Eyeing Mr. Boh (of National Bohemian Beer)

Brian Alberts, who researches and writes on beer history in the U.S., tweeted a period ad for “Mr. Boh”, a comic cartoon figure long used to promote National Bohemian beer.

The brand for decades is in the Pabst stable, and no longer made in Baltimore, but still sells well in Maryland.

A 1950 trade mark registration shows (see at 411) a spare, oval, one-eyed face. The registration claims use since 1939, meaning the design was first used that year. The figure is described as a “caricature of a Bohemian waiter having an enlarged mustache and only one eye”.

The image remains a touchstone of popular culture in Maryland. In 2006 John Woestendiek of the Baltimore Sun chronicled a resurgence of popularity.

Authors studying advertising or Maryland history regularly mention the figure and mystery of the one eye – no one seems to know why Mr. Boh was drawn this way.

1950s National Bohemian ads, lavish in scale and design values, show Mr. Boh in various guises, not just a dispenser of hospitality. He can be a debonair world traveler, golfer, handyman, baseball player or fan, and on it goes.

Here is a selection from Chronicling America. The constants are the oval facial features: one eye, broad mustache, and happy mien.

Here are thoughts on possible origins, speculative (but I have learned good instincts sometimes pay off).

In the 1930s, a subset of commercial art employed spare, cartoon-like drawings. I gave an example of “Archi Pelago”, used to promote Anchor Beer in Malaya in the 1930s, in my journal article on early Malayan beer history.

Archi Pelago was drawn very sparely in black and white, stout, with top hat, in profile showing only one eye clearly. The other eye is signaled by a monocle in partial view, so almost hidden.

The image appeared on April 9, 1934 in the Straits Times, part of an advertisement for Anchor Beer.

In 2020 in the typography website Fonts in Use, Stephen Coles reproduced a series of 1930s ads for a Pabst beer. Figures are depicted not dissimilar to Mr. Boh, some in profile hence showing only one eye.

Coles described the images as:

A series of ads designed by Dorothy Shepard in 1937 for Pabst Export Beer, another line from the makers of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The airbrush illustrations are in Shepard’s modern trademark style with streamlined shapes. Headlines and body copy are set on an angle, which was just starting to gain favor in advertising and magazine layouts.

This style of stripped-down, streamlined figures, patently or implicitly everyman and often comic (Archi Pelago seemed to lampoon captains of industry), was of the time, 1930s-1950s.

So the illustrator for Mr. Boh may have intended the one eye as an aspect of this aesthetic. The work looks almost a stylized version of an original stylized form.

Alternatively, maybe in 1930s Baltimore the illustrator had encountered a Czech, bartender or other, and took inspiration from that.

Another idea: Jan Zizka, a medieval Czech warrior sometimes depicted with one eye and wide mustache, remains to this day a notable part of Czech folklore and popular culture. A learned essay in Wikipedia explains his enduring cultural significance.

Zizka is frequently memorialized in fiction and other narrative, film, statuary, visual art, and other cultural artifacts.

So possibly an allusion there.

I incline though to the streamlined, semi-abstract, commercial art style of the time.



2 thoughts on “Eyeing Mr. Boh (of National Bohemian Beer)”

    • Thanks, a testament certainly to the power Boh has, and his affianced now clearly, in Baltimore. I need to get back there, visited at least twice and always liked it. There was a pioneering brewpub run by a man called Oliver in the harbour district, not sure if still operating.


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