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WikimediaCommons // CC BY 2.0
WikimediaCommons // CC BY 2.0

10 Very Rare (and Very Expensive) Video Games

WikimediaCommons // CC BY 2.0
WikimediaCommons // CC BY 2.0

If you’ve ever collected baseball cards, comic books, stamps, or those limited edition commemorative plates, you understand the concept of the “Holy Grail” item. It’s that last, hard-to-find, incredibly rare, usually expensive piece that you must have before you can officially say your collection is “complete.” If you’re a collector of vintage home video game cartridges (or “carts”), sometimes that can mean paying a pretty penny for the pièce de résistance.


NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM (NES) 

Back in the day, everyone had a Nintendo. Due to the console’s popularity, there are a large number of collectors willing to pay the equivalent of a new car for some of the system’s very rare carts.

1. STADIUM  EVENTS

Price Range: $2,600 - $41,300; $10,000 for the box alone

Why So Expensive? Stadium Events was released by Bandai in 1987 as one of the few games available in America that was made for the company’s Family Fun Fitness mat—a soft, plastic controller you walked, ran, and jumped on to make the game characters move. Nintendo bought the rights to the game and the mat in 1988 and re-released them as WorldClass Track Meet and the Power Pad controller. To avoid consumer confusion, Nintendo pulled all copies of Stadium Events from shelves and had them destroyed, but not before approximately 200 carts had already been sold. Of those 200, collectors believe that only about 20 complete copies of the game exist today, making them a real rarity.

Stadium Events made headlines in 2010 with two high-profile eBay sales: A North Carolina woman was cleaning out her garage and found an old Nintendo and a handful of games, including Stadium Events. She put them up on eBay without high expectations and was amazed to see the bids steadily climb up to $13,105. While the game itself is valuable, the winning bidder was most interested in the cardboard box in which it came; since most kids threw the box away after tearing open a new game, intact boxes for any title are really hard to come by, but especially so for Stadium Events. Empty Stadium Events boxes have been known to sell for $10,000 alone.

After hearing of the success of this eBay seller, a man in Kansas dug up a factory-sealed copy of the game that he was just about to donate to Goodwill. He had purchased the game in 1987, but could never find the fitness mat to go with it. It was still sealed because he’d meant to return it. His game became only the second known sealed copy in existence. When his eBay auction ended, the game sold for an amazing $41,300.

Earlier this year, another sealed copy of Stadium Events sold on eBay for $35,100, meaning the game has lost a little bit of its value, but not much.

The same game repackaged by Nintendo, World Class Track Meet, generally sells for about $5 on eBay.

2. 1990 NINTENDO WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (GRAY AND GOLD EDITIONS)

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Price Range: Gray: $8,500 - $20,200; Gold: $26,677

Why So Expensive? In 1990, Nintendo held a 30-city gaming tournament to find the best player in the world. Players had to get the best score in demo versions of three games—Super Mario Bros.Rad Racer, and Tetris—all within a six-minute time limit.

At the end of each city’s tournament, the winners of each of three age groups were given special gray Championship cartridges exactly like those used in the competition, meaning only 90 of these cartridges were distributed. A gold version was sent out to those who won a promotional contest in the pages of Nintendo Power magazine. Only 26 gold games were produced, so they’re especially hard to find and command a higher price today; the last one to sell on eBay went for $26,677.

3. NINTENDO CAMPUS CHALLENGE

Price Range: $14,000 - $20,100

Why So Expensive? In the early 1990s, Nintendo held competitions on college campuses and at popular Spring Break destinations. Like the World Championships, players had six minutes to play for high scores in demo versions of three games: Super Mario Bros. 3PinBot, and Dr. Mario.

Most copies of the game were destroyed after the competition tour ended, but one Nintendo employee kept his cart and sold it to Rob Walters at a garage sale in 2006. This garage sale is legendary among retrogamers, as Rob bought all kinds of NES Holy Grails for only $1,000. By the time he resold everything, he’d made 50 times that. Part of that $50,000 was the Campus Challenge cartridge, which went for $14,000. Shortly after, the buyer of the cart, collector J.J. Hendricks, turned around and sold it on eBay for $20,100. As far as anyone knows, it’s the only copy of the game in existence.

SUPER NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM

Although not quite as ubiquitous as the NES, the SNES was still a very popular game console. With more than 700 titles for the SNES fan to collect, there are bound to be a few that demand a high price.

