Thursday, August 27, 2009

Good Luck and the Swastika

Growing up during and after World War II, I had a stamp collection that included wartime German stamps that featured large swastikas printed on them, as shown here. For me and most of humanity, that symbol was and continues to be linked with Hitler and the Nazi horrors.

That is why it was a surprise -- and something of a shock -- to come across a pre-Prohibition brand of liquor called Swastika Whiskey. The liquor was produced by the Paul Jones Distillery of Frankfort KY and the trademark registered with the federal government in the early 1900s. Its slogan was “Pride of the Capital.” Moreover, Sunny Brook Whiskey, a Chicago-based outfit with a distillery in Louisville, issued a Pre-Prohibition good luck piece with a rampant. swastika.

These discoveries led me to do some additional research. It revealed that the symbol of the swastika -- until the Nazis appropriated it -- had been considered a harbinger of good luck. The swastika is an ancient symbol, dating back 3,000 years to India. It also is an Native American icon, with origins in prehistory. .

A postcard produced by the E. Philips Company, an American publisher, emphasized the “good luck” aspect of the swastika. It copyrighted the image in 1907. That firm may also have produced the startling (by today’s sensibilities) postcard image of the American flag in tandem with the swastika. American pilots reportedly used the icon on their planes when they fought for the French in World War One. It also was the symbol for the Ladies Home Journal-sponsored Girls' Club. A town in Ontario, Canada, was named Swastika in 1911 because of a lucky gold strike.

Given its positive history, it is no wonder that organizations like Coca Cola, and the Boy Scouts found it an appropriate symbol. Coke used it as the shape for a key chain or watch fob and the Scouts displayed it with an ax on the spine of their 1903 “Handy Book.”

Note that swastikas can bend to the left or the right. Legends from India tell a story that the left-bending kind are beneficial and the right-bending are evil. It may be just a coincidence but the Nazis chose the right-bending kind.

A stroll through the Internet reveals that some people are trying to rehabilitate the symbol as one involving peace and good luck My comment: “Lotsa luck!” Given the tragic events of the last century, I have a hunch is that the swastika will not be reborn anytime soon.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What the Heck Are Nordhausen Kornschnapps?

My first artcle about Nordhausen Kornschnapps was published in 1992, featuring stoneware liquor jugs with highly interesting underglaze transfers. Since that time I have collected some and identified others until it seems appropriate in this post to revisit the subject of Kornschnapps jugs (and their “cousins” the Kornbrantweins) -- and to provide a list of known versions.

The jugs shown here are pre-Prohibition. The one sure confirmation of their age is the Nordhausen Kornschnapps jug featuring a chalet. An illustration of it appears in a 1902 liquor ad from Chicago dealer Simon Hasterlik. Prohibition brought the sale of alcoholic beverages to a screeching halt in the United States in 1920 for about 15 years. After the end of the Dry Era, all liquor containers required a federal warning for the ensuing 30 years. No kornscnapps jugs have it. Conclusion: The marketing of kornschnapps in quart ceramic jugs ended in the United States with the Volstead Act.

Kornschnapps, although identifiably German, was aimed at an overseas audience and these containers are found as far away as Australia and New Zealand. German émigrés and their descendants almost certainly were the principal market. The end of the 19th Century in the U.S. liquor merchants merchandised their wares by appeals to the “old country.” Irish whiskey was decorated with shamrocks and harps; Scotch with thistles and bagpipes. Kornschnapps containers involved script, names, words and images easily associated with the Fatherland. Moreover, since the Middle Ages the town of Nordhausen has been a well-known German distilling center.

While some kornschnapp jugs were made in Scotland by potters such as Port Dundas, others were produced in the United States. Catalogues from the early 1900s indicate that some, like the “Onkel Karl” jug shown here, were designed and manufactured by Sherwood Brothers Pottery of New Brighton, Pennsylvania.

What kind of liquor was inside these bottles is anybody’s guess. Schnapps is a name given to a wide range of alcoholic drinks. In Europe the term generally is applied to a vodka-like liquor made from grain or potatoes. Many Germans use the word to denote any strong spirits, according to Rosalind Cooper in her book Liquors and Spirits. She says kornschnapps can taste like London gin, Dutch genever or even American rye whiskey -- a very wide range,

I have compiled a list of the known kornschnapps jugs, along with some indication of rarity. The ratings are notional and based almost entirely on personal observation. Although this list has remained unchanged for at least a decade, other ceramic examples may exist. Anyone wishing to make a contribution to the list or challenge the ratings should be in touch with me via email.


