Friday, April 11, 2014

Steven Moseley’s Religion in a Bottle

Looking at Steve Moseley’s folk creations -- dioramas in a bottle -- one might suspect him of mocking religion.   My own perception is of a man with a deep spiritual sensibility, a knowledge of Scripture, and a skeptical eye toward the way some live out their avowed Christianity.  A post about Moseley and his work seems appropriate as Holy Week and the Easter Season, 2014, are upon us.

Moseley is a folk artist born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1964.  He was graduated from the University of Louisville with a degree in chemistry.  There he met his wife, a Ph.D. biochemist.  After a move to Cincinnati, Ohio, a daughter was born.  Steve became a stay-at-home Dad.  Along the line,  he decided he needed a hobby.  An airplane model builder as a youngster, he decided on making ships in a bottle.  He check out several books from the library and taught himself the craft.   Show here is one of his boat creations.  It is the yacht “Yarmouth” and dated 1918.

Demonstrating the care and dexterity with which he created his bottled ships, here is just a part of Moseley’s description of the Yarmouth bottle: The hull of the ship is red on the bottom with the top part of the hull painted black with three thin white stripes. The ship has raised bulwarks painted white on the inside. The main deck is natural wood and is full of features dominated by a large multiple deck extending from mid-ship to stern. These decks are painted white with black portholes painted on. There are eight brown hatches toward the front of the upper deck and two small black stacks with a single red stripe near the top with black rigging lines to secure the stacks. There is a large and very detailed lifeboat mounted on the end of the lower deck. There is a large single black with red stripe smoke stack in the middle of the deck with two large vent pipes on each side. In front of these decks and mid-ship is a two story pilot's steering cabin.

After the Moseleys moved to St. Louis,  a friends suggested that Steve try “whimsey bottles,”  containing scenes from his imagination.  He took strongly to this expression of folk art and has gained widespread recognition through juried competitions, museum exhibitions and a website.  After stumbling on the site recently, I was particularly fascinated by Moseley’s religious themes.  He has done bottles on the “Garden of Eden.”  One shown here features Adam and Eve in front of a modern oven.  I will let Moseley explain what is happening:

Eve has just baked an apple pie and is showing it to Adam, who has his plate and fork ready. In Adam's other hand is the proverbial Apple with a bite taken. For modesty and historical accuracy's sake both Adam and Eve are wearing Fig leafs, although Adam's is somewhat larger. The blue eyed coral snake is hanging from the Apple tree with a cook book in his mouth. There are numerous apples on the ground and two still hanging from the apple tree stopper. On top of the stove there are two pots with apples in them as well. On the side of the stove is a calendar. The year on the calendar is 4004 B.C. and the month is October. There are no days until the 23rd and the days from the 23rd to the 30th are X'ed out in red ink. All around the scene there are alternating red Tulips and yellow Daisies.

Moseley seems particularly taken with the figure of Jesus of Nazareth.   A bottle shown here celebrates his birth.  Under the title “The Very First X-mas” it depicts the Magi, in traditional costumes, presenting wrapped Christmas gifts to Mary and Joseph, both in modern dress.  Another depiction of Jesus is not so easily fathomed, however, and  again I will give the artist himself the explanation: Jesus is outside his liquor store called Holy Spirits and Wine. He is busy filling seven green wine bottles with a garden hose, turning water into wine, keeping his costs down. The sign above him states that the store is closed on Sunday and that a sale occurring. There is an OPEN sign in the window and below three yellow Daisies are in the flower bed next to the hose spigot. He is giving a peace sign with his left hand while standing on a Coral snake. He is dressed in a white cloak with a brown belt rope, sandals and a golden halo. The stopper is hand and book inspired. It is made of Bass wood and has a locking mechanism. On the pages of the book is a bible verse; 1 Timothy 5:23. "Drink no longer water. but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities."

