Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Tempest of Whiskey Teapots

Pre-Prohibition whiskey distributors ranged widely in their attempts to merchandise their products through imaginative give-away items to saloonkeepers and the “faces along the bar.” Among the most unusual advertising items were metal teapots inscribed with the whiskey brand name and often the liquor company that produced it.

This blog is devoted to eight such teapots with some speculation on their creation and use.

The first four teapots shown here are from Cincinnati, where the idea may well have originated. In the late 1800s and early 1900s major whiskey distillers, rectifiers and distributors abounded in that Ohio city. For example, in 1881 the 10 leading Cincinnati distillers announced that their production for the prior year was 1.8 million gallons on which $103 million in taxes had been paid. Competition was fierce. As companies vied for market share, they found lots of inventive ways, including metal teapots, to keep their name before the drinking public.

Keystone Rye, the name inscribed on a silver-plated example, was the product of Klein Brothers, a Cincinnati distillery that Samuel Klein founded about 1875. Klein proved to be an excellent merchandiser and the source of such brands as Keystone Rye, Harvard Rye and Spring Lake Bourbon. His whiskey became nationally and even internationally known. He also was famous for his innovative give-away items, among which his teapot must be accounted as particularly unusual.

Sam Klein had formidable competition in a former grocer named Ferdinand Westheimer. In 1879 Westheimer founded a wholesale liquor store in St. Joseph, Missouri, gradually bringing three of his sons into the business. Very successful, particularly with his house brand, Red Top Rye, Westheimer eventually bought the Old Times Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky, and opened a outlet in Cincinnati. Westheimer’s teapot was made in Cincinnati by the Queen City Silver Company, operating from 1888 to the early 1900s.

Joining in this storm of teapots was Charles M. Pfeifer who founded a Cincinnati whiskey distributorship in 1882. His flagship brand was Billy Baxter’s Best, the name he had engraved on a silver plated teapot by the Cincinnati-based Homan Silver Plate Company. This item can be dated with some accuracy because Homan used this specific name only from 1896 to 1904.

Rounding out the Cincinnati quartet was Shields, May & Company, whiskey distributors and rectifiers who featured some dozen different brands of whiskey. Because a San Francisco firm had registered the name “Old Judge” with the Federal government in 1902, it appears that the company was seeking to avoid a lawsuit by labeling this product as Shield’s Old Judge Whiskey. According to its base mark, the teapot was made by the Columbian Silver Company.

Further south in Ohio, another competitor with a regional market for its whiskey also was offering customers a teapot. Founded in 1879 by George Lang and brothers William and Charles Schenck, their whiskey rectifying and distributorship flourished. Occupying a three-story building immediately adjacent to the Columbus, Ohio, courthouse, Lang, Schenck Co. featured Olentangy Rye as its flagship brand.

Herman Abraham, a whiskey dealer whose city of origin I have not been able to identify, used a teapot to advertise two brands he offered. The first, Home Comfort, was from the Joseph Herrscher Company of San Francisco (1907-1916). The opposite side advertised Guckenheimer Rye, from a Pittsburgh distiller that began business in 1857.

A teapot advertising Tom Benton Whiskey hails from a Wisconsin, dealer. His name -- A. (for Albert) F. Watke -- appears on the other side of the metal vessel. Watke appears to have begun business in Milwaukee in 1897 and moved north to Fond du Lac after 1902.

Finally, a silver plated teapot exists marked Sherwood OPS (Old Pot Still) Whiskey. It was the product of Sherwood Distilling of Cockeysville, Maryland, with offices in Baltimore. The distillery was founded in 1883 and within a decade Sherwood Rye became a nationally known brand. This teapot was the product of the Meriden Silver Plate Company (1869-1898) of Meriden, Connecticut.

With one exception, all these firms and brands disappeared early in the 20th Century, most because of the onset of state or National Prohibition. As a result each of these metal teapots can be dated before 1920. The only brand name to survive the 14 year drought was Sherwood, but the whiskey was produced at a different site by new ownership.

What were these metal teapots used for? My guess is this: Because it was not unusual in those days to mix hot water with rye and bourbon whiskey, these items might have been used by bartenders to hold boiled water until called for by a customer to lace his toddy. But this is just a guess. The saloons might even have been serving tea. Naaah.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A.E.T. - A Tale of Tempting Tiles

For many years I have been fascinated by decorated tiles as a ceramic art form. My temptation to collect them has been tempered by the high prices achieved by the most attractive and desirable art tiles. A notable exception are the products of the American Encaustic Tiling (A.E.T.) Company of Zanesville, Ohio. They are unusually attractive but remain for the most part modestly priced and, for me, tempting.

