Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Marvelous Bottles of Bulkley, Fiske & Co.

          From time to time this blog has featured fancy liquor jugs, but those were issued by distillers, whiskey “rectifiers” (blenders) and wholesale dealers, almost always over a period years.  Not so with the highly valued ceramics shown here.  Bulkley-Fiske & Co. broke the mode. The New York City grocery company produced them and did so over a period of four years (1858-1862).

The pair of cruet-like jugs shown above are in a “Rockingham” glaze, both a tan and a darker brown.  That attractive marbled look was highly popular in the United States during the early 1800s, copied from British glazes with a similar look.  A pottery in Bennington, Vermont, was particularly famous for the glaze but other U.S. firms also could replicate it.  Those ceramics normally was used for tableware and candle sticks — not to hold liquor.  

These pint-sized jugs were held gin when they were sold.  A shield on the front of each container says:  “Schiedam Gin Imported by Bulkley, Fiske & Co.”  The name of the firm and the address also was impressed into their shoulders.  There was no mistaking by whom these vessels were issued.
Even more impressive is a whiskey jug with a similar handle and top and also in a Rockingham glaze.   Entitled by the company “Game Bag,” each side has a bas relief picture.  One side is the game bag with four dead quarry hanging from it, from left, pheasant, duck, rabbit and dove.  The other side is another hunting scene featuring two dogs and a standing shotgun.  A British “hunting jug” influence is evident.
From 1820 to 1856 figural “spirits” flasks were a popular ceramic item in England. Made in the shape of important personages often they were in the shape of personages of royalty or important political figures.  Often the latter were involved in reform movements and such items sometimes are called “Reform flasks.”  William F. Bulkley and Frederick B. Fiske brought these bottles to America to hold liquor, likely whiskey.  

Shown here, front and back  is a jug made in the likeness of military man.  From the shoulder epaulets and tunic we may infer he is an officer, perhaps a high-ranking officer.  His belt reads “Morning Salute,” a reference that would have been widely understood.  Many men would take a snort of whiskey every morning before going off to work, believing that it was beneficial both to health and mental wellbeing.  H. L. Mencken wrote of his father in this tradition taking a shot of Maryland rye daily before heading to his office.  The grocers only provide initials of their name and address on this vessel.

“Morning Salute” come in two styles, a second version being toned, brown glaze on top and tan below.  When this jug went up for auction the catalogue listed it at: “Extremely rare, the only example we have ever seen…”  and put the estimate of value at $4,500.  If received it certainly would mark a record for an American whiskey jug.

From the archives of the New York Historical Society comes another example of a Bulkley-Fiske figural flask.  This one is called “Man with a Fiddle.”  This bottle is the standing form of a man sticking his tongue out, in perhaps a smile.  His battered hat is the spout.  He is wearing an overcoat and holding a violin and a bow against his chest.  Might he be an itinerant fiddler?  Unlike the soldier figurals, Bulkley, Fiske & Co., etc., is impressed in the base.

While the last of the grocery firm’s ceramic offerings is lessarticulated than the others shown here, it is still interesting.  It is a barrel or keg — some have called it “a rundlet.”  It features a sizable “bung hole” aperture from which the beer, wine or whiskey could be accessed.  Note the well-developed four sets of three bands each that hold the barrel staves.  This ceramic bottle obviously held a quantity of spirits, but it is not clear what kind.  

I wonder at the imagination that fostered these items during the mid-1800s as the Civil War was beginning.  Obviously the individuals responsible — Bulkley, Fiske or someone else — were influenced by British models.  After Bulkley’s death in 1859 the firm stayed in business only until 1862, a four-year run.  Nonetheless in that short period, this New York City grocery left a legacy of liquor containers unmatched in their rarity and collector interest.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Shakespeare’s Falstaff: An Icon for the Drinking Public

Just as Charles Dickens gave us Mr. Pickwick, and the movies, W. C. Fields, Shakespeare created one of the world’s most famous topers in Sir John Falstaff and featured him in three plays —  Henry IV, Part One, Henry IV, Part Two, and upon command of Queen Elizabeth I,  “The Merry Wives of Windsor.”  Falstaff subsequently has been treated in many forms, among them prominently in American beer advertising.  