While upon a quick glance one might see this bottle making fun of the miracle at Cana where Scripture says Jesus changed water into wine for a wedding feast,  I see Moseley striking at those “prohibitionary” Christians who try to ban all alcoholic beverages as sinful.  The diorama emphasizes that that wine was very much a part of the life of Jesus. Note too that Jesus has his foot squarely on the snake that tempted Adam and Eve.  To me that coveys that Moseley is saying that while an apple may have led to sin, alcohol does not. Finally, the quotation from “Timothy” has St. Paul counseling early Christians to make spirituous drink a part of their daily fare.  That too is a stick in the eye of the Temperance crowd.

At this point I should note that each of the folk pieces above are crafted within whiskey bottles.  Moseley is careful to note the provenance of each.  The Yarmouth piece is from a Captain Morgan Rum bottle.   More popular with Steve as a container, and possibly as a beverage as well, is Knob Creek Bourbon.   Empty Knob Creeks surround the other three whimseys shown above.

One of the most complicated pieces of Moseley’s creation is his rendering of The Last Supper, which in his hands becomes “The Last McSupper.”  Note the McDonald’s containers on the table.  The assembly is drinking from plastic cups and eating hamburgers and fries.   Again, I do not find this offensive.  The Last Supper image has appeared on velvet,  tee shirts,  coffee cups and dozens of other secular items.  Moseley is asking us to think about a clear juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane. 

He is also sending a message by the Crucifixion scene:  Would white Christians believe in a black Savior?   Moseley describes it this way:  This Crucifixion bottle is a so called variation on a theme. Here, Christ is black unlike the run of the mill Christ's which are white. My neighbor described him as "African American". I don't know how he determined the nation of origin by looking at him, but he is more perceptive than I am. There is a INRI sign above Christ's head which stands for Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. There is a woman follower praying at the base of the cross. The stopper is made of Curly Cherry and has a Walnut cross at the top. Inlaid with Basswood is the title of the whimsey: Would You Still Believe?

The last two bottles shown here also carry out a Jesus theme.  For the first, the challenge is for Evangelical Christians to contemplate which candidate for President the Lord would be supporting in the 2012 election,  Romney or Obama.   Moseley clearly thinks Jesus was on the side of the President.   In the second he also fantasizes about what Jesus would do about pederast priests.   We see a man in a Roman collar offering a lollipop to a young boy.  Neither see that the Lord has a rifle leveled at the priest.  The closure has an abbreviation that means, What Would Jesus Do?”   Point made.

For my money,  Steve Moseley is making the best use of “dead soldier” whiskey bottles that can be found anywhere.  With his craftsmanship,  his imagination and, perhaps most of all, his sense of irony he is creating objects of considerable interest.  My hunch is that decades hence his works will be shown as an exemplar of American folk art in our time.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Two Styles of Collecting -- and the “Tweeners”

On this the fifth anniversary of this blog,  Bottles, Booze and Back Stories, it occurred to me to devote it to some musing on the mysterious passion known as “collecting.”  Of the 138 previous posts nine of them have been devoted entirely to that subject but others have been written to be of interest to collectors of bottles, glass and similar items.  This article was occasioned by my reading a quote from Sir Kenneth Clark, shown here, the famous British expert on art  who died in 1983.

Clark, shown here, asked himself a simple question:  “Why do people collect?”  He decided there was no real answer, that is was like asking why people fall in love.  There could be hundreds of answers.  But then Clark made a distinction.  He reduced collectors to two essential types: those bewitched by bright objects and those who want to put them in a series.  Clark himself was in the first category and his collecting was eclectic.  A rich man, his collection included Japanese prints,  neo-romantic British artists,  French impressionists paintings and drawings, Medieval works of art,  illuminated pages, Renaissance medals (one shown here) and majolica pottery. 

There are lots of collectors out there like Clark, even if they lack his erudition and financial resources.  When I am standing in line to enter an antiques or bottle show,  I invariably ask people in line ahead of me and behind:  “What do you collect?”  Many times the response is:  “Oh, I just pick up a little bit of everything.”  Or: “Nothing in particular, I just look for things that interest me.”   Those are folks who clearly fit into Clark’s first category.  If they see something, have a yen for it, and the money to buy, it goes home with them.

