A Third Case of Bass

No ones wins them all, and Bass was no exception. Some trade mark lawsuits, taken to protect the widely-known triangle symbol for Bass Pale Ale, were rejected in the courts.

I’ll choose an instance that continues the theme in my last two posts, viz. if type of beer defendant sold made a difference. We saw once that it did, and once it did not.

Henry Zeltner Brewing Co. was in many ways the obverse of Bass. A small brewer in Bronx, New York, an 1878 league table of lager brewers in the New York Sun had it near the bottom. Nonetheless the brewery lasted from 1860 to about 1910.

In those years, you could make a nice living for your family serving a local market, and Henry did.

This timeline at the Tavern Trobe website is helpful, with photos and label depictions. The founder, Bavarian-born Henry Zeltner, ran the business for 38 years, until his death in 1898.

Bass Ratcliff by contrast was a major international firm, and litigious to the max. The vigilance was well-displayed in the United States where agents and bottlers were active to distribute Bass nation-wide.

A short obituary in American Brewers’ Review states that Henry died on June 9, 1898, of pneumonia, a common scythe in the days before antibiotic drugs. At the time of his death, litigation with Bass over a Zeltner trade mark was unresolved. Henry had won before Justice Townsend of the New York District Court, but Bass appealed.

Henry was vindicated by the appellate decision in 1899, but fate had robbed him of satisfaction to see the final result.

The appeal judges simply affirmed the decision “below”, of Justice Townsend, who dismissed Bass’s argument in a single, well-drawn paragraph.

Henry’s trade mark looked this way in one depiction (image via Tavern Trove):

 

 

As a reminder, Bass’s classic mark looked like this (image via Brewery History Wiki):

 

Judge Townsend felt the marks were quite distinguishable. He laid emphasis too on Henry’s product: lager, not ale, a “different class”. See the¬†decision, here.

The judge considered that “the shape, color and collocation of symbols and letters” in Henry’s trade mark did not mimic those in the Bass label. Further, the colour of Zeltner’s bottles, and his cork and closure, differed from those of Bass.

This Zeltner tray, at an antiques website, lends credence to the judge’s decision. It shows the term “Old Fashioned Lager Beer” over the trade mark, the outer circular band in bright blue, and a white background offsetting the red triangle – the red, white, and blue of America, Henry’s adopted homeland.

Still, the triangle is there, in red. In a previous case, a triangle alone, even uncoloured, did the defendant in.

Are court cases to be completely rationalized? No, that is what jurists of the “realist” school think anyway. Then too, it’s always down to the specific case. On this outing Bass lost.

One wonders if the stress of the court battle led to Henry’s passing at only 67, not a young age for the time, but still … I think it not unlikely.

Henry was a stalwart of all-malt brewing, old-school all the way. While lager had eclipsed ale in the New York market, Henry’s kind of lager was going out, in favour of “Bohemian” cereal adjunct brewing.

Being a small player, probably the road ahead was hard enough, but the Bass fight could not have helped. Court battles can be sapping, even when you win.

Henry’s family continued the business for some years, but by 1910 was no longer brewing at 190th St. and 3rd Ave., Bronx, New York.

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