Although Englishmen in Shakespeare’s time usually drank ale, Falstaff is best identified with a kind of brandy-fortified wine called “sack,” a drink the old rogue claimed gave him “excellent wit” and contributed to “the warming of the blood.”  Heedless of Sir John’s drinking habits, the Lemp brewery of St. Louis embraced him in an effort to sell beer.

Lemp was an immigrant from Germany who opened a brewery about 1840 and upon his death his son, William, took over and enlarged the complex, adopting Falstaff as the name of the brewery’s flagship brand and eventually the name of the brewery.   As shown right, Sir John usually was depicted as a jolly grandfatherly figure, belying the picture that Shakespeare draws of him:   “What a devil hast thou to do with the time of day?  Unless hours were cups of sack and minutes capons and clocks the tongues of bawds…and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench….”

The Lemps issued a lithographed tray to saloons and restaurants carrying their beer entitled:  “The Home of Falstaff.”  It shows a “fair hot wench” filling up Falstaff’s tankard, presumably with his own beer, as onlookers seem enthralled with his presence.   Over the mantle is written:  “Choicest Product of the Brewer’s Art.”  There is nothing in Shakespeare about Falstaff having a cozy home such as depicted here.  The old rogue has been domesticated for an American audience.

That was not the only misperception that Lemp foisted on Falstaff and, in effect, on the American people.  Look at the illustration on the front of a book of toasts that the Wm. J. Lemp Brewing Company provided to retail customers.   Falstaff is shown holding a water glass of beer.  Not a mental tankard, not a wooden schooner, not a ceramic stein, but a receptacle that would not be invented until centuries after Shakespeare died.  

Simlarly , a 1904  Lemp trade card illustration of Falstaff features another clear anomaly as Falstaff is “drinking his brew” from a kind of glass bottle that would wait a long time to be invented.  A so-called “mechanical card,” it once held a white granular substance that trickled down to a bottle on the flip side of the card, one being filled by a young boy.  Lemp obviously did not care about historical verisimilitude so long as Falstaff was shown downing the company brew.  

The only other American brewer overtly to draw on Falstaff in its advertising was the Gund brewery.   Founded in 1854 by John Gund, a German immigrant who started making beer in a log cabin in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. The brewery by 1897 had grown into a complex that covered five acres and produced 60,000 barrels of beer annually.  Trade cards spoofing operas and plays had become popular with Midwest brewers like Anheuser Busch and Schlitz, impelling Gund to issue a set of Shakespearean cards. One showed a scene from the last act of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” in which Sir John is depicted calling for Gund’s Extra Pale LaCrosse Bottle Beer.
The success of the Lemp’s in marketing the Falstaff image clearly impacted others in the trade.  Shown here is a label from Tru-Age Beer, a product of the Standard Brewing Company of Scranton, Pennsylvania.  This brand was founded by Otto J. Robinson and Patrick Cusick in 1904 and was the prime seller in the local beer market until National Prohibition.  It reopened in 1933 but closed for good in 1953.  Note that the Falstaff wannabe is wearing hat almost identical to a Lemp characterization. 

Similarly the gent shown on the serving tray shown here is a dead ringer for Falstaff from any angle.  He was advertising the Bohemian Beer of the Providence Brewing Company, a Rhode Island brewery founded in 1896 by James Hanley and John Good.   This facility was known for producing beers, ales and porters of a high quality.  With the coming of Prohibition the company attempted to survive on “near beer” and other products, failed, and closed in 1925.

Well, hello again, Falstaff!  Here the look-alike is hefting a foaming tankard of beer from the Commonwealth Brewing Company of Philadelphia.  This brewery is something of an enigma since it is recorded as having opened in 1898 and closed the same year.  Apparently it had just time enough to design and issue this serving tray.  At the time Philadelphia is said to have been home to 455 breweries, giving rise to speculation that Commonwealth’s demise was due to cut-throat competition.

