Coaster Culture in Australia
The Brits and the Americans call them beer mats. Most Aussies call them drink coasters. And, believe it or not, these little suckers are highly collectable.
What’s in a name?
Originally a ship that went from port to port along a coast, the word ‘coaster’ was later used to describe a circular tray that held a wine bottle. These often had wheels underneath, so they could be ‘coasted’ from drinker to drinker around a table. The form changed, but the name remained. The predecessors of the cardboard coasters so common today developed in Germany around 1880. At first these ‘Bierdeckel‘ were used to cover drinks and keep flying insects out (deckel means lid in German), but their absorbent qualities also meant they worked well to stop those annoying beer rings on the furniture.
Enter the tegestologist
As the technology improved in the early 1900s, it soon became possible to print on the paper coasters. And the varying designs were irresistible to collectors. For travellers, what could be better than a small flat souvenir that takes up very little space in your suitcase? Collecting beer coasters is called tegestology and there are collectors’ clubs all over the world, including in Australia. The Guinness Book of World Records says Leo Pisker, from Austria, has the world’s biggest collection, with more than 150,000 coasters from over 160 countries.
Why they won’t fly
Scientists in Germany (where else?) have paid serious attention to the question of why you can’t throw a coaster like a Frisbee. They say that owing to the interaction between gravity, lift, and the conservation of angular momentum (are you paying attention?) the hurled coaster will drift off course after 0.45 seconds at most. There’s a more detailed explanation, but we’ll leave it there. At the end of their scientific paper, the researchers added: “Our sincere apologies to everyone hit by a beer mat (or coaster), be it through inaccurate aim or due to us instigating others to perform silly experiments.”
High tech coasters
Various inventors have tinkered with the coaster. Thus we have seen the coaster that uses thermodynamics to keep drinks cold for up to an hour. And the coaster that uses weight and motion sensors to detect when a glass is empty and sends radio signals to a computer at the bar to say you want a refill. Despite the latter device being invented in 2005, we haven’t noticed a great take-up of the technology here in Oz.
Nothing if not versatile
As well as their fundamental function as drip catchers, beer coasters are invaluable to note down the phone number of a new romantic prospect, or as a means to stop your café table from rocking. The most creative use might be that of Sven Goebel, who, in 2010, was awarded a Guinness World Record for building a five-room apartment, completely from cardboard beer mats. We’ll drink to that.