Then there are the collectors in the second category, those who want to put things in a series.  Perhaps the most diligent of those I ever met was the late Jim Bready, a highly respected Baltimore journalist.  He is shown here at the Baltimore Sun.  Jim collected Maryland rye whiskey jugs and bottles and thereby had become the recognized “guru” of the thriving liquor industry in that Baltimore city and the state before National Prohibition.   Jim’s passion was to put things in a series.  If he knew that a distiller put his product in quart, half gallon, gallon, two gallon, and five gallon crocks and he had three of the five, he could not rest until he had completed the set.  In many cases he succeeded.

Another collector friend, for privacy purposes let us call him Tim, shown here,  developed a passion for the fancy whiskey jugs issued by the Knowles, Taylor & Knowles pottery of East Liverpool, Ohio, a sample shown here.  I first met Tim when he drove to my house more than 25 years ago, looked at a small collection of KT&K that I had assembled, and said to his wife, “We have a lot of work to do.” Together eventually he and I created a list of all such known whiskey jugs and today through assiduous hunting and cajoling (including me), he has been able to collect virtually all of the styles and colors of whiskeys KT&K produced. His series is all but complete.

Tim can be contrasted with his longtime comrade, whom we will call Roger, shown here, who like Kenneth Clark is an “eclectic,”  accustomed to collecting what catches his eye.  For a while his passion was for ornate swords but just recently he has been interested in collecting stoneware bottles from a former Cleveland wine seller, grocer and druggist  company named Benton, Myers.  There may be another passion awaiting down the line.

Nevertheless, there is something to be said for those who are in that  class of collector:  They genuinely are, as Clark puts it, “bewitched” by the objects of their desire.  After purchasing it they will talk about it,  perhaps research it, show it to their friends,  and put it on display at home where they and visitors can see it easily.  On the other hand, the serial collector may be obliged to buy an item about which he or she is less than enthusiastic but requires it to fill out a set or a series.

The downside of the omnivore collector is the disposal of an array of largely unrelated objects, either by reason of having to downsize or by death.   Recently a well known and well respected collector  of Virginia stoneware passed away.  Not long before he died I was privileged to visit his home and see the marvelous collection but startled to find that he had collected hundreds, if not thousands, of other objects that presumably now must be disposed of.

By contrast,  Jim Bready was able to give his collection of whiskey jugs, bottles and other material to the Maryland State Archives who have curated and catalogued them under the title “The James H. Bready Collection of Maryland Rye Whiskey Bottles and Related Ephemera.”  The collection is described as including “approximately 650-700 bottles from distilleries of rye whiskey in Maryland. Most date from the late 19th century (1870s) to the early 20th century (1940s). The bottles range in size from tiny 1/10 pints to full pint flasks to quart bottles and gallon jugs. Some pieces of pottery and ceramic as well as an array of decanters are part of this collection.

As a result of Jim’s collecting in series and his gift of this large number of objects to the State of Maryland, future generations will have access to a marvelous resource.   On  a much less grand scale my collection of hillbilly ceramics from the 1930s to the 1960s was donated to the Appalachian Life Museum in Boonesboro,  North Carolina.  When that institution closed and its collection disbursed, the hillbilly artifacts were given to a local North Carolina museum where they now reside.   Often a serial collection can find a “good home” where it will be of historical interest and value to current and future generations.

My conclusion is that Kenneth Clark’s dichotomy of collectors is largely correct but he fails to take into account the “tweener,” that is the collector who has interests in three or four areas.  This is someone who collects objects in series but has multiple series going at any given time or moves from series to series.  For example one “tweener” friend of mine seems always able to amass a impressive array of related artifacts in a relatively short period.  One year it might be “goofus” (carnival) glass,” the next hyacinth vases, both shown here.  Then he mounts awesome displays at bottle shows that have onlookers asking:  “How did he do that?”