4. EXERTAINMENT MOUNTAIN BIKE RALLY & SPEED RACER COMBO CART

Price Range: $1,500 - $3,700

Why So Expensive? Back in 1994, the exercise equipment company Life Fitness released the Exertainment System. As the cheesy name implies, it was a combination exercise bike and entertainment system with a TV screen built into the console. Now gym rats could watch regular cable television, Life Fitness exercise programs, or play games on the built-in Super Nintendo using specially designed controllers split between each handle of the bike.

There were two games made specifically for the Exertainment System: Mountain Bike Rally, and Speed Racer, based on the popular Japanese cartoon. While Mountain Bike Rally was available as a standalone cartridge, Speed Racer was only available as part of a combo cartridge that also included Mountain Bike Rally. Gym owners could buy either of the cartridges with the Exertainment cycle, but they could be purchased through retail outlets as well. Of course the bikes were expensive and very few people had one in their homes, so the retail versions mostly went unsold. As the Exertainment cycles were replaced by newer equipment, most owners simply threw the cartridges away since they weren't compatible with a regular SNES. Naturally, this means they’re pretty hard to come by today.

While a loose copy of the Mountain Bike Rally cartridge sells for about $25, a factory sealed retail copy can go for anywhere between $50 and $350. But it’s the combo cartridge that is especially valuable with completist SNES collectors, bringing in over $1,500 for a loose cartridge, and nearly $3,700 for a factory sealed copy.

5. SUPER COPA

Price Range: $400 - $6,900

Why So Expensive? The story of Super Copa is a bit confusing for collectors: The game was a South American version of the North American soccer game, Tony Meola’s Sidekicks Soccer. Released in the mid-1990s, it’s merely a decent soccer game for the SNES. Although it was available in South America through a distributor named Playtronic, there is a second version of the game with different box and label artwork, that doesn’t include the Playtronic branding anywhere. This has led some to speculate it was also released in North America by a different company, American Softworks.

Whether it was released here or not, the alternative version of the game is hard to find, so naturally collectors are clamoring for it—so much so that bootlegs from Brazil have started cluttering eBay, making buyers wary of spending too much on a loose cartridge. However, if the original box is part of the auction, the prices can go as high as $400. And, if the auction is a factory sealed copy in exceptional condition, it could fetch as much as $6,900.

6. NINTENDO POWERFEST 1994

Price Range: $10,000 - $10,988

Why So Expensive? Much like the Nintendo Campus Challenge, 1994’s Nintendo PowerFest was a traveling competition where the best SNES players across the U.S. got to show their stuff on timed versions of three different games: Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels, Super Mario Kart, and Ken Griffey, Jr. Presents Major League. The person with the best score from each city was later invited to come to San Diego and compete at the Nintendo World Championships II.

For the tour, 33 specially designed cartridges were produced. At the end of the tour, the cartridges were returned to Nintendo and reused for parts. Well, most of them anyway. One cartridge was found by Rob Walters at that legendary garage sale, and was thought to be the only one in existence for many years. The cartridge eventually made its way into the hands of collector Rick Bruns, who participated in PowerFest when he was a kid, making it all the way to the San Diego finals. Bruns paid $10,000 for this one-of-a-kind cartridge in 2006.

Much to everyone’s surprise, another copy resurfaced in 2012; however this cartridge was actually the first version of the game. In the early days of the competition, a home run in Ken Griffey, Jr. was worth 10,000 points, which wasn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things. So Nintendo found that most players focused on the Mario games to rack up points, and neglected the baseball game. To convince players to take Griffey more seriously during the finals, they changed the score to one million points for a home run. Bruns had a one million-point copy of the cartridge, but the new one was a 10,000-point version.

The second PowerFest cartridge was sold in January 2012 to J.J. Hendricks for $12,000. Hendricks turned around and put it on eBay in 2013 and received bids up to $23,100. Unfortunately, the high bidder backed out, and when Hendricks tried again in 2014, he was disappointed to see the cartridge had actually lost a little bit of value, only reaching $10,988 in the second auction.

ATARI 2600

The wood-grained granddaddy of home video game systems still has a rabid fanbase. There were a lot of fly-by-night companies getting in on the video game craze, which means there are a lot of rare carts out there for fans to collect.

7. AIR RAID

Price Range: $3,000 - $33,433

Why So Expensive? For many years, Air Raid was an enigma for Atari fans. The game in the strange, blue case with the unusual “T-handle” design had appeared around 1984, but no one who owned the game had a box or instruction manual to go with it. There were rumors that said it was the one and only game produced by a company called “Menavision” (or perhaps “Menovision”). In fact, collectors weren’t even sure if Air Raid was the correct title of the game because it’s not found anywhere on the cartridge. The mystery, as well as the fact there were only 12 known copies, made it a must-have for serious Atari collectors.

