Donald F. Hyde Visits Barclay Perkins, 1950

Is Donald Hyde the Connection to Importing Russian Stout in 1950?

In a recent post I identified a plan in 1950 to send Barclay Perkins Russian Imperial Stout to the United States. Before WW I the beer had reached some markets in North America, including Victoria, Canada.*

A story in the Buffalo Evening News in 1950 stated some beer had already arrived, with more planned.

We think this was a flash in the pan, a commendable idea but well-ahead of its time. To our knowledge the beer was not available in America in the 1950s although some very small sales may have occurred before the Korean War intensified.

Certainly the Imperial Russian Stout of Courage, successor to Barclay Perkins, did reach America by the 1970s. So did stout in that style from some European breweries, I gave examples in my article on 1970’s American beer writers in the journal Brewery History. By the 1980s the growing boutique brewing phenomenon embraced the style as its own.

I found what may be a clue to the genesis of the 1950 plan. A letter dated July 19, 1950, stored in the Samuel Johnson Collection of Houghton Library at Harvard University, was written by Barclay Perkins to an American in New York, Donald F. Hyde. The letter appears in a Harvard blog entry in 2007 by John Overholt, a cataloguer with the Houghton Collection.

Hyde had visited Barclay Perkins’ Anchor Brewery that year during a European tour. The letter enclosed labels of various Barclay Perkins’ beers including Russian stout (see link above), and promised to send a book on the brewery being prepared for the forthcoming Festival of Britain.

There is no reference to a plan to export Russian Stout to New York or any involvement by Hyde in this effort. Still, I think it quite possible there is a link between Hyde’s 1950 visit and the export plan, as the two events viewed independently would seem rather coincidental.

Who was Donald F. Hyde? He was not just a curious American taking an off-beat tour on vacation. He was a lawyer and wealthy society figure with a deep interest in Samuel Johnson, the writer and trustee of the estate of Henry Thrale, a predecessor of the Barclay Perkins partnership.

Ohio-born, Harvard alumnus Donald Frizell Hyde moved to New York in the late 1930s when he married Mary Morley Crapo, a member a prominent Michigan family with origins in New England. By 1950 both were well-known collectors of books, other literature, and memorabilia pertaining to Samuel Johnson as well as John Keats and Oscar Wilde.

Today, Harvard University maintains the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson. In its words:

The bequest of Mary, Viscountess Eccles (1912–2003), Houghton Library‘s Hyde Collection contains a comprehensive collection of the published work of Dr. Samuel Johnson, the 18th-century English author best known for his Dictionary of the English Language (1755).

Mary Hyde married the Viscount Eccles after Donald Hyde’s passing and took up residence in Britain.**

Hyde’s death in 1966 at only 56 was memorialized by numerous literary and university associations, here is one example from a papyrologists society. A lengthy, highly respectful obituary also appeared in the New York Times, see here.

The Times noted that in addition to his distinguished collecting he maintained a number of business interests although the ones mentioned seem not to relate to wine and spirits.

The answer, if there is a link between Donald Hyde and importing Russian stout to America, resides in the Houghton Library and/or Barclay Perkins archives.

Note re image: the letter above is from the Houghton Collection of Harvard University as reproduced in 2007 on a blog of the University. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the Houghton Library of the Harvard College Library. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*For a good sketch of the history of Barclay Perkins brewery, see Ian Hornsey’s A History of Beer and Beer and Brewing, from p. 555. (Published 2003).

**See also the Guardian’s obituary in 2003 of Mary, Viscountess Eccles, formerly Mary Hyde. It gives good detail on the depth of the Hydes’ interest in Dr. Johnson and the Thrale family.