Because of its proximity to supplies of high quality clay, Zanesville for three centuries has been a hub for ceramic production. The A.E.T. factory was founded in 1875 by E.H. Hall, who named it and shortly after disappeared from the scene. Subsequently the pottery was purchased by New York investors who hired competent management and talented artisans. Originally committed to floor and other utilitarian tiles, about 1880 A.E.T. began making art tiles through its encaustic process. It involved complicated procedures in which powdered clays of different colors were pressed together to form a pattern or design.

Herman Mueller, a noted innovator in art tile techniques, was hired in 1887. He had the ability to produce large relief tiles, panels of female figures, and portraits. Next to climb on board A.E.T. was Karl Langenbeck who some believe was the greatest ceramic chemist America has ever produced. Sales soared. Outgrowing its facilities, A.E.T. in 1892 built a brand new plant, shown here, and bragged that it was the largest tile factory in the world. More than 20,000 people attended the opening, led by then Ohio Governor William McKinley, later to be a U.S. President. The company issued a special ceramic for the occasion.

Through the years this factory produced art tiles by the tens of thousands. Early on the themes tended to be classical ones, like the mural shown here, attributed to Herman Mueller. Another traditional example was the Diana Huntress figure. A.E.T. designers also showed a sense of humor in tile depicting frogs and other animals. As the art deco age dawned, A.E.T. adjusted to more modern styles. Despite being made for the masses, A.E.T. products are held by leading art institutions. The Brooklyn Museum, for example, has a major A.E.T. collection and displays it online.

A.E.T. had a remarkable 60 year life span during which it continued to produce both household and artistic tiles. The pottery’s ability to change with the times is evident in two windmill tiles shown here, one traditional from the 1880s, another modern from the early 1930s. With sales falling rapidly during the Great Depression, however, the Zanesville plant was forced to close in 1935. Today the A.E.T legacy can be counted in the many highly desirable artifacts still within the price range of most collectors.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Whiskey and Opera: Wooing the Fat Cats

While much of the lore of whiskey in the U.S. involves log cabins and pioneers hacking down trees and plowing the land while cooking up a brew of bourbon in the back yard, the truth is more complicated. As early as the immediate post-Civil War era the money men of Wall Street had a deep interest in investing in distilling. For example, Edson Bradley, a Connecticut blue blood, was the driving force behind the success of Old Crow, a product of Frankfort, Kentucky. He became one of the wealthiest men in the country.

These financial “Fat Cats” often were patrons of the arts, including the opera. They were anxious to take whiskey out of the back woods and into high society. What better way than to identify their money interests with their cultural proclivities. As a result, a whiskey ads and artifacts from 1950 to 1980 not infrequently reflected opera themes.

Take for example the Seagram’s VO ad shown here. The headline reads: ”Roundly applauded by the Met’s first nighters.” In other words, the”creme de la creme” who could afford those steep ticket prices. The opera they appear to be watching is may actually be a operetta about the Canadian mounties called “Rosemarie.” The setting belies the reputation of Seagram’s famous owner, Samuel Bronfman, as crude whiskey robber baron.

A 1959 ad from Fortune magazine for Martin’s whiskey depicts the after-the-curtain-falls party in which the tuxedos and gowns mix happily with the cast members still dressed for the stage. Here the opera appears to be Pagliacci with the principals in their clown costumes. The tag line suggests: “When the grand gesture is expected...Martin’s 12-year-old.”

Schenley Canadian Whiskey, a best seller in the U.S. since Prohibition, featured Opera Star Ezio Pinza in a 1950 advertisement. Pinza had become well known to the American public by appearing in the smash Broadway musical “South Pacific.” Apparently a bit nervous about seeming too high brow, the Schenley ad pictures Pinza in a cowboy hat -- obviously trying to straddle the line between high culture and the high plains.

The “Men of Distinction” series by Lord Calvert, another Seagram’s product emphasized that their whiskey was “intended expressly for those who appreciate the finest.” Among the cognoscenti apparently was John Donald Mackenzie Brownlee (1900-1969), an Australian who was principal baritone at New York’s Metropolitan Opera from 1937 to 1958. He was famous for his performance as the Count in the “Marriage of Figaro,” playing opposite Ezio Pinza in the title role.

