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Heirlooms: Connie’s Win el Ware cocktail mats

My paternal grandmother Connie was not a cook, but she did appreciate the rituals surrounding the presentation of dinner and drinks. I’ve written on here before about the 1950s dinner and dance menus I found stowed away in the boxes my dad and I retrieved from Connie’s flat after she died. As I speak about in that post, many of Connie’s belongings remain imbued with sadness at the fact that she lost her beloved husband at a young age and never quite recovered. Her vintage Win el Ware cocktail mats, however, err more towards comic than tragic.

Typically for my father’s side of the family, these Cork-backed Win el Ware cocktail mats topped with highly styled photographs of drinks and nibbles, are in pristine condition. Win el Ware table mats and coasters such as these were made in Grantham, England throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s. At a guess, these ones date from the late 1960s, but from a late-night internet search, it seems not much has been written about Win-el-Ware or the associated name John Lee, printed on the back of many examples. Win el Ware is too cheap and common I guess, and not quite old enough or classic enough to inspire most.

I, however, adore these coasters. I love how the colour tints make the cocktails look poisonous and the way crisps and Twiglets* have been carefully placed with a status that may be more suitably applied to caviar and foie gras canapés. I love the lit cigarette burning away in the ashtray. These cocktail mats are straight out of Abigail’s Party, and although they picture formalised still lifes, just looking at them makes me imagine all kinds of frustration, suppression, laughter and outburst I associate with a house party.

I have yet to find the name of the photographer who took these images. I assume that, as these are examples of commercial art, his name may have long been lost. However, while looking I was fortunate to find Helen Grace Ventura Thompson’s blog on the history of food photography. I was also amused to stumble upon this photo series by James Kendall, picturing the corroded old food items found in his girlfriend’s 90-year-old grandmother’s cupboards. They remind me of the day my dad and me cleaned out Connie’s flat, discovering an abundance of oxidised tin cans and a ten-year supply of Sanatogen tonic wine: unwanted Christmas gifts she had stored under the sink for years, without saying a word.

I’d love to find more examples of Win el Ware, and to discover the name of the photographer, so if anyone has memories of items like these or can share some insights on this topic please leave a comment.

*Did you know Twiglets were first launched to the UK market by Peak Freans in 1932?

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About Chloe King

I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.

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