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ANRI Bottle Stoppers

In the four years since I wrote about ANRI bottle stoppers for this publication, hundreds of new collectors have discovered these little treasures, thanks to online auction sites and antique shops. Many collectors who begin with stoppers eventually expand their collections to include vintage bar sets, bar scenes, and single bar related items. (Figures 1 and 2)

The ANRI Company, founded in 1912 by Anton Riffeser, located near the tiny village of St. Cristina/Val Gardina in the Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy, still produces limited edition wood carved figures, but the last bar related item was sold in 1976. Bottle openers, corkscrews, bar sets and other related accessories were produced for over 60 years giving us hundreds of models and thousands of items to discover.

These implements, like the bottle stoppers, are figural with the heads and/or bodies of people and animals. Many are carved in full figure with bottle openers, or corkscrews inserted into the removable wooden heads. Some sets have more than one element and may have three or more, with the addition of bottle stoppers and cork coasters

Single implements were made in huge numbers and the varieties of wooden heads provide collectors a gallery of interesting characters. Dog breeds including the Scottish Terrier, Skye Terrier, St. Bernard and Airedale have both bottle opener and corkscrew inserts. Men and women were made and incorporated into sets or sold alone.

Some were carved in full figure. Single items range in size from 3-5" long. When carved in full figure, a single bar item may be a human or a dog, with the metal bar element inserted into a removable head. As with all ANRI items, many dog breeds and hundreds of different characters were carved.

Music boxes were added to ANRI bar sets and bar scenes in the 1950s, and most of the ones pictured here may be found with or without the music box. Often times, the music box is disguised as a suitcase near one of the figures in the set. The most common ANRI bar set and the easiest to find, is referred to as ‘drunk on a lamppost.’ It depicts a carved male figure standing beneath an old fashioned street lamp, and is approximately 10" tall, including the base. There are many variations of the carved head and clothing styles, but the globe atop the post is always a corkscrew and the man’s head is a bottle opener. Most of these gents have a cigar or cigarette in one hand.

Monks were a frequently used theme for the ANRI carvers due to the relationship between monasteries and the Italian wine industry. The “Monk on a barrel” bar set is very popular. The size and color of the barrels vary between 5 and 6", but there is always a figure carved sitting on top with legs dangling over the side. Monks usually wear a simple brown robe, but some are painted bright colors. A variation of this set features Sailor figures and they are rarer. The head in either type is usually a corkscrew and behind each figure there may be a wine bottle with a bottle opener insert, and/or a mug of beer. The beer “foam” is made of wood and has a cork stopper attached. The taller barrels usually have a music box inside.

Another interesting set will have a standing figure holding a set of mugs with cork stopper beer foam. Many different characters, including Negro, or African-American figures, were produced. In most cases, the removable heads are corkscrews. This particular figure also has a bottle opener, disguised as a bar towel, under his right arm. Sets of this type are usually between 9"-11" tall.

Bar sets with two figures were produced in an endless number of combinations. Most are composed of two men, but rare sets can be found with man/woman pairs, monks, American Indians, and sailors. Two men sitting on a wall beneath a street lamp is an ANRI model every collector should have. One of the heads is a bottle stopper, the other a bottle opener, and the lamp globe is a corkscrew. The manner in which the figures are posed will differ from set to set, as will their carved faces. This two man set is 8-1/2" tall, and 6-1/2" wide.

One type of two-figure bar set is carved with one figure holding the arm of the other, and referred to as a “Buddy Set.” These look like two pals coming home from a bar and it’s hard to tell which one is holding up the other. Typically these sets are 6-7" tall, while the length of the base will vary. Some sets of this type have been found with the ANRI labels from the middle 1920s intact.

Several ANRI bar sets have the additional element of a set of cork coasters. One familiar set has a man dressed in native Tyrol attire, usually with a mug in one hand, and often with a bunch of turnips in the other. His head is a bottle opener and a set of six coasters rest between his arms and oversized feet. This one stands 6-1/2" tall and is 5" wide. An unusual set from the late 1950s to early 1960s has a man peeking around a large mug of beer. Behind the mug are a set of cork coasters, and the beer foam doubles as a corkscrew and bottle opener.

The Musician Trio set involves three fully carved figures on a base, and the removable heads include a bottle opener, a corkscrew and a bottle stopper. In most cases the center figure holds a guitar or mandolin, while the figures on either side seem to be singing. This set was also designed as a trio of sailors that were sometimes sold as souvenirs on cruise ships during the 1940s. Often the name of the ship was added around the brims of the sailor’s hats. Musical trio sets are about 7" tall. “Men on Benches” is a fun bar set. The poses may change but in most sets there are a corkscrew, a bottle opener and if you’re lucky, a bottle stopper cat.