In sum, the collecting bug bites us in many and various ways.  The reasons for it are, as Clark expressed, very mysterious, like falling in love.  And some fall in love every day.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Popes...Selling

As we celebrate the first anniversary of the Roman Catholic pontificate of Pope Francis I,  it occurred to me that, like other world-recognized celebrities,  popes past and present have been appropriated by the advertising industry to push commercial products, sometimes over their objections and sometimes in a highly dubious circumstances.

The latter come to mind when contemplating a product called “The Pope’s Cologne.”  It purports to be the private formula of Pope Pius IX, whose papacy of 31 years was the longest in the history of the Catholic Church (1848-1878).  The last of the popes to wield temporal power through the Papal States,  Pius IX was a controversial figure, alternately loved and hated,  who presided during a period of great tumult in Italy and the Church.  Through it all, if you believe the admen, Pius IX smelled good.

Here is the pitch for the product:  We obtained this formula from descendants of the commander of his Papal Guard and faithful friend, General Charles Charette. We have followed this complex, exclusive formula meticulously, using the same essential oils that his perfumers used 150 years ago.  We believe that we have succeeded in capturing the same fragrance that he and those around him enjoyed so long ago. This is a truly extraordinary cologne with surprising freshness and notes of violet and citrus.

The ad conjures up a vision of the Pope puttering around a laboratory somewhere in the bowels of the Vatican,  crushing violets,  squeezing orange peels, and hashing other botanicals until he has the “aha” moment that tells him he and his “perfumers” have concocted a cologne fit for the Bishop of Rome.  Then he calls in the Curia to take a sniff.

There need be no such skepticism about the next product,  represented by two late 19th Century ads for a beverage known as “Vin Mariani.”  Invented in 1863 by a young Corsican named Angelo Mariani,  it was a coca wine.  Importing tons of coca leaves from Latin America to France, Mariani soaked them in Bordeaux wine.   Ethanol in the wine acted as a solvent and extracted the cocaine from the leaves, which then laced the beverage.  The beverage proved to be very popular with many in Europe and America.  The French writer Emil Zola called it “the elixir of life.”  Thomas Edison said it helped him stay awake for longer periods, (inventing I suppose).  Other reputed regular imbibers were Queen Victoria and U.S. President William McKinley.

But Vin Mariani’s most famous customer was Pope Leo XIII who is said to have carried a flask of the stuff around with him to bolster his spirits in times of need.  So grateful was the Pope that he awarded a Vatican gold medal to Angelo.   A hustling entrepreneur as well as inventor,  Mariani saw the benefits of celebrity endorsements and frequently featured the  gold medal and the Catholic pontiff in his advertising.   Leo’s pontificate spanned the years 1878 to 1903 and was known for his papal encyclicals that became the basis for Catholic social teaching.  Not long after his death,  coca wines were made illegal in the United States.

Beer, however, would be legal until National Prohibition in 1920.  That gave the T. Briggs & Company brewery of Elmira, New York, founded in 1870, lots of time to issue advertising items like the tip tray shown here.  It shows Leo XIII sitting at a table on which appears to be a bottle of beer.  The Pope is looking benign and giving a blessing, presumably to the customers of the saloon in which Briggs’ lager beer and ales were being served and sold.  Possibly someone thusly blessed would reciprocate with a larger tip.   The Briggs brewery in 1903 advertised that:  “The ladies of Elmira are especially invited to come and see how pure beer and ale are made.”  Neither such appeals nor Leo XIII could stem the tide of National Prohibition and in 1920, after a 50 years run the brewery was  forced to close.

Then we skip ahead to a more contemporary era and the papacy of John Paul II, the first non-Italian pontiff since Hadrian VI in 1522.  When elected in 1978 he was still only 58, a published poet and playwright, an accomplished skier and mountaineer, and fluent in at least six languages.  Admired for his strong stand against communism, a position that made him a target for an assassin, this Pope is credited with helping precipitate the end of the Iron Curtain in Europe.  John Paul also was very strict about Church teaching on matters such as  contraception. That  made him a object of sly derision in ads dealing with matters sexual, especially use of condoms.   Among the least distasteful is one for Manix condoms, a leading French-made male contraceptive product that is marketed throughout Europe.  The ad purports to show John Paul,  papal staff in hand, inserting coins into a Manix wall dispensary.