But all that changed in 2010 when Tanner Sandlin read a previous version of this article over on CNN.com. He recognized that signature blue, T-handle case on the cartridge, and dug through a few boxes in his garage, finding the thirteenth known copy of Air Raid—complete with box. By the time his eBay auction ended, Sandlin’s copy of Air Raid sold for an incredible $31,600.

Another boxed copy of Air Raid was found in 2012 by Harv Bennett, a former drug store manager whose store sold video games back in the 1980s. Bennett was given a copy of Air Raid by a salesman and had kept it among a small treasure trove of boxed Atari games in storage ever since. Much to Bennett’s surprise, when he opened the box, he found that he also had the instruction manual. The manual made Bennett’s the first “Complete In Box” (CIB) copy ever found. He put the game up on GameGavel.com, where it ended up selling for $33,433.

8. RED SEA CROSSING


Price Range: $10,000 - $13,877

Why So Expensive? In 2007, a new user logged into the forums on AtariAge.com and asked about a game he had recently picked up at a garage sale for 50 cents. The game was Red Sea Crossing, in which the player took on the role of Moses crossing the Red Sea, dodging fish, turtles, and the occasional arrow fired by a pixelated Egyptian. There was no box and no instruction manual, but the game label did have a company name and an 800-number that was used to identify the creator, Steve Stack.

One of the forum members found Mr. Stack, who confirmed he had created the game in 1983 to sell to the niche market of Christian households. Stack said it was the only game he’d ever made and he only had a few hundred cartridges manufactured for distribution exclusively through mail order. He couldn’t remember how many had sold, but admitted that it wasn’t very many. Unfortunately, he didn’t know what had happened to the unsold cartridges, so there was a very real chance that the one that had been purchased at the garage sale was the only one left.

With the game’s history confirmed, the AtariAge fans were salivating over what the new owner was going to do. Much to the surprise of everyone, the owner sat on the game for five years, before finally auctioning it off in 2012 on GameGavel.com, where the one-of-a-kind game sold for $10,400.

News of the auction made the internet rounds and Travis Kerestesy and Roey Lebkowitz, the owners of Medium Bob’s Curiosity Shop in Philadelphia, realized they had a copy of this very rare game sitting in their store window with a $50 price tag. Just a few days after the first Red Sea Crossing auction ended, they put their copy on eBay, where it sold for $13,877. No new copies of the game have surfaced since then, but it’s entirely possible that another one is out there somewhere just waiting to be found.

9. ATLANTIS II 

Price Range: $5,000 - $7,000

Why So Expensive? It’s never mentioned in the same breath as Pac-Man or Donkey Kong, but Atlantis was a pretty popular game in 1982. The gameplay was similar to Missile Command, with players defending their base from overhead attack by enemy ships. The developer held a tournament called Destination Atlantis, where players were invited to send in photos of their TV screens displaying their high scores. The best players were then sent Atlantis II, a special edition of the game that featured faster enemy ships worth fewer points, making it harder to get a high score, but easier to determine the true champions.

Because this version was not mass produced, it’s pretty rare today. But if you find a copy of the original Atlantis at a garage sale, it might be a good idea to pick it up anyway. The competition cart had the exact same colorful label as the regular Atlantis, but had a small, white sticker slapped on the front that read Atlantis II. The label was easily peeled off, so a quick Google search will show you how to determine if you bought a $3 Atari game or a $7,000 one.

10. E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL


Price Range: $5 - $1,537

Why So Expensive? There are actually more valuable Atari games out there, but this one is a bit unusual, so I’m throwing it in as a bonus for you.

The Atari video game adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster film is often considered one of the worst video games in history, and is usually credited with bringing down the entire industry in 1983. The story went that Atari had so many unsold copies of E.T. that they had no choice but to bury them all in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico, hiding their shame for eternity.

That is until the games were dug up in April of 2014.

The game’s terrible reputation has become legendary among gaming enthusiasts, so much so that the copies of E.T. that were unearthed from the landfill are now, ironically, considered collector’s items. In all, 792,000 games were excavated, not just E.T., but also dozens of other Atari titles like Missile Command, Asteroids, and Defender, and are now the property of the City of Alamogordo.

The city decided to sell hundreds of the cartridges on eBay with many of the rest being donated to museums around the world. The first round of 100 games went live on eBay in November and brought in over $37,000, with the highest bid coming in at $1,537 for a mangled copy of E.T. that had been buried in a garbage dump for 30 years. The final round of auctions ends soon, so now’s your chance to grab this dirty (but fascinating) piece of video game history. If you want to buy a non-landfill E.T. for some reason, it can be had on eBay for about $5.

