26 Dec

By Paul Whitelock 

If you have been coming to Spain for many years you may well have asked yourself at some point: “Whatever happened to the Osborne bull?” El Toro de Osborne, the image of a black fighting bull that used to dominate the skyline all over Spain since the 50s, seemed to disappear, only to make a comeback in recent years.  Paul Whitelock traces the history of the emblematic publicity hoarding which was such a comforting feature of the Spanish horizon.


The Osborne bull, el Toro de Osborne, is a 14-metre (46 ft) high black silhouetted image of a bull in semi-profile. Nowadays there are just 92 of them located outdoors all over Spain. 

Only two signs remain in Spain with the word “Osborne” still written on them. One is at Jerez de la Frontera airport in the province of Cádiz, and the other is in the nearby town of El Puerto de Santa María, where the Osborne headquarters are based. 

The Osborne bull is the silhouette of a fighting bull, approximately fourteen metres high, originally conceived as a large roadside billboard to promote the Osborne Group’s Veterano brandy. 


More than 60 years ago, Osborne commissioned the Azor agency to design a billboard to advertise its Veterano brandy on the roads. In 1956 the designer Manolo Prieto created the design of a bull that would be easily integrated into the landscape. 

The billboards were distributed throughout Spain, generally next to roads and on hills in order to attract attention. 

Although the initial purpose was advertising, with the passage of time the Osborne bull has become a cultural symbol of Spain. 

In November 1958, the first boards, made of wood, began to be installed, but since adverse weather conditions damaged the wooden hoardings, they switched to building them out of metal. 

30 years later, in 1988, the General Highway Law required the removal of advertising from any visible place from any main road. So, the name Veterano was removed and the hoardings remained. 

In September 1994 the General Highway Regulations were published ordering the removal of all Osborne bulls. 

Several autonomous communities, numerous municipalities, cultural associations, artists, politicians and journalists spoke up for keeping them. The Junta de Andalucía, for example, requested that the bulls be classified as “cultural assets”. 

In the same year the bulls were declared by the Congress of Deputies as part of the “cultural and artistic heritage of the peoples of Spain.” 

In 1997 the Supreme Court issued a ruling in favour of the maintenance of the Osborne bulls due to the “aesthetic or cultural interest” attributed to them.


Currently there are 92 Osborne bulls distributed irregularly throughout Spain. There is a concentration around Jerez de la Frontera and in the provinces of Cádiz and Sevilla

The rest are dispersed throughout the country in a haphazard way, while some autonomous communities have none (Cantabria, Catalonia, Ceuta and Murcia) or have just one (Balearic Islands, Melilla, Navarra and the Basque Country), there are other small concentrations around Asturias, Zaragoza and Alicante

The image of the Osborne Bull also crops up in many other areas of daily life apart from advertising: it is frequently seen on car bumper stickers, on travel souvenirs (T-shirts, caps, key rings, ashtrays, postcards, tiles, coasters, etc.), even overprinted on the Spanish flag as a shield, often appearing between the stands at sporting events and in international missions of Spanish soldiers.

The Osborne bull in the rest of the world  

In Spain, the image of El Toro de Osborne is widely known, but what many people do not know is that it is also well-known internationally. 

In Japan recently a billboard of El Toro de Osborne was installed, and others also adorn the landscapes of countries such as Denmark and Mexico

With acknowledgements to Wikipedia. 

© Paul Whitelock 

Tags: billboard, cultural heritage, Denmark, distribution, El Puerto de Santa Maria, headquarters, history, Japan, Mexico, Osborne bull, Paul Whitelock, signs, Spain, symbol, Wikipedia

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