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What’s the oldest example of brand protection you’ve ever encountered? Perhaps an ancient Roman coin, early bank note or the foil seal on a vintage bottle of wine. I’ve handled old coins and bank notes before, but I recently came across an example that embodies contemporary thinking in an antique form.

The picture in this post is of a bottle of Poland Springs water from the early 20th Century (circa 1926 I believe). In addition to the cork and lead foil seal it contains a label with a warning. I spotted this little gem at one of our local flea markets and had to have it. Until then I’d never seen an actual example of the brand protection message on a product this old.

This particular message is targeted at preventing issues that are still prevalent today. Specifically the label offers a reward for information on anyone found to be refilling the bottle and selling it again, or using the Poland Springs trademark fraudulently. I had to reflect on my own brief experience of less than 15 years in the brand protection space. Up to this point I believed I was a veteran of this particular specialty. In contemporary terms perhaps yes. However it really instilled in me that this need has been around as long as there have been products for sale and criminals willing to make and sell fakes.

I’d love to see or hear about similar examples of antique or ancient brand protection and anti-counterfeiting measures you’ve found or encountered.

My friend Tom Mercolino of CertiRx provided a great example of a very old brand protection and anti-counterfeiting technique. Tom writes,

This colonial 15 shilling note is from 1756, printed by Benjamin Franklin. It has two interesting features:

  1. The warning “ To Counterfeit is DEATH”, and
  2. The incorporation of a leaf image by including a real one on the press.

The latter is particularly interesting. It illustrates the value of the leaf’s complex, random features as a deterrent to the counterfeiters. Franklin changed leaves between printing runs. Had Franklin access to today’s digital technology, he could have incorporated a digital analog unique to each authentic piece.

Thanks Tom!

PS: While trying to date the bottle I also found out that Poland Springs also used to market distilled spirits, such as Gin. I wonder if they also had issues with criminals refilling bottles of spirits and selling them to unsuspecting consumers?