Why Are Drink Coasters Called Coasters?
Drink coasters are as common as the glasses that stand on them. No doubt you have a set somewhere, either purchased by yourself or received as a gift. You may even have given a set of coasters as a gift to someone else. Available in metal, wood, cork, glass, ceramic, and cardboard, they can come in virtually any design and color. People use coasters in the home, office, restaurants, and perhaps most commonly, in bars. But, how did coasters come to be? And why are they called coasters?
Coasters have a long and rich history. They have been around a lot longer than we all have. Their history is fascinating, so let's take a closer look at the origins of the humble coaster.
How the Term "Coaster" was Coined
It all started around 1700. Wealthy households would host dinner parties and the festivities would typically continue long after the waiting staff had retired for the night. A wheeled device would be used to move it up and down the table to make it easier to pass the decanter or bottle around. Someone observed that passing the bottle from person to person was like the ships that would sail from coast to coast; hence the term "coaster."
Later on, in the 19th century, pieces of fabric were used to make it easier to pass the bottle and soak up the condensation and stop it from staining the table.
The Birth of the Disposable Coaster
The pieces of fabric certainly served their purpose, but given hygiene standards back then, it was almost certain that people didn't wash them. It's more likely that people would merely allow them to dry in-between uses. This would have created a breeding ground for bacteria and other nasties. Not a very healthy way to save your table from condensation.
It wasn't until 1880 that cardboard disposable beer mats were invented. Friedrich Horn, a German printing press, first created them. German Robert South then patented the wood pulp formula.
It took until 1900 for the development of an efficient manufacturing process. By then, the technology also existed to enable the manufacturer to print the brewery's name, type of ale, or drink on the surface of the mat. This transformed the coaster into a marketing platform. This way of marketing drinks was effective until TV and radio became commonplace and better places to advertise such products.
Disposable cardboard coasters in bars are increasingly rare. Wooden furniture for places like bars can now be treated so that the liquid doesn't stain the surface, rendering the use of the coaster in bars redundant in a practical sense. Bars also prefer not to use cardboard coasters now because today's patrons tend to tear them up into tiny pieces or steal them.
Why Do We Have Coasters for the Home?
While wooden surfaces in bars will have been treated to withstand heavy use, this can't be said for the furniture in most homes. Therefore, the coaster serves its purpose well in homes, protecting furniture from unsightly stains and damage.
A little condensation from a drink left on any surface can travel further than you might think. It may drip on the floor and create a slip hazard. Or it might leak onto expensive electronics. You can help avoid this by using a coaster.
Moreover, owing to the millions of designs in which coasters are available, they are frequently used as statement pieces in people's homes. The materials, colors, and designs reflect people's tastes, can commemorate an event, and can complement and enhance the décor of any home.
Are You a Collector?
Beer mats and coasters are highly collectible items. This is part of the reason that people take them from bars so often. Those who collect coasters are known as tegestologists. The term "tegestology" is derived from Latin and means "covering" or "mat," so the word is perfect for coaster enthusiasts.
The world's most enthusiastic tegestologist is a man called Leo Picker. He lives in Austria and has amassed a collection of over 152,860 different beer mats from 192 countries. The largest and the smallest in his collection both come from the UK.
So there you have a brief history of the beer mat or coaster. One thing is for sure – despite a tendency not to use them in bars, the coaster isn't going away. Coasters remain popular in homes and offices, at once protecting surfaces from stains and damage, and also functioning as attractive, meaningful design elements in their own right. With so many materials and styles, it looks certain we'll continue to give them as gifts for housewarmings, parties, and just for the sake of it.
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