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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13 Secrets From the Guinness Archives
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Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Guinness has been a staple in Irish pubs for nearly 260 years. With so much history, it's no surprise that the Guinness Storehouse Archives—which are open to the public—are stuffed with intriguing artifacts that tell some pretty wild stories. Here are a few.

1. THE LEASE TO THE DUBLIN BREWERY WAS INTENDED TO LAST 9000 YEARS.

In 1759, founder Arthur Guinness signed a lease for a four-acre property at St. James’s Gate in Dublin. The lease required a down payment of £100, an annual rent of £45, and a term of 9000 years (not a typo). Such lengthy leases were relatively common back then: “At the time in Ireland, there was a lot of instability to do with land tenure,” explains Fergus Brady, Archives Manager at Guinness. Centuries earlier, the British had begun confiscating land from native Irish in an effort to build plantations, and extra-long leases were a means of avoiding this fate. As Brady explains, “You see these really long leases: 99-year or 999-year leases. It seemed to be a legal custom at the time that they used the number nine.”

2. ARTHUR GUINNESS WAS NOT AFRAID TO DEFEND HIS PROPERTY WITH A PICKAXE.

In 1775, the Dublin Corporation—that is, the city government—demanded that Arthur Guinness pay for the spring water flowing to his brewery. When Guinness argued that he was already paying for water rights through his 9000-year rental agreement, the Dublin Corporation sent a sheriff and a committee to his brewery to cut off the water supply. Guinness was livid. He seized a pickaxe and unleashed a torrent of obscenities so colorful that the Dublin Corporation’s goons eventually retreated.

3. GUINNESS ONCE DEPLOYED FIELD AGENTS TO CATCH COUNTERFEITERS.

Guinness Apology
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

In the 19th century, there was no such thing as brand consistency. Guinness did not bottle its own beer; instead, it shipped the suds in wooden casks to publicans who supplied their own bottles and applied their own personalized labels. Occasionally, these publicans sold fake or adulterated Guinness. To prevent such sales, the company sent special agents called “travellers” into the field to collect beer samples, which it tested in a laboratory. “If a publican was found to be serving adulterated or counterfeit Guinness, they had to give a public apology in their local newspaper—and even the national newspapers,” archivist Jessica Handy says.

4. FOR 21 YEARS, THE COMPANY HIRED A GUY TO TRAVEL THE WORLD AND DRINK BEER.

In 1899, Guinness hired an American ex-brewer named Arthur T. Shand to be a “Guinness World Traveller.” It was arguably the coolest job in the world. For 21 years, Shand traveled the world taste-testing beer. According to Brady, “His job was to travel the world and taste Guinness, say whether it was good or bad, who our bottlers in the market were, who our major competition was, what kind of people were drinking our product.” Shand traveled to Australia and New Zealand, to Southeast Asia and Egypt. “He was sort of a Guinness sommelier,” Brady says.

5. THE COMPANY'S HARP LOGO CAUSED TROUBLE WITH THE IRISH GOVERNMENT.

The Celtic harp—based on the 14th century “Brian Boru Harp” preserved at Trinity College—became a trademarked Guinness logo in 1876. Forty-five years later, when Ireland gained independence from England, the Irish Free State decided to use the same Celtic harp as its official state emblem. This became awkward. Guinness owned the trademark, and the Irish government was forced to search for a workaround. You can find their solution on an Irish Euro coin. Look at the coin, and you’ll notice that the harp’s straight edge faces the right; meanwhile, the harp on a glass of Guinness shows the straight edge facing left [PDF].

6. GUINNESS REPORTEDLY SAVED LIVES ON THE BATTLEFIELD.

The old slogan “Guinness is good for you” sounds like a marketing gimmick, but it was born out of a genuine belief that the beer was, in fact, a restorative tonic. The health claim dates back to 1815, when an ailing cavalry officer wounded at the Battle of Waterloo reportedly credited Guinness for his recovery. For decades, the medical community widely claimed that the dark beer possessed real health benefits—and they weren’t necessarily wrong. “There was little safe drinking water at the time,” Handy says. “But with brewing, consumers knew they were getting a safe beverage.”

7. THE COMPANY CREATED A SPECIAL RECIPE FOR CONVALESCENTS.

A label for Guinness invalid stout
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

From the 1880s to the 1920s, Guinness produced a special “Nourishing Export Stout”—a.k.a. “Invalid Stout”—that contained extra sugars, alcohol, and solids and came in cute one-third pint bottles. “It was very common practice for people to buy a couple bottles and keep them as a tonic, even if it was just a glass or half a glass,” Handy says. In fact, Guinness went as far as asking general practitioners for testimonials attesting to the beer’s medical benefits. According to Brady, “Many of them wrote back and said yes, we prescribe this for various ailments.” One doctor even claimed a pint was “as nourishing as a glass of milk.”

8. DOCTORS REGULARLY PRESCRIBED THE BEER TO NURSING MOTHERS.

From the 1880s to the 1930s, many physicians believed Guinness was an effective galactagogue—that is, a lactation aid. The company sent bottles to hospitals as well as wax cartons of yeast (which supposedly helped skin problems and migraines). Hundreds, possibly thousands, of doctors prescribed the beer for ailments such as influenza, insomnia, and anxiety, David Hughes writes in A Bottle of Guinness Please: The Colourful History of Guinness. According to Brady, the company was sending beer to hospitals as late as the 1970s.

9. THE COMPANY ONCE DROPPED 200,000 MESSAGES-IN-A-BOTTLE INTO THE OCEAN.

A Guinness message in a bottle
The message within every bottle dropped in the Atlantic Ocean in 1959.
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

In 1954, Guinness dumped 50,000 messages-in-a-bottle in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. In 1959, they repeated the stunt again, with 38 ships dropping 150,000 bottles in the Atlantic. The first bottle was discovered in the Azores off Portugal just three months after the initial drop [PDF]. Since then, the bottles have turned up in California, New Zealand, and South Africa. Just last year, a bottle was discovered in Nova Scotia. (If you find one, you just might be offered a trip to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.)

10. THE PERSONNEL FILES IN THE GUINNESS ARCHIVES CONTAIN SOME DOOZIES.

The Guinness corporate archives are open to the public. According to Handy, “Some of the stories you get in there are amazing, because you get accident reports and you get crazy stories of people bouncing on bags of hops outside the brewery." This may sound less surprising considering that, back in the day, Guinness employees were given an allowance of two pints of beer every day [PDF].

11. A GUINNESS SCIENTIST MADE A STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT MARK IN THE FIELD OF STATISTICS.

If you’ve taken a statistics class, you might be familiar with the Student’s t-test or the t-statistic. (It’s a method of working with a small sample size when the standard deviation is unknown.) The t-test was first described by William S. Gosset, a brewer and statistician at Guinness who was attempting to analyze a small sample of malt extract. Gosset’s discovery not only helped Guinness create a more consistent-tasting beer, it would lay the bedrock for one of the most important concepts in statistics: statistical significance.

12. GUINNESS IS SO BIG IN AFRICA, IT LAUNCHED A SUCCESSFUL FEATURE-LENGTH FILM.

Guinness began exporting beer to Africa in 1827. In the 1960s, it opened a brewery in Nigeria—followed by Cameroon and Ghana. Today, there are reportedly more Guinness drinkers in Nigeria than there are in Ireland. “In Ireland, England, and the United States, everybody thinks that Guinness is synonymous with Ireland,” Brady says. “But in Nigeria, there’s a very very low conception of that.” The beer is such a cultural staple that a fictional character who advertised the product named Michael Power—a James Bond-like, crime-fighting journalist—became the star of a feature film in 2003 called Critical Assignment, which was a box office smash. (Of course, there’s some branding built into the script. As Brady explains, “There are definitely scenes where Michael Power is enjoying a pint of Guinness.”)

13. DISPENSING BEER WITH NITROGEN WAS ORIGINALLY CONSIDERED LAUGHABLE.

In the 1950s, Guinness scientist Michael Ash was tasked with solving the “draft problem.” At the time, dispensing a draft pint of Guinness was ridiculously complicated, and the company was losing market share to draft lagers in Britain that could be easily dispensed with CO2. “The stout was too lively to be dispensed with CO2 only,” Brady says. “Ash worked on the problem for four years, working long hours day or night, and became a bit of a recluse apparently. A lot of doubters at the brewery called the project ‘daft Guinness.’” But then Ash attempted dispensing the beer with plain air. It worked. The secret ingredient, Ash discovered, was nitrogen. The air we breathe is 78 percent nitrogen. Today, a Guinness draft contains 75 percent nitrogen. Not only did the discovery make dispensing the beer easier, it created a creamy mouthfeel that’s been the signature of Irish stouts since.

Full disclosure: Guinness paid for the author to attend an International Stout Day festival in 2017, which provided the opportunity to speak to their archivists.

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