When this website was begun in April 2009, I promised it would be about “more things than you can shake a stick at.” That may have been an overstatement, but, as will be seen in this retrospective, this blog has covered a lot of territory in eleven-plus years. Beginning largely about various aspects of liquor artifacts and ads, over time it has evolved into more personal reminisces. To reflect that change I recently altered the name from “BottlesBoozeandBackstories” to “MemoriesandMiscellany”
Recently having exceeded a half-million “hits” on the blog, this 300th post marks a milestone. To celebrate it, I have decided to reprise briefly those posts that have drawn the most attention through the years. Only one post has exceeded 6,000 look-ins and that is somewhat of a surprise. On June 31, 2011, I posted a piece entitled: “The Vernacular Art of Cast Iron Bottle Openers.” Now approaching 7,000 hits the post has proved to be by far the most popular.
I was fascinated by the variety and creativity embodied in cast iron bottle openers. Far from being antiques, most were manufactured in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Although the openers were cast from standardized molds, they were hand-painted by workers who often gave them individualized “personalities.” Among the examples I chose was a top-hatted man with a sour look generally known as “Mr. Dry.” Mr. Dry was a Prohibition advocate and his frown greets anyone uncapping a beer bottle on his face. While the origins of many of cast iron bottle openers are unknown, this one was created by Wilton Products, Inc., of Wrightsville, Pennsylvania.
The post in second place with some 5,740 look-ins was called “The Kiss of Prohibition: ‘Lips That Touch Liquor…”. The allusion was to a poem that concludes:
O women, the sorrow and pain is with you,
And so be the joy and the victory, too;
With this for your motto, and succor divine,
The lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine.
The last line became iconic and was used in various formats by anti-drink advocates frequently in the run-up to National Prohibition. The image also lent itself to countless parodies. One photograph that seems timeless in its appeal has a group of ten chastely dressed matrons beneath a sign. They clearly are making themselves look as “un-kissable” as possible. My attention was drawn to the woman in the center with a strange hat and what appears to be serape around her shoulders. Her eyes seem to indicate that her lips might have been on a bottle not long before. Later someone wrote me claiming that her long-diseased great aunt was that woman. My correspondent provided no other details.
In third place with 5,310 hits was my attempt to unravel the riddle of what was contained in the ceramic bottles imported from China for many years by workers brought to the U.S. to work on the railroads and other infrastructure projects. They carried with them or imported distinctive pottery containers, such as the one shown here. For years these bottles were considered to have held Chinese wine. Under the title “What Were the Chinese Drinking?” and out of personal experience in China, I posited that the bottles contained a strong whiskey-like drink called “Maotai.” Subsequently I found out that while generally connect, I had named the leading brand of the liquor. Generically it is known as “beijou.”
Only three posts have broken the 4,000 mark. “Discovering the Swasey Solution” on May 12, 2012, marked the end of my years-long search for pottery companies that created “fancy” advertising whiskey jugs. For the first time in print I had identified several of them but one that left no mark continued to be confounding. That ended when I came across a catalogue from E. Swasey & Company of Portland, Maine. It advertised “Light and Dark...Glazed Bristol Ware, Decorated Ware and Fine Glazed Stoneware.” As I turned the pages surprise after surprise greeted me. There were many of the mystery jugs. It turned out to be the Swasey solution.
Another “best seller” has nothing to do with either bottles or alcohol. It was Entitled “Charles Darwin and ‘The Monkey’s Uncle,’” posted January 30, 1915. Although Darwin was a thoughtful, serious scientist who made a monumental breakthrough in human thinking, his theories on evolution were often ridiculed by skeptics and, in his time, made the subject of satirical cartoons and other illustrations. In many cases, a monkey was at the center of such lampoons. Darwin himself frequently was depicted as a simian by cartoonists and illustrators. The popularity of the piece indicates interest from both Darwinian adherents and skeptics.
Irwin S. Cobb once was among America’s top celebrities: Author of 60 books, he was America’s highest paid journalist, a star of radio, motion pictures and the lecture circuit. More celebrated in his time than Johnny Carson or David Letterman in ours, he hosted the Academy Awards in 1935, received the French Legion of Honor, and two honorary doctorates. A bridge over the Ohio River, several parks, a major hotel, and a brand of cigars were named after him. Yet today, little more than 60 years after his death almost no one knows who Cobb was or what he did. My post of October 5, 2012 set out a short biography of this “forgotten man.” As of now some 4,175 individuals have been interested in finding out who Cobb was.
An unexplained large number of hits — often 3,000 or more on every post — occurred over a ten month period from the latter half of 2015 into the early months of 2016. Then things returned to lower and more traditional numbers. This phenomenon has been explained to me as the effect of another blog or blogs picking up my material and replicating it. I hope to learn more about how that happens.
Meanwhile I expect to keep this website active by adding a new post every two weeks. Given the evolution of the blog, going forward it may have a more personal touch, while still dealing with the wide range of subjects that have been dealt with in the past. On to #400!