Sheridan, Rienzi, and late 19th century marketing

Posted on March 4, 2017 by

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It’s not often that I can blend a little of the history of the Shenandoah Valley with the Cumberland Valley, but…

Among the different types of beer bottled and sold by one of my great-great grand uncles (among other beer and soda bottling ventures, James Draden Moore became a distributor for Rochester Brewing Co.), in the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania, in the 1890s, there was one that caught my attention when doing a little research a few months ago… Rienzi.

Of course, anyone who knows the Civil War, knows the history of Union Gen. Phil Sheridan’s horse, Rienzi. Sheridan’s famous ride to rally his forces at Cedar Creek got a good deal of publicity. Here are just a few of the images that stirred the imagination in the aftermath…

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So, why couldn’t a beer company tap (I know, funny, right?) into the hype? In fact, the Bartholomay Brewing Company may have done just that around 1889… though the “Rienzi” brand appears to have originated within the Rochester Brewing Company… Rochester Brewing temporarily merged with Rochester and served as a branch of Bartholomay from 1889-1902. Still, it’s the artifacts from Bartholomay Brewing Company’s Rienzi brand that show how the idea of Sheridan’s Rienzi may have morphed into a different form, blended together… it seems… with the romantic legend of Cola di Rienzi, from the 1300s. Consider these images, for example:

Doesn’t the gallant fellow on horse, hoisting the beer “on high”, look a little like “Little Phil” hoisting the guidon high, as he rallies his troops? Were, perhaps, the brewers of Rienzi looking the spirit of Sheridan’s Ride with Cola di Rienzi’s legacy of nationalism?

Hmm… might be a topic to examine further.

Nonetheless, I haven’t found anything that suggests the marketing folks at Bartholomay Brewing got their ideas from Thure de Thulstrup’s Sheridan’s Ride (the second image at the top of this page, showing Sheridan riding onto the battlefield), but I sure think there are some similarities… with some modifications, of course. Consider this side-by-side look…

Whether there was suggestive rhetoric of a new… or renewed… American nationalism behind the advertising or not, I wonder what the reception was among Civil War veterans. Or, perhaps few paid attention to the rhetoric, and were just looking for a good bottle of suds for colleagues, after a long, hard day’s work in the summer sun, on some roofing job somewhere. 🙂

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