for Guinness in 1959, I hope you’ll drop me a line so I can ask them about this! For now, this will have to do:
What’s most interesting to me about this bottle drop is that it wasn’t done just for fun–this was an advertising campaign for Guinness Foreign Extra Stout! Interestingly enough, Guinness also included advertisements in the bottles for Ovaltine. Even crazier: they’d done this before. In 1954, Guinness sent around 50,000 messages in bottles for the same purpose. I’m still hoping to find one of these.
Just think about that for a minute: 1954 and 1959. These advertising campaigns have been going on for 57 and 52 years. The Beatles did not yet exist when this began!
As I’ve mentioned, my parents found a Guinness message in a bottle about a year before I did. Here’s the bottle they found, with the scrolls they pulled out:
After baking for 47 years in the Caribbean sun, those scrolls are very, very fragile.
In this next image, check out that dark chunk-of-something on the scroll leaning against the bottle. This is part of the cap that was still on this bottle when my dad found it.
These 1959 bottles contained several messages—some apparently depended on which ship they were tossed from. But all these bottles appear to have had 4 messages in common. Probably the most fascinating is this scroll from King Neptune of the sea granting Guinness permission to send these messages and encouraging the hobby of “Labology” which Neptune defines here as the collecting of labels:
Then there is the scroll containing instructions for turning the bottle into a lamp, along with the “Collector’s Specimen” of the Guinness Foreign Extra Stout label:
Also impressive is the booklet scroll, which discusses Guinness’s history and the process of making it. If you have time, it is really worth reading—you simply can’t beat lines like these:
“Why do doctors recommend Guinness? This question can best be answered by some of the Doctors themselves, and the following are extracted from some thousands of letters, received from Doctors and from which we are permitted to quote:
‘There is no tonic equal to Guinness’ –M.R.C.S
‘I can strongly recommend Guinness for its restorative and strengthening properties’ –F.R.C.S.
‘In simple insomnia and nervous strain, Guinness accomplishes marvels’ –M.D
Here’s the whole thing, starting with the front and back covers:
And finally, the fantastic Ovaltine advertisement!
So allll of that stuff is in each bottle!
One of the many amazing things about these Guinness bottles is that they are still being found over 50 years later. An incredible story appears on the Guinness Collectors Club Bottle Drop page, which recounts one man’s adventure finding 10 of these Guinness bottles in nearly pristine shape in the High Arctic, sealed like the day they were made. You really should check out the story here, especially the images at the bottom of the page.
This Columbus Day weekend, I will celebrate Guinness’s 252nd birthday by having myself a bottle or two of their stout, while I dream about things floating in the ocean.
By the way—Columbus, intrepid crosser of the Atlantic that he was (like these bottles), visited the very islands where my parents and I found our bottles, almost 520 years ago. There is an old story which says that during a terrible storm on one of his trans-Atlantic voyages, Columbus grew afraid that his ships would be destroyed. So that the story of his journey would survive, he stuffed journal pages and notes into a bottle and tossed it overboard. 519 years later, the message has never been found. But who knows? If, like Guinness, he used an extra stout bottle, well, anything is possible.
Guinness for Strength!