European ad men have been much more daring in their use of the pope’s image than their American counterparts.   A major uproar was occasioned in November 2011 by an advertisement from Benetton, an Italian clothing firm.  Shown here, it featured Pope Benedict XVI in a doctored photograph kissing a senior Egyptian Moslem imam named Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb.  It was part of an advertising campaign termed “Unhate.” The Vatican was not amused. The ad was termed “totally unacceptable” and Benetton was forced to pull the image.

The unexpected resignation of Pope Benedict (2005-2013) occasioned its own set of ad man fantasies.   The Ultra Lock-Coimbria Company ran the ad included here.  With the legend, “Pope Benedict XVI resigned because....”, it showed a folder shut by a company lock.  “Ultra Lock is the ideal padlock to protect important things, since it is made with an extremely reduced mechanism,” the ad read.  It went on to say that the high quality of the lock allowed it to protect “highly confidential information and valuable objects.”  The clear inference was that the reason for Benedict’s resignation was highly secret.

While some admen concentrated on the pope’s resignation,  Justin Ramb saw the election of Pope Francis in terms of a marketing campaign.  In a promotion for his Florida advertising firm he put it this way:   “It starts with buzz.  People are excited about something new, and they want to share their excitement with others.  They may not even know what, exactly, it is that they’re excited about – that’s certainly often the case with the launch of items such as the iPhone and the upcoming Google Glass.  The buzz is that whatever it is, it will be revolutionary.  A new pope has the potential to shift the direction of the Catholic Church, an organization that has members in countries around the world.”

At least one company agreed.  The Wisconsin-based Harley-Davidson Motor Company, maker of those iconic “big hogs,” in 2013 featured an ad showing a lone motorcycle rider on a dark landscape with the headline, “The Pope’s Biggest Challenge in the New Millennium:  Bring Back People to Church.”  The point appeared to be that they should be invited to come on their motorcycles.  But Harley Davidson went further.  In June 2013 the company gave Pope Francis a motorcycle and a biker jacket.  The occasion was their 110th anniversary, celebrated in Rome when the newly created pontiff blessed about 800 bikers and their riders in St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis, who has urged Catholic clergy to show humility in their choice of transportation,  promptly announced that he would donate the motorcycle and jacket to be auctioned off to raise money for a hostel and soup kitchen that serves Rome’s homeless. The bike fetched a whopping $285,000 and the jacket, $70,000.  Both had been autographed by the Pope who, by the way, has yet to be seen riding a Harley.

The final illustration here is not an ad but piece of street art that was conceived by Italian artist Mauro Pallotta, seen here posing in front of it.  It depicts Pope Francis as a kind of clerical
“Superman,” who is holding a bag marked “values.”   Authorities soon erased it from a wall in Rome’s Borgio Pio District near St. Peter’s Square, but by that time through the Internet and social media, the image had gone, as the saying is, “viral.”  So much so that that Francis has felt it necessary to disavow the image.  Recently he emphasized that the Pope is not superhuman but just an ordinary person.  Given the international celebrity that this pontiff has achieved in the first year of his papacy, however, I have a hunch similar depictions may lie in the future, some of them for commercial purposes.  History is clear:  Popes sell.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Fraternal Organizations: By Their Nips Shall You Know Them

This post is devoted to the ceramic figural containers, often called “nips,” that were issued by American fraternal organizations during the late 19th and early 20th Century.  These bottles usually held booze and I have a personal back story. All grist for this blog.  The back story is alluded to obliquely by the male face right.  It is of a Papuan warrior in full battle dress who will become relevant later.  Now to the bottles and their issuing organizations.