Across the Keystone State, the Pittsburgh Brewing Company was enjoying a better fate.  It was one of a number of brewery “trusts” that formed in the late 1800s.  This one initially encompassed twelve local breweries, soon growing to 21, many of them eventually shut down.  Pittsburgh Brewing thus became the largest brewing operation in Pennsylvania and the third largest in the U.S.  It was able to survive even during Prohibition by marketing other products.  Its pre-Prohibition advertising booklet featuring on the cover a swaggering gent with a beer stein in his hand that easily might be mistaken for Shakespeare’s man.
We also might take the figure above as Falstaff that graced a serving tray for the Star Brewery Company of Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington.  Founded about 1859, with several owners and names through the years, the business became the Star Brewery about 1894.  The company made national news in September 1898 when it sent 330 cases of its beer to the Philippines upon the news that Admiral Dewey had destroyed the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay.  

The final Falstaff image here did not advertise beer but Autocrat Whiskey, a product of the Edwin Schiele Company of St. Louis.  Looking closely at the picture on the serving tray, however, it is the same image as the Star Brewery tray above.  The image clearly is meant to advertise the barley brew.  Two beer steins grace each side of the item, one ceramic, the other metal.  More important, the Sir John look-alike is drinking from a foaming glass. Beer foams, Mr. Schiele, not whiskey.   Nor does one drink whiskey in the copious quantity indicated here without falling into a stupor — except perhaps a tippler like Falstaff.

“Let a cup of sack be my poison,” cries Sir John in Henry IV, Part One.   Shakespeare’s might have wanted to poison his tosspot creation if he had known that American brewers would transmute Falstaff from the boozy, bawdy braggart of his plays to a kind of Medieval Santa Claus, a cuddly elderly bearded gent albeit one with a taste for alcohol.   

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Vintage U.S. Hotels Through the Hallways of Memory

As a result of a professional life of travel both inside and outside the United States, it has been my privilege to have stayed at some of the most storied hotels in America.  Recognizing the hold that classic hotels have had on the national psyche, I am embolden to feature five, with a few souvenirs, that hold particular memories.

The Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. has been the scene of many notable events, including Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural ball.   A paperweight above shows the early look of that hostelry, including the horse-drawn carriages on Pennsylvania Avenue.  Upon first coming to the Nation’s Capitol in 1962 I spent my first and only night there, as a nervous chaperon to a group of visiting high school students.  At that time the Willard had been allowed to run down and my room was a dreary place, located at the entrance to the fire escape with a glass panel in the door that could be broken to let fleeing guests enter.  I spent a restless night.
About that time a proposal was floated to tear down the historic structure and build something “modern.”  I was among those who wrote letters opposing the move.  Luckily that idea never prevailed and instead the Willard was refurbished — looking like the magnificent “Beaux Arts building as it does today, shown above.  

Finding souvenirs from this hotel is difficult.   In the mid-1930s, Willard management decided that putting its logo on an object was tantamount to having it stolen and stopped doing it.  Shown here is a much earlier flowered vase,  dated from the 1890s to the early 1900s.  The base indicates it was made for “The New Willard.”

The original Parker House Hotel, shown below, opened in Boston in 1855, making it the longest continuously operated hotel in the United States.  (For 18 years from 1868 to 1986 the Willard was shut down.). Some of America’s most distinguished thinkers and writers made it a meeting place. The notoriously finicky Charles Dickens resided in the Parker House for six months in 1867-1868.  The hostelry also became famous for its “Parker House rolls,” a soft bun that my mother was expert at recreating.  
During the 1976 Bicentennial I took my family to stay there while visiting historical sites in Boston.  At that time owned by the Dunfey family (1968-1996), the Parker House was going though a “down” period and was just this side of shabby.  Still, it was close to many attractions and the positive memory later caused me to buy the ashtray here.  Now the Omni Parker House, the hotel has been refurbished and is on the “Historic Hotels of America” roster.
Shown here on a postcard, the Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City first opened its doors in May 1915.  This hostelry is forever linked with another President, Harry S Truman.  It was there that the Missouri politician repaired for low-stakes poker games with his cronies and, it is alleged, to have a shot of whiskey during National Prohibition.  Charged in 1984 with bringing an business delegation of South Koreans to five cities in the United States, in Kansas City I chose the Muehlebach on the basis that Truman was the Commander-in-Chief who ordered U.S. troops to oppose the invasion from the Communist North, thus saving the South.