1. Man in Cockaded Hat-Signed, “Berthold Schreiber”-Common
(in black or blue)

2. Man in Cockaded Hat - “Corn Whiskey”-Uncommon

3a Chalet with Pine-Signed, “Langerli Arierbach” - Common

3b Chalet with Pine- Signed “Fritz Oflinbarger” - Uncommon

4. Man with bowtie-No signature-Uncommon
& glass

5. Man with nightcap - Signed, “Berthold Rebenhorst” - Uncommon
& glass

6. Taller bottle, man in - “Korn und Malz...Gotterhalt’s” - Rare

7. Rooster - “Nordhauser Kornbrantwein” - Uncommon

8. Rooster - “...Type...Corn Whiskey”- Uncommon

9. Art deco with - "Kornschnapps Style Liquor” - Rare
flaming torches “Product of Ohio”

10. Block of buildings - “Eicher Alter...Kornbranntwein... - Very rare
with side medallions Mihalovich, Fletcher...Cincinnati”

11. No picture, fancy letters - “Nordhausen Kornschnapps” - Rare

12. No picture, plain letters - “Nordhauser Corn Schnapps” - Common
inside circle

13. Man with pipe - “Onkel Karl’s” - Rare
& glass

14. Half-pint, letters in two lines, - “Nordhausen Kornschnapps” - Uncommon

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Swigging the Pig

The picture shown in my last post of a pig drinking from a jug of moonshine triggered some thinking about how many porker shaped bottles there are and the fact that the swigging hole is located at a particularly unattractive place at the rear of the animal. Many believe that this was an anti-alcohol message and cite the Kirkpatrick brothers, Cornwall and Wallace, as the example.

After having failed in the pottery business in Mound City, Illinois, the Kirkpatricks in 1859 founded a pottery in Anna, a small town in southern Illinois, and called it the Anna Pottery. Their new location was successful because of rich deposits of clay in the neighborhood and access to railroad transportation to ship out their regular line of utilitarian stoneware and earthenware products.

Both men were staunch Prohibitionists with strong opinions about drinking, a habit they associated with political corruption. The Kirkpatricks set out on a single-minded campaign to create pottery containers that would discourage people from imbibing alcohol. These included jugs with snakes crawling over them and, more important for our purposes, a wide range of pig flasks. In an 1869 article for a local newspaper, the brothers summed up their feelings this way: “It is rather a hoggish propensity to be guzzling whiskey, and if the habit is indulged in, will soon reduce a man below the level of the hog and cause him to wallow in the gutter.”

In addition, drinking from the rear of the pig was assumed to be disgusting. The first flask shown here purports to provide a “railroad and river guide” on its body but also extols “a good little old Bourbon,” that it apparently contained. The wording may indicate a certain ambivalence, or perhaps sarcasm, on the part of the Kirkpatricks,

Today Anna Pottery jugs and flasks are among the most valuable American pottery bottles. They never fail to elect considerable attention whenever they are displayed and usually sell for multiple thousands. The first pig flask shown here recently sold for $23,000. The second flask also is from Anna Pottery, again showing rail and water routes., Despite displaying kiln burns, it sold for $12,000.

As for the Kirkpatrick Brothers , Cornwall died in 1890 and Wallace in 1896, spelling the end of Anna Pottery. Thus, neither saw the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution that brought National Prohibition for which both men had campaigned with so much vigor and imagination.

Although Anna Pottery’s pig flasks command top prices, others produced similar containers both before and after the Kilpatricks--but with very different motives. Considered emblems of prosperity at the end of the 19th Century, pigs ate corn, the same grain from which whiskey was made. Moreover, pigs generally were considered “cute.” Seizing on porcine popularity and presumed appropriateness, distillers issued pig figurals as a marketing gimmick.

Among them were the honey brown flask advertising Lancaster Whiskey from Bardstown, a major whiskey-making town in central Kentucky. Pigs could get political, as demonstrated by this Albany slip covered hog advertising the 1880 candidacy of Grover Cleveland, two time President of the United States. This item sold recently for $1,725.

Pottery pigs are not the only one inviting swigs. Glass examples abound as well. The dark amber Berkshire Bitters bottle was the product of Amann & Company from Cincinnati, Ohio, founded by Anthony and Edmund Amann in 1869. It was appropriate for them to put their highly alcoholic bitters in a pig bottle since Berkshire is a well-known breed of swine. Boars can weight up to 750 pounds. Suffolk Bitters similarly featured a pig flask, green and embossed “Life Preserver.”

The Theodore Netter Distilling Company of Philadelphia offered a swallow of whiskey in a clear glass pig bottle given away to customers. Having left a partnership with two other brothers, in 1898 Theodore set up his whiskey business with wife, Hilda. With success they also opened branches in Chicago and Cincinnati but finally succumbed to Prohibition and closed in 1920. Netter’s oinker was a practical item: Once the contents were emptied it was meant to be filled with sand and used as a paperweight.