The heyday of American fraternal groups roughly was in the century between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Vietnam War.  Overwhelmingly white male in their constituency, membership numbered in the millions.   One reason for their popularity was that a Moose or an Elk or an Eagle or an Owl could taste liquor outside of disapproving looks from his spouse or other females.   It is said that even during the 14 years of National Prohibition fraternal clubhouses remained “wet.”  Earlier, these groups had celebrated their alcoholic environments by authorizing ceramic flasks,  emblazoned with their symbols, holding a swallow or two of whiskey.  Popularly called “nips,” many fraternal bottles have survived to the present day and are avidly collected.

The Loyal Order of Moose was funded in Louisville, Kentucky, in the spring of 1888 purely as a men’s social club.  After spreading to a number of other cities, it did not prosper and by the fall of 1906 had only two lodges, both in Indiana.   Enter James Davis, a Welsh immigrant with strong organizing skills.  He saw the Order as a way to provide a social safety net for working class men. By establishing a low annual membership fee Davis built the organization into a strong force and created an educational facility and a town in Indiana called “Moosehart.”  In 1923 the Order of Moose boasted 1,669 lodges “in every civilized country controlled by the Caucasian race.”  After hitting a peak in 1966 of more than one million members, the Moose have steadily declined in numbers to an estimated 800,000 in 2013.

The two Moose nips shown here,  as was common with fraternal organizations, featured the likeness of the animal for which the organization was named.  The second one shown here was produced by the Weller Pottery, a company founded by Samuel Weller in Fultonham, Ohio, in 1872.  Ten years later he moved it to Zanesville in a region of Ohio with rich deposits of pottery-making clay.  It is estimated Weller created this bottle for the Moose about 1890.

The next three nips are from the Elks, including the one above.  That organization officially is the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks or BPOE.   This organization had a modest beginning in 1868 as a private club in New York City, formed to avoid laws limiting the opening hours of local saloons. Early members were mostly from theatrical performing groups.   The Elks soon evolved into a major U.S. fraternal, charitable and service order with more than a million members.  Unlike many other such groups, the BPOE traditionally been all-male without an official female auxiliary.

Eating and drinking have always played a part in BPOE socializing and so proliferation of their nips is not surprising.   Elks meetings were generally held at night around victuals and alcoholic beverages.   Note that two nips have clocks on them, set to 11 p.m.  A Order website explains why:  "At every meeting of the BPOE, and every social function, when the hour of 11:00 p.m. tolls, the Lodge conducts a charming ceremonial known as the "Eleven O'clock Toast." In fact, the clock tolling the eleventh hour is part of the BPOE official emblem, and is directly behind the representation of an elk's head in the emblem of the Order.

The second Elk nip shown here, the one with a clock and elk head contains what appears to be a motto, “Cervus Alces.”   In actuality it is the scientific name for a European elk species.  Note that the ceramic is shaped like a flask but its irregular base identifies it as a replica of an “Elk’s Tooth,” an symbol of the organization that many members sported as a watch fob or tie clasp.   By such symbols members identified each other. The the third Elk nip shown here was imported from Germany.  It was the work of Shafer & Vader, famed Thuringa creators of thousands of whiskey nips.  (See my February 2010 post on Shafer & Vader).   Also in the shape of an elk’s tooth, this nip was commissioned for a Portland lodge of the BPOE.  It was a promotional item for M. Nelson, proprietor of the Lotus Saloon.  He used it to advertise that he had H. Weinhard’s Rheingold Beer on tap.

The Order of Owls, a lesser known and today virtually extinct fraternal organization, was founded by a group of businessmen in South Bend, Indiana, in 1904.  By 1911 the Owls claimed more than 300,000 members in the U.S. Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Australia and South Africa. Unlike other such groups, the Owls disavowed any religious ties.  Its literature boasted that their Order was "a secret society of good fellows, who believe in love, laughter and the Kingdom of Heaven ON EARTH.  It does not believe in postponing one’s enjoyments until after death.”   Such declarations brought attacks from church groups and may have led to the organization’s decline.