The choice proved inspired.  Not only did the delegation like their accommodations, the large Korean community in Kansas City took the delegation under its care and treated them to a home style banquet.  The visitors had quickly tired of American style fare.  Unlike the Willard, the Muehlebach Hotel believed in putting its logo — a chandelier — on many objects, including ashtrays and glasses.
One of the most expensive hotels in America is the Fairmont in San Francisco.  Sitting atop Nob Hill at 950 Mason Street, the Fairmont since opening in 1907 has been a renowned luxury destination.  Luckily for me, the management also was interested in being known as a site for international meetings.  When the U.S. and Federated States of Micronesia sat down there in 1995 to negotiate an agreement, I was in the FSM delegation and received a “bargain basement” rate on my room.  Breakfast, however, cost $24 regardless of  what was eaten.  As a result I took a trip daily down Nob Hill to a McDonald’s —and a weary trudge back.
The final hotel in this nostalgia walk through hotel hallways is the Pfister in Milwaukee.  Opened in 1893 at a cost of more than a million, this place is known for the two lions at its entry and massive statue light fixtures in the lobby. My initial stay there about 1981 was not impressive.  The place looked shabby in those days and at 2 A.M. a overly-zealous hotel employee decided to vacuum the hall carpet in front of my room.  

Subsequently all that has changed.  The Pfister was refurbished into one of America’s most attractive hotels, as evidenced by my later visits there.  Moreover, the art collection that has graced its public spaces for years, out of critical favor in the 1980s, has become fashionable and very valuable.  The Pfister is said to have the largest assemblage of Victorian art of any hotel in the world and many stop there to enjoy the paintings and sculptures.  Its gift shop features coffee cups that allow one to reminisce repeatedly about a stay there. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Brews and Bullets: Mixing Beer and Hunting

Several weeks ago I posted a piece on ads that juxtaposed whiskey and hunting.  Most of them were from a pre-Prohibition era when the notion of rugged manhood was very high.  Not so with beer and hunting.   Although two items here can be dated before the 14-year American experience going “dry,” the majority of the ads shown can be dated later — some just a short time ago.
The pre-Prohibition Jacob Schmidt Brewing Co. ad above shows an amazing kill.  The three hunters standing in the background appear to have bagged three moose, two young buck deer, and what appears to be a fox.  They are celebrating their “big game” with Schmidt’s City Club beer, advertised as “The Better Brew.”  This was a leading brewery in St. Paul, Minnesota, for many years, founded in 1855 by Christopher Stahlmann.  The complex was purchased in 1900 by Jacob Schmidt and eventually became one of the leading regional beer producers in the country.  Converted to ethanol in 2000, odor and noise from the plant eventually forced its closure in 2004.
The scene at the right of the vintage trade card above seems to show hunters in the midst of their woodsy activities pausing to enjoy a bottle of beer while their dog looks on in anticipation.  They seem not to have shot anything yet, but, we hope, their aim will be steady as they move on. The H. Clausen & Son Brewing Co. opened in 1888 and closed a short eleven years later in New York City.  At that time, the Big Apple boasted 220 breweries, a whopping number even for the metropolis.   Competition was fierce and H. Clausen and Son likely were casualties of ensuing “beer wars.”

Immediately the images take us into the post-Prohibition era, 1934 to the present.  The Falls City Brewing Co. was organized in 1905 in Louisville, Kentucky, by local saloon and grocery store owners attempting to break a monopoly in the city by a brewery that also owned taverns, called “tied houses.”  They called their facility “Falls City,”  a nickname for Louisville’s location on the falls of the Ohio River.   Despite the interruption of Prohibition, the brewery operated until 1978 and the Fall City brand was extant as late as 2010 and after.  The saloon sign, entitled “Man’ Best Friend,” makes it clear from the hunter’s gaze that it is the bottle he adores — not the pooch.  The sign likely dates from the late 1930s or early 1940s.

The next ad, from United Breweries, a trade organization, can be dated during World War II.  The text tells of a soldier who has been “doing a different kind of hunting overseas,”  writing a letter home.  In it he expresses his desire to going hunting again when he gets back.  Meanwhile his relatives have bagged mature buck and are having a beer to celebrate.  The text goes on to explain:  “A glass of beer or ale — not of crucial importance, surely, but it is the little things like this that mean home to all of us, that do so much to build morale….”   This ad was just one of hundreds that brewing industry issued as the war ended to promote beer — likely remembering that National Prohibition had occurred after World War I.  