Some may only have two figures, and another type has two men leaning against a table or bench with a monkey on top of a beer barrel. In that set, only one of the figures is a bar implement, a combination bottle opener and corkscrew. Remember; don’t let the colors or styles of clothing concern you. Each carver had his own style and the characters are as varied as the artists who carved them.

Clowns are another charming ANRI theme and none is more entertaining, or as handy, as the clown and trained seal bar set. The ball atop the seal’s nose is a corkscrew, but in this set, the clown’s head conceals a can opener.

From bar sets we move to the more elaborate bar scenes, or dioramas. These little vignettes are like taking a peek at life in the bars, cafes, monasteries, and wine cellars of Italy during the first half of the 20th Century. Bar scenes measure approximately 10" wide, and have one, two or three “walls” so that they resemble small rooms.

Every collector should have at least one style of the “Beer Bar.” This scene shows several customers sitting on bar stools, a man with a musical instrument providing entertainment for the clientele, and a rosy cheeked bartender behind the bar. Most “Beer Bar” models have a built-in music box, and while the tune plays, the bartender’s right hand, which is holding a mug, taps out a beat on the bar. Musician figures dressed in old-fashioned Sailor suits are a variation to look for. The bartender’s head is a corkscrew, the musician hides a bottle opener, and the patrons are bottle stoppers. Another interesting addition is that the small bottles, cups and mugs along the edge of the bar lift out and are cocktail toothpicks.

The “Monk’s Wine Cellar” scene is another must have. Three monks in varying poses seem to be having a wine tasting. This model will contain a corkscrew, bottle opener and bottle stopper. Typically, two of the monks will be seen with drinks in hand, while the third is taking a pinch of snuff from a snuffbox in one hand.

ANRI bar scenes sometimes have little signs identifying them by name. One of these is the Amor Bar that features a waiter and four patrons sitting around a booth, with a lamppost behind. On top of the table is a tiny ballerina that twirls when the music box plays. The music box is hidden under the table. The waiter’s head conceals a bottle opener, the customers are bottle stoppers, and the globe of the lamp is a corkscrew. The word “Amor” is painted on the red heart attached to the lamppost.

Ballerina figures are often found in ANRI bar scenes, like the one pictured here. This particular scene is a table for two with a red-checkered tablecloth of real fabric. The lamppost, again, conceals a corkscrew, and one man is a stopper while the other is a bottle opener. This variation on the wine cellar scene also contains a music box and a ballerina, but there’s more.

The cat is a corkscrew, the two men in the barrels are bottle stoppers, and the man sitting on the floor to the left is a bottle opener. The small barrel on the right is to hold toothpicks. Although the number 1905 is painted on the keg, this is not an indication of when the scene was produced. One of the most rare, and coveted ANRI bar scenes is one called “Cotton Club.”

The poses of the figures are variable, but a complete set will have four Negro characters in and around a table or booth. One is usually dressed as a bellman or waiter. Behind the wall is a black woman who is the bottle opener, which is missing on one of the two models shown. But, the model that has the woman intact is missing the sign seen on the other. Although it has faded with age it reads, “Cotton Club Members Only.” The remaining figures are a corkscrew, and two bottle stoppers.

Muddlers or swizzle sticks, were made by ANRI in the early 1920s and a good matched set is a rare find. This set of four with dog head handles are about 5-1/2" tall. The dog breeds are a Bos-ton Bulldog, Schnauzer, Airedale and Scottish Terrier. Cocktail toothpicks with figural heads were also produced and sold in sets. One set of 12 toothpicks, 6" long, with tiny figures of children that were inserted into a wooden base was sold during the 1960s. Another type has little round carved and painted heads, and measure 4" long.

As you can see, collectors of breweriana may add ANRI bar items to make their collection more interesting. But, for those who collect ANRI items exclusively, bar accessories is a collection in itself.

by Philly Rains

EDITOR’S NOTE:Visit Philly’s ANRI Web site at www.anricarvings.com. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd has published ANRI Woodcarvings, a collector’s price guide, by Philly Rains, and Internationally known corkscrew collector, Donald Bull. It includes over 800 color photos of over 2500 items including bottle stoppers, bar sets, bar scenes, napkin rings, smoking accessories, bookends, desk accessories and much more.

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