The unabashed hedonism of the Order obviously meant attention to drinking and nips.  The Owls did not disappoint.   The small blue flask with the ceramic closure featuring three owls is among the most attractive of those artifacts.   A second Owl mini-flask is an imitation ear of corn with what appear to be ritual symbols on the body.  .

Our final group of bottles can be attributed to the Fraternal Order of Eagles,  founded in 1898 by a group of six theater owners in Seattle, Washington.  Hoping to avoid a musician’s strike they banded together in an informal group that met on local theater stages and after taking care of business rolled out a barrel of beer.   With that “wet” beginning, no wonder the Eagles  issued nips.  Shown here are three of them, all bear the figure of the eagle.  On one the eagle looks left, on the other, right.  The third resembles the official U.S. eagle emblem, with olive branches in one claw, arrows in the other.  It appears to be the work of Shafer & Vader.

From its theatrical beginnings the Eagles grew into a member service organization, providing funeral costs, medical services and other benefits to members.  It also took on social and political causes. The Eagles pushed for the founding of Mother's Day, provided  impetus for Social Security and pushed to end job discrimination based on age.  In 2011,  the Order claimed 850,000 members and 250,000 members in its auxiliary.
We have identified one commonality among all four fraternal organizations:  significant consumption of alcohol among members.  Another common thread was racial discrimination.

All four organizations have had some form of exclusionary membership policy, expressed as “whites only”  or as with the Moose and Eagles excluding all but “Caucasians.”  Over the years the Elks, for example, have faced lawsuits about violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Because of the Eagles’ sponsorship of social legislation, many Democratic politicians belonged to that organization, including a Congressman for whom I was once worked.  Reacting to its “Caucasian only” clause, the National Democratic Party asked its office holders to resign from the organization.  My boss was a Eagle.   Enter the gent shown above.  Asked to do a report on the situation by the Congressman, I discovered a 1920s book on ethnology that declared that the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea were “the true Caucasoids.”   My report  included that information and contained a photo similar to the one here, with the caption:  “Wait ‘til this gent bellies up to the bar at the Eagles Club.”   The Congressman subsequently quit the organization.

Whatever the future of fraternal organizations,  whatever their gender, religious or racial policies are or might become, one can assume that social hours and refreshment will be ever a part of their existence.   Although the nips shown here are all about a century old, they continue to be a reminder of that liquid reality. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Gold Medal for Jack Daniels


With the world being in the throes of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, gold medals are on everyone’s mind.   One  gold medal has been on my mind since I won it on an internet auction site recently.  Shown here, it actually is a bronze reproduction for use as a paperweight. The medallion has an interesting bas-relief design showing a woman wearing a crown, trailed by a small boy and a man carrying an ax who seem to be encountering three individuals dressed somewhat haphazardly in togas.  Not an easy message to decipher.

The clue to its identity lies in the writing below.  It represents a medal awarded at the “Exposition Internationale de Gand,”  that is, the World’s Fair in Ghent, Belgium, in 1913.  Such expositions tended to give out gold medals like lollipops in a kid’s barbershop to all kinds of products that bothered to participate and demonstrate their wares.  In this case, turning the medal over, shows -- perhaps suprisingly -- that this medal was awarded to the American whiskey maker,  Jack Daniels.

Depicted here on a paperweight,  in 1857 Daniels began his career as a teenage apprentice to a man who was both a distiller and a Lutheran preacher in Tennessee.  After a visit from a woman prohibitionist the preacher gave up the distillery, located on interestingly-named Louse Creek, and Daniels took it over.  About age 14 he was making wagon trips to Huntsville, Alabama, to sell his whiskey.  After service in the Civil War he was able to acquire distillery property near Lynchburg, Tennessee and about 1866 he registered with the state as Jack Daniels Distillery. 