Although one has to look hard to find the mention amid plugs for Columbia Records, an ad for Imperial Whiskey, another Canadian product, featured Bidu Sayao (1902-1999). She was a Brazilian born lyric soprano who sang at the Met -- sometimes opposite Pinza and Brownlee -- from 1937 until her retirement from the stage in 1952.

Jim Beam, a true Kentucky product, may have gone the furthest in its effort to connect whiskey with opera. Over a period of several years in the late 1970s and early 1980s it issued a series of decanters containing Beam whiskey for the benefit of several opera companies. Among them was the Australian Opera. It received some proceeds from the sale of a replica of the Sydney Opera House.

The Chicago Opera was the beneficiary of a series of decanters in the shape of leading opera figures including Don Giovanni, Mephistopheles (from “Faust”) and Figaro from “Marriage of Figaro.” Each of these included a gold stand in held a music box that played a song from the opera. The whiskey-filled decanters also came with a “mini-me” -- a smaller solid ceramic figurine that mimicked the decanter. Shown here is the small Mephistopheles. It could be used as a paperweight. Although many Beam bottles are virtually worthless (see my blogs for September and November 2009) these items sell for upwards of $175.

There you have it: The odd couple --whiskey and opera -- a marriage born of the moneyed classes desire to link booze with culture.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Looking at Label Under Glass

During two years as a curator/cataloguer for the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum in Alexandria, Virginia, I was able to see and handle some of the museum’s large collection of “Label Under Glass” bottles, similar to those shown here. I found them an interesting artifact of a bygone era.

Label Under Glass bottles were most common from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s. They were used for storage of many medicinal solutions employed by pharmacists of the time. The bottles featured an ornate, often gold leafed, label that was covered by a thin layer of glass to prevent damage. Then the glass-covered label was pasted to a bottle with an appropriate indentation to permit a smooth front. As objects they were attractive as well as functional and they dressed up a pharmacy.

Hair products and barber bottles also made use of Label Under Glass as shown in this Wildroot Dandruff and Eczema bottle from the Wildroot Co., Inc. This company was founded in the Buffalo New York in 1911. It registered the trademark “Wildroot” with the government in 1932. Who can forget its catchy jingle: “Get Wildroot Cream Oil, Charlieeee.” The company was sold to Colgate-Palmolive in 1959.

The contents of the Wildroot bottle shown here could have been drunk as well as slathered on the head. The label announces that it contained not more than 40% grain alcohol. That is 80 proof, about the same as some gin. That note takes us to another industry that made use of Label Under Glass to merchandise its products -- whiskey distilling.

The first example are three winsome lasses advertising Galaxy Whiskey. They appear on a back of the bar bottle, a finely lithographed image covered in clear glass. This whiskey was the product of the Peter McQuade organization of Brooklyn, New York. It registered the brand name with the government in 1905. McQuade also merchandised another alcohol-laced beverage under the name “Amazon Bitters.”

Kit Carson Whiskey featured a Label Under Glass bar bottle that featured the American explorer and Indian fighter with his horse. It was the product of Wood, Pollard & Co. of Boston. Founded in 1881, the company was supplied with whiskey product from the warehouses of the Mayfield Distillery in Kentucky. Kit Carson was only one among more than a dozen Wood, Pollard brands. They included “Very Old Cabinet 1873,” “Oxford Rye,” “Snowdrop Gin” and “White Wheat Whiskey.”

Chris Sandheger emigrated from Germany to the United States about 1853 when he was 21 and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. After serving as an accountant in a liquor store, in 1857 Sandheger established his own liquor business. Under his management the firm grew steadily and his alcoholic brands found a wide local and regional trade. His “Peach and Honey” shown here was a cordial. He gave its bar bottle not only a distinctive Label Under Glass, but also wrapped it in wicker.

Sandheger was a rectifier, not a distiller, obtaining his whiskey from Kayser Distillery and other Kentucky producers. Following his death in 1906 family members continued the business until shut down by Prohibition. Among their brands were “Old Sandheger Club,” “Old Still,” and “Stone Lick.”

Prohibition brought an end to fancy bar bottles. Too many of them had been filled by saloon keepers with phony liquor after their initial pouring. Federal laws now prohibited them. Thus bar bottles with Labels Under Glass can easily be identified as pre-Prohibition.

Label Under Glass also was frequently used for whiskey flasks, often provided for special occasions. Among them were the National Encampments of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the Union soldier veterans organization. In 1895 I.W. Harper, a brand of the Bernheim Bros. issued a special Label Under Glass flask to mark the event, held in Louisville, Kentucky, home town of the whiskey makers.

Another flask honