Old Sam logo probably not racist, NLC says, but they're changing it anyway

Image could be of Old Sam's original founder, but all research inconclusive

Old Sam Rum is blended and bottled in St. John's by the NLC's spirits division. It will no longer be bottled with the logo shown in this image. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

The Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Commission is doing away with a logo of a smiling man on bottles of Old Sam.

The NLC undertook a review of the logo earlier this month. In a statement on Monday, the commission said it found no evidence of a racist history, but it was removing the logo out of caution.

"We do not believe the image perpetuates negative racial stereotypes. However, we also accept that there are limitations on the information available about the product," said NLC chief merchandising officer Peter Murphy.

"We believe that the time is right to evolve the Old Sam brand and adjust the visual identity of the product accordingly."

The NLC's review came after PepsiCo pulled the logo and brand of its Aunt Jemima pancake mixes and syrup, which portrays a stereotype of a Black woman working as a servant or nanny to a white family, and the company that owns Uncle Ben's rice would be reviewing its branding, which portrays an elderly African American man.

Old Sam is owned by Rock Spirits, which is the merchandising division of the NLC. The history of Old Sam dates back 200 years to the South American country of Guyana.

Murphy said there's some evidence to suggest the logo depicts the white founder of Edward Young and Co., which was the original owner of Old Sam.

Historic filings with trademark authorities only say the logo is "the representation of a man's head and face in the act of laughing."

Several other avenues of research turned up nothing conclusive. 

"Although we may believe the imagery is not related to negative racial stereotypes, we cannot conclusively state that those linkages may not exist or be perceived in that light," Murphy said.

The NLC will continue to call the rum Old Sam, but will stop using the logo.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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