Within a few years Daniels with his nephew Lem Motlow had build his whiskey business into one of the largest in the the United States.  Daniels believed in advertising and publicity.  When an international fair was held in Liege, Belgium, in 1905,  his whiskey was represented and won a gold medal.  By the time of the Ghent fair, however, Daniels, a bachelor, was dead, victim of a gangrenous injury in 1911.  Having no wife or children he left the distillery to Motlow.  The latter was of the same mind about publicity and took his whiskey wares to Ghent.

The Exposition, shown here in panorama. was held on an area of 130 acres not far from the center of town, close to a recently completed railway station.  Renovations were made to a number of buildings in Ghent.  The construction is said to have been controversial and the fair ended on the eve of World War One when many Europeans were not in a fair-going mood   Despite having been sold to townsfolk as an economic boon,  the Ghent Expo ended seriously in debt.   By that time, however, Motlow was home in Tennessee savoring his gold medal.

The medal design was by Godefroid Devreese (sometimes given as “de” Vreese) Shown here, he was born at Courtrai, Belgium, in 1861. From the age of fifteen he practiced sculpture in the studio of his father, Constant Devreese, a well known Belgian artist.  At the time of the  Exposition,  Devreese was considered one of Europe’s outstanding sculptors in the mode of  “art nouveau.”  That style had been the rage during the latter part of the 19th Century but was slowly going out of fashion in the 20th.  Nonetheless, Devreese created his gold medal in the art nouveau style.

It is worthwhile comparing the Devreese original with the Daniels reproduction.  A primary difference is in the backgrounds.   In the original the wall behind the figures is utterly plain.  It emphasizes the six figures shown.  The Devreese design indicates that the woman with a crown likely is greeting three Greek muses, probably those associated with music,  “Aoid”, song; “Melet,” practice, and “Mneme,” memory.  This may be why the boy behind the woman has is throwing flowers from a basket toward them.  Concertgoers know that performers are thrown flowers.  None of this pageantry is evident in the Daniels paperweight.  There a pebbled background obscures the grace
of Devreese’s design and makes it look clumsy and “heavy.”  Moreover, the molding of the figures on the reproduction is crude, particularly when compared with the elegant original.

Nevertheless, the Jack Daniel whiskey folks are proud of their medal, despite it having been supplied by a little known and apparently unsuccessful World’s Fair.  As further evidence the distillers have included it on a shot glass of their issuance.  Shown here, it is rendered in gold and carries a reminder that it was bestowed on Jack Daniels at  “Ghent, Belgium, Gold Medal, 1913.”  The discovery of this glass opens a question:  Was the bronze paperweight issued at the time of its award, which would make it an antique or manufactured and issued more recently?  I lean toward a later, post-Prohibition date.  Although such signs sometimes can be misleading,  the item lacks the patina and evidence of wear that artifacts of that vintage can be expected to display.

Moreover, Jack Daniels is a whiskey producer that has outdone all of its U.S. rivals in the number and variety of paperweights it has issued over the years.   In my collection I have no fewer than nine,  all of them circulated post-Prohibition, and there are many more. Among those in my collection are an attractive etched black glass weight, decorated with ears of corn and sheaves of wheat, shown here. It carries a sticker on the back identifying it as a product of the Fenton Glass Works of Williamstown, West Virginia, one of America’s oldest and most successful.  Founded in 1905  Fenton glass appears to have weathered the onslaught of foreign competition and at least the last time I looked is still doing business under direction of the Fenton family.

The Jack Daniels crowd, however, do not always “buy American.”  Shown here is a weight that displays a variety of whiskey labels related to the Tennessee whiskey.  It bears a sticker on its felt-lined base that identifies it as from the “Waterfill Glass Collection.”   Research discloses that items so marked come from China.  This post closes showing a weight that display souvenir shot glasses that the company has sold through its Lynchburg General Store. 
The “back story” of the Jack Daniels gold medal weight has led from Louse Creek and Lynchburg, Tennessee, to Ghent, Belgium, and then on to Williamstown, West Virginia, and China,  finally returning to Lynchburg.  That odyssey is recalled each time I look at the bronze paperweight now sitting on a pedestal in my office.