Pulp Culture’s collection of beer mats are “a graphic designer and type nerd’s dream”
Chris Bolton’s hoard from the 1960s and ’70s is a treasure trove of beautifully conceived illustration and design from a bygone era.
- Charlie Filmer-Court
- 17 January 2020
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Judging by Chris Bolton’s collection of beer mats from the 1960s and ’70s, it’s safe to say that the design virtues of these table-saving bits of pulp has fallen by the wayside over the years. Rather than an illustration accompanied by a well thought-out message, you are now more likely to be met with a garish green Carlsberg logo or an advert for a “revolutionary” app that has already gone out of business.
“I think beer mats are less common now and the ones you do see or find don’t have the same charm or wit that the vintage ones do,” says Chris. “They tend to be more straightforward: branded with a logo or a product shot. In the ’60s the beer mat was an effective advertising format that doesn’t really fit into today’s digital marketing landscape.”
Pulp Culture is the Instagram account that showcases Chris’s collection of beer mats, resulting in something that you can scroll through to your heart’s content. Having been sourced from all over the world, you can really get a sense of the importance placed on advertising through this medium. It isn’t just alcohol either – there are airlines such as Pan Am, army recruitment drives, and even holiday resorts that took advantage of this method of grabbing people’s attention.
Chris, who has a background in branding, worked in London design studios before deciding to move to Somerset and begin working as a freelancer. With an eye for design and a collection like this, you could be forgiven for assuming that this was the result of years of collecting. However, it turns out that Chris came across this unique hoard entirely by chance.
“Sadly, a couple years back my wife’s grandad, Eric, passed away and after the funeral we went back to his house. My wife had always told me it was like a time capsule of the 50s and 60s with mid-century furniture, furry wallpaper and lots of dark greens and browns. We got there and most of it had already been cleared, all the mid-century furniture had been taken to the dump by Eric’s sons, unaware of how sought-after it is these days,” says Chris.
“So we had a quick tour of the house, and in the loft discovered some old wooden crates and large boxes stacked up. My wife’s uncle explained they were just full of old beer mats and due to be taken to the dump. Looking inside, I discovered the crates and boxes were full to the brim with neatly organised beer mats, all in great condition and labelled by brand or country, a graphic designer and type nerd’s dream. I offered to take them and was now the owner of 1,000+ beer mats.”
Chris created the Instagram account to showcase the collection, sharing them so people could use them as “reference and inspiration”. To compile such a well-catalogued and broad range of beer mats, Chris realised that his father-in-law had written to breweries and collectors all over the world, joining clubs of people with a similar interest in this unique canvas for creativity.
As a designer, there are certain aspects and components of work from this era that Chris particularly enjoys. “I love the typography and illustration. The collection is a real mixed bag of styles from very modern and minimal through to very traditional and twee,” he says. “Although,” he adds, “some haven’t aged well, with questionable advertising tactics that wouldn’t be seen as politically correct now.”
Surprisingly, Chris does not have a specific design that he prefers, instead he looks more at the collection as a whole and for the sentimental value it brings: “I don’t have particular favourites, I like that the collection is a small snapshot of a bygone era and a small insight into my families past.”
Understanding the interest that many people in the design community would have in Pulp Culture, he is beginning to think about how he can develop the project without changing the collection. “I like the idea of a book that features people’s various odd ephemera collections and the story behind why/how/what etc. I think it would be great for design inspiration as well as intrigue. I’d love to hear from anyone who has such collections,” he says. “I have many more mats to share but I don’t plan to source any more from elsewhere. I like that it has a personal connection and was found and saved before it ended up in the dump, lost forever.”
GalleryChris Bolton: Pulp Culture
Chris Bolton: Pulp Culture
About the Author
Charlie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in December 2019. He has previously worked at Monocle 24, and The Times following an MA in International Journalism at City University. If you have any ideas for stories and work to be featured then get in touch.