I doubt that the miss with the shotgun in the Rheingold Beer ad ever pulled a trigger in her lifetime.  But Margie McNally was “Miss Rheingold” of 1852 and the winner of that famous beauty contest could be expected to pose in a variety of tableaus, including hunting scenes.
Rheingold, founded in 1883 in Brooklyn, was a New York beer that held 35% of the state’s beer market from 1950 to 1960.  Its Miss Rheingold pageant began in 1940 as customers voted for the girl of the year.  The contest ended in 1965 and Rheingold shut down operation in 1976, when the company was unable to complete with large national breweries.  The brand name later was revived. 
The bar sign from Narragansett Brewing Company seem aimed at a humorous look at drinking beer and hunting.  The three nimrods are enjoying a bottle of beer from a case on the ground when they are startled by the sight of a huge buck behind them.  Unusually, however, at the far left of the scene appears to be a live rooster.  Was this bird meant for the grill at center, or did he wander in from another ad?   The Narragansett Brewery, founded in 1890 in Cranston, Rhode Island, ultimately became the largest in New England.   After several ownership changes it closed in July, 1981.

A Falstaff beer sign sounded a similar theme.  This time the hunter is torn between his meal on the fire and the stag running in the snow behind his tent.  Although he seems torn, the gent is leaning for his gun that is sitting on a case of Falstaff.   This ad made use of original art work from a well-known illustrator,  J. F. Kernan, famous for his many Saturday Evening Post covers.  Because Kernan passed away in 1958, this sign can be dated earlier in that decade.

The hunter illustrated in the Stroh Bohemian Beer sign might have felt short-changed by the brewery.  Narragansett and Falstaff gave their hunters a full case of beer.  This genial fellow has been given only three bottles.  Unlike the others, however, he has dinner fully in hand as he roasts the grouse he has shot, while his dog looks on hungrily.  During my supermarket career I sold Stroh's for $1.98 a case (24 cents a bottle).  Located in Detroit, Michigan, Stroh’s for years was the “economy brand” of choice, particularly among the young.   The company, founded in 1850, was taken over and broken up in 2000, but some of its brands are still being sold.  

This Miller brewery newspaper ad once again has a happy hunter with a full case of beer at his disposal as he checks out his shotgun.   “Nothing quite hits the spot after a day’s hunt…like a bottle of delicious Miller High Life,” the text proclaims.  From the looks of his waders and the mallard decoys in the picture, this gent has been duck hunting with nothing much to show for his effort.  The Miller Brewing Company was founded in Milwaukee by Frederick Miller in 1855 and remained in the family until 1966.  Although the brand continues as one of the Nation’s most popular, the company has changed hands several times.

Even in contemporary times, beers sometimes advertise in a hunting mode.  The pastime has been a central theme for Keystone Beer, a product of the Molson Coors Brewing Company in Golden Colorado.  First introduced in Chico, California, in 1989, Keystone Light can be found primarily in cans and frequently with the implication of some gunning going on.  Note, for example, the trophy plaque with a can of Keystone and a pair of horns.  The juxtaposition of hunting and beer is evident.  Another Keystone ad, below, makes the same pitch, with a can of Keystone in the crosshairs as “beer of the day.”  
Countering Keystone beer and the other brands with hunting motifs is the final illustration shown here.  It is a spoof on the Dos Equis beer ads that show a suave gentleman who assures us that he does not always drink beer but when he does it is — no surprise — Dos Eqius.  Here the hunter apparently has been drinking while nude (except for his boots) and staggered into the snow with a bottle in one hand and his rifle in the other.   His fate is a lesson to all:  Drinking beer and hunting don’t really go together.  

