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British in Iberia

British history and stories in Spain and Portugal.

The English Bull of Osborne.
03 March 2010 @ 11:23

“You won’t find him at home.  The Count is constantly in his office.  Only at lunch time will he take a car and drive home to spend an hour with his family, after which he returns immediately to his wineries.  He is a tireless worker and is so scrupulous in his business that every single delivery that is dispatched from his work is meticulously inspected by either himself or his brother, Juan. Maybe it’s due to this virtue and excellence, maybe it’s due to the superiority of the products that the house of Osborne has achieved its current status”.

The Count of Osborne, Tomás Osborne y Guezla, managed the fortunes of his home winery since 1890, the year of the death of his father, the fine, upstanding gentleman, the Count of Osborne who, from the exterior, appeared to be a quintessential Englishman - impeccably dressed, serious and correct.  No doubt the fifteen years he spent in England and his English roots influenced his character, his personality and his behavior.  Tomás was the grandson of a young English trader, Thomas Osborne Mann, born in Exeter and who settled in the port of Santa María where he joined up with a large firm of wine dealers, Lonergan & White.  He made contact with Sir James Duff, the man who helped General San Martin leave Spain, thanks to the friendship they developed in the Spanish struggle against Napoleon as well as being “brothers” in the Masonic Lodge in Cádiz.  Together they founded the wine-producing company Osborne, in his name, and which until 1890 traded abroad under the name of Duff-Gordon.

In 1956, at the height of General Franco’s dictatorship, the publicity agency Azor, under instruction from the Osborne Group, designed a logo which would be used to represent Veterano brandy on roadside publicity hoardings.  In the new Spanish democracy, the Government of Felipe Gonzalez never looked kindly on the Osborne bull.  In reality, some Socialists obsessed with the idea of “progress” were never fans of bull-fighting, nor of the “National Day” and of course, not of Francoism (the dictatorship of General Franco).  It was therefore inevitable that they distrusted a sign which alluded to all of this.  However, what they forgot was the Republican origin of the Osborne bull, as its creator (in 1956) was the artist Manuel Prieto who was a well-known militant of the Spanish Communist Party who, during the Spanish Second Republic collaborated as an artist in the group, Milicia Popular.  He inspired his friend, Josep Renau, a sign-maker of the Spanish Second Republic who drew almost identical bulls in his propaganda signs. 

In July, 1988, the General Highway Law forced the removal of all types of publicity visible from any state road.  All billboards were removed but the bulls remained in place.  The General Highway Rule of September, 1994 ordered for the Osborne bulls to be removed. Many autonomous communities, various municipalities, cultural associations, artists, politicians and journalists spoke out in favour of keeping the bulls.  The Andalucian Autonomous Government requested it to be approved as “cultural heritage” and the Chartered Community of Navarre made use of a chartered law to keep their local Osborne bull.  In December 1997 the Supreme Court made a ruling in favour of keeping the Osborne bulls due to their “aesthetic or cultural interest” and from this point onwards, the Osborne bull was no longer just a purely commercial logo.  Although not a symbol of Spanish identity, Catalan nationalists boycotted and tore down the only bull located in Catalunia, in El Bruc.  Some Catalan nationalists adopted their own symbol of the ruc, the Catalan donkey.

At present there are 90 Osborne bulls located throughout Spain.  The largest concentrations are around Jerez, both in the provinces of Seville and of Cadiz.   The rest are spread out across Spain. 

In September 2005 a criminal court judge acquitted several businessmen of the illegal use of the image on souvenirs for “people who see the figure of the bull as a national symbol and not as the specific logo of a business”.  However, following this, the Provincial Court of Seville revoked the first ruling and found the businessmen guilty, stating that “the cultural and symbolic reference that the Osborne Bull undoubtedly has, does not imply a the total freedom of Osborne’s rights over the Osborne Bull brand”.  Many rulings, before and after the aforementioned confirm the depth of the reference of the branding rights of the Osborne Group regarding their Bull.

The English Osborne Bull, communist and born at the height of Franco’s dictatorship, has transcended its character as just a sales logo and has become something that needs no explanation.  Perhaps the reasons behind its continued presence along the roadsides and horizons in Spain are this brotherly union and the concentration of the various ideas and nationalities.  The case of the Osborne Bull is a perfect example of how something that occupies the public space is integrated into the identifying culture of a community.  It becomes the sentimental and intellectual property of everyone, from a communist to a conservative, from an Englishman to a Spaniard.  The origin of this image belongs with all of them, probably without them even knowing it.

Written by Jesús Castro

Translated by Rachael Harrison

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Like 0


Simon said:
03 March 2010 @ 16:52

That was very interesting. I never knew about the English connection. Thanks for posting it.

Kenny Bean said:
03 March 2010 @ 19:57

Very, very interesting. I knew the origin was Osborne Brandy, but was unaware of the English connection with the family. Sr. Castro has researched this thoroughly, and the translation by Rachel Harrison is very readable.

Kenny Bean said:
03 March 2010 @ 20:00

Very, very interesting. I knew the origin was Osborne Brandy, but was unaware of the English connection with the family. Sr. Castro has researched this thoroughly, and the translation by Rachel Harrison is very readable.

James Lawson said:
04 March 2010 @ 19:02

How very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Bill said:
05 March 2010 @ 11:10

Very interesting, through our problems in Spain we have had great support, and the oposite, with Catalan and Spanish nationals, and this is why we are continuing with our own struggle, and still like Spain so some things never change. See BHtheTRUTH on YouTube for our story.

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