Old Tom Chamberlain

by Gaz Regan · Saturday, January 26th, 2013 · Quotes

36The precise origin of the term ‘Old Tom,’ as applied to unsweetened gin, appears to be somewhat obscure. In the English case of Board & Son v. Huddart (1903), in which the plaintiffs established their right to the ‘ Cat Brand ‘ trade-mark, it was proved before Mr Justice Swinfen Eady that this firm had first adopted about 1849 the punning association of the picture of a Tom cat on a barrel with the name of ‘Old Tom’; and it was at one time supposed that this was due to a tradition that a cat had fallen into one of the vats, the gin from which was highly esteemed. But the term ‘ Old Tom ‘ had been known before that, and Messrs Boord & Son inform us that previously ‘ Old Tom ‘ had been a man, namely ‘old Thomas Chamberlain of Hodge’s distillery’; an old label book in their possession (1909) shows a label and bill-head with a picture of ‘ Old Tom ‘ the man on it, and another label shows a picture of a sailor lad on shipboard described as ‘Young Tom.’  The Encyclopædia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information.  Published by The Encyclopædia Britannica Company, 1910.

gaz sez: Note that this quote describes Old Tom as an UNsweetened gin.

4 Responses to “Old Tom Chamberlain”

  1. Hey Gaz,

    Interested after reading this I decided to see if I could track down the original court documents, they can be found here: https://archive.org/stream/reportspatentde09offigoog/reportspatentde09offigoog_djvu.txt

    It appears that Encyclopaedia Britannica got it wrong. The original source makes reference to unsweetened gin only when referring to dry gin. Regarding Old Tom here are some quotes from the court records:

    ” Sweetened gin, one of the articles sold by them had long been
    known as Old Tom”

    “The Plaintiffs’ firm were ridiculed at the time for adopting the cat on a barrel, and for associating the words ‘^ Old ” Tom,” by which sweetened gin had long been known, with a cat. ”

    “Sweetened gin one of the articles sold by them^ had long been
    known as Old Tom”

    It is interesting that it is also noted that:

    “The precise origin of the term ** Old Tom ” as applied to sweetened gin is lost in obscurity.”

  2. Gaz Regan says:

    Wow! Thanks so much for looking into this. It’s pretty fascinating stuff, huh? You’ve provided another piece of this puzzle for us. Ta Muchly!

  3. Hello,

    As a poster artist, I recently had to imagine and paint a commemorative poster for Hayman’s “Old Tom Gin” brand.
    The following popular story came to my attention:
    In XVIIIth century England, gin was a very popular drink heavily taxed, eventually banned by the British Parliament.
    Bootlegging ensued; Captain Dudley Bradstreet put a wooden plaque shaped like a black cat mounted on the wall of his house to indicate the clandestine goods.
    Thirsty patrons would insert a penny into a slot beneath the cat. When the coin clinked into a bucket on the other side of the wall, a shot of gin poured by the bartender inside the pub was dispensed through a lead pipe between the cat’s paws.
    “A moonshine liquor under a cat’s paws” I found that subject very inspirational for an advertising poster!

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