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Gregor Meyer and the Origins of a Rare Whiskey Jug

For more than a quarter century, an Ohio collector named Tim Kearns and I have been seeking out ornate ceramic whiskey jugs made pre-Prohibition by the Knowles, Taylor and Knowles (K.T.&K.) pottery of East Liverpool, Ohio.   Working from a list compiled by a now deceased collector named Lloyd Stansbury, for 25 years we have maintained and updated a roster of all such bottles and have shared it with anyone who requested.  For many years we have had a suspicion that one or more K.T. & T. jugs existed that we had not identified — but over many years of looking, found none.
That changed last year when the collection of a Pittsburgh resident named Jay Hawkins was featured in a national bottle magazine.  There among his assembly of Pittsburgh bottles was a “New Find” (to us).  Shown above, it had a purple overglaze transfer on a hotel china white body  that advertised “Gregor Meyer Gold Seal Pure Rye Whiskey.”  Our hunch had been right.  But who was Gregor Meyer and why had he chosen to use a K.T. & K. bottle for his whiskey?

Some research has fleshed out the story of this rare item.  Meyer was born in Switzerland in 1830 and came to the United States when he was 18 years old.  He settled in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, a town adjacent to Pittsburgh, and annexed by it in 1907.   Meyer went to work in a butcher shop.  Striking out on his own some years later, he opened a meat market and grocery store, one that likely sold liquor as most groceries did in those times.  Gregor is shown left.

Apparently determining that booze paid better than beef, in 1883 Meyer opened a wholesale liquor business at Ohio Street and Madison Avenue in Allegheny.   Before long he became recognized as one of the leading wholesale liquor dealers in the Pittsburgh area.  

Part of his success may have been his generosity in providing giveaway items to his customers, both wholesale and retail.  He provided his wholesale customers — saloonkeepers and bartenders — with advertising shot glasses.  For the retail trade he handed out Indian head pennies encased in aluminum.   Shown here with four leaf clovers and horseshoes, these were good luck charms, meant to be stuck in a pocket.
None of this explains why Meyer opted for a fancy jug for his whiskey.  These porcelain-like containers began to be made during the late 1800s when a former employee of K.T. & K. named George Meredith became a liquor wholesaler and wanted a distinctive package for his whiskey,  “Diamond Club.”  He talked the pottery management into creating a jug of his design and issued thousands of them.  The Ohio company, shown above, subsequently decided to market them generally to the whiskey trade and found some buyers across America — but these jugs were relatively expensive compared to common ceramic jugs or glass bottles.

My theory is that Meyer may have been influenced by a competitor right down the street.  Gregor’s shop was at 227 Ohio Street.  Two blocks away at 44 Ohio Street stood the liquor store of John Limegrover Jr.  One of them was imitating — and competing against — the other in commissioning the K.T. & K jugs.  The evidence on who was first admittedly is slim, based in part on the addresses on the containers themselves.   Limegrover moved from the location noted on his jug, shown here, after 1898;  Meyer was still at his address in 1899 so his jug could be the newer.  Moreover, the Limegrover jugs come in three types, advertising three different whiskeys and likely were issued over several years.  On those slim facts, I conclude that Limegrover’s success with these jugs drove Meyer to imitate him.

The jug predates Meyer incorporating two of his sons, Joseph J. and Adolph H., into the business and ultimately changing the name of the firm to Gregor Meyer & Sons.  That occurred after 1900, dating the Meyer jug to the very end of the 19th Century.  Note that the shot glass above was issued after the sons came aboard. They were two of Gregor’s seven children.   His wife, shown here, was Margaret Lavo Meyer.  For his family Meyer built a home in the attractive Troy Hill area of Allegheny, shown below.
Some additional information will help round out the personality and character of Gregor Meyer. It was reported in his obituary that he was “identified with the early development of the city” and well-known in financial circles. He was president of the Real Estate Loan & Trust Company from the time of its organization until it was absorbed by another financial institution. 

Meyer also took an active interest in civic affairs. He represented the Thirteenth Ward on the Allegheny Select Council for several terms and for many years was a member of the School Controllers of his ward.  When he died in 1900, Gregor Meyer was buried in St. Mary Catholic Cemetery in Allegheny County. 

Tim Kearns and I agree that there may be more such fancy china jugs to be discovered.  We just hope that it does not take twenty years until another one is unearthed.

Note:  Thanks to Jay Hawkins for permission to use the photo of this “rare find” jug in his collection.  It should be noted that Mr. Kearns wrote a book on K.T.& K. called “American Bone China,” published in 1994 by Schiffer Books.  It contains many examples of K.T.&K. fancy whiskey jugs.