King Snedley's Beer: 1970
This month let's look at a popular can from the 1970s, a King Snedley's from Lucky Brewing in California. I've covered Lucky Brewing before, as my January 2005 COM. King Snedley's was a last minute attempt to grab some more market share before the brewery closed.
Lucky Brewing had been one of the best selling brands in California and the West from the 1930s into the 1950s. They had breweries in San Francisco, Azusa, Vancouver (Washington) and Salt Lake City. But by the end of the 1960s they were losing a lot of market share to the big nationals such as Anheuser-Busch and Pabst that had opened breweries out west.
By 1970 Lucky was in real trouble and was losing money. Customer surveys showed that younger beer drinkers considered Lucky to be a poor tasting beer, even though it won in blind taste tests with college students. A lot of breweries would just have repackaged their old beer under a new label. Maier in Los Angeles was famous for doing that. One of the early big beer can collections began with a Maier employee who started collecting one can each of each brand that the same beer was sold in.
Instead, Lucky tried to recapture younger beer drinkers by creating a new brand called "King Snedley's Beer." (While there are differing accounts over whether Kind Snedley's was really a new beer or just Lucky Lager repackaged, it did do well in taste tests. ) The new beer was marketed with tongue-in-cheek humor, telling the story of a royal family in Hopland totally dedicated to brewing good beer. They created a cast of characters including the royal family, picture don the can.
There was King Snedley himself. His Queen was Queen Luclee. Then there was "Weakling Prince Stan" and Princess Fatoona. There is a definite resemblance here to the original Sir Lady Frothingslosh and the Old Frothingslosh spoofs created by Pittsburgh DJ Rege Cordic in the 1950s. His humorous ads for a fictional beer led to Pittsburgh Brewing issuing Old Frothingslosh in bottles and cans starting in the 1950s. King Snedley also created a fictional place with fictional characters, only they were advertising a real beer from the start. In both examples, however, the brewery used an entire back story for the brand, going beyond just creating a character or mascot. They created an entire family, featured on the can label, as seen on the close-ups below. Print ads included additional members of the court. They all lived in "Hopland," a kingdom covered in hops. The King spent ten years working on perfecting his new beer. The Queen spent that decade "patiently waiting in the Royal Hussar's Barracks." The Prince danced in the Royal Ballet Company and the Princess crushes the hops.
The brewery put out a wave of advertising, including TV and radio ads. The beer was issued in both 12oz and 16 oz cans. Unfortunately, after some initial success, the brand flopped. The cans quickly became popular "must-haves" among the small beer-can collecting community, along with the original Olde Frothingslosh. In his book Beer Can Collecting (1976) Lew Cady noted "As time passed, King Snedley cans became rarer and rarer. They had almost reached the same I'd-give-half-my-collection-and-throw-in-my-car-for-one status that Olde Frothingslosh had when, in 1975, King Snedley reappeared on the scene. Things like this just don't happen with rare coins and stamps." (78) So, like Olde Frothingslosh, a rare desirable can suddenly became less rare when the brewery reissued the can.
In 1971 reclusive millionaire beer baron Paul Kalmanovitz (who also owned Falstaff) bought Lucky and closed the Azusa brewery. The company name was changed back to General. It was the same company, but they switched the name between General and Lucky several times. The chart below shows the name changes. Regardless of the name, the company's flagship brand remained Lucky.
General Brewing Corp. San Francisco, CA 1934 - 1948
Lucky Lager Brewing Co. San Francisco, CA 1948 - 1963
General Brewing Corp. San Francisco, CA 1963 - 1969
Lucky Breweries, Inc. San Francisco, CA 1969 - 1972
General Brewing Co. San Francisco, CA 1972 - 1975
General Brewing Co. (Falstaff) San Francisco, CA 1975 - 1978
In 1975 King Snedley's was re-released in a crimped steel can to take advantage of the beer can collecting boom. So now they're pretty common. The version at left is the one from General Brewing. Once again King Snedley did not last long, but now there were so many can collectors that the can is fairly common.
The brewery finally closed in 1978.
Here is the can design. I bought an unrolled can sheet so you can see it all at once.
And here is a sticker for the brand.
Amstuts, Vaughn "Brand Changes" Beer Can Collectors News Report (November 1975) 40-41.
Andrews, Dan. "King Snedley" Beer Cans and Brewery Collectables (August/September 1995) 4-5.
Cady, Lew. Beer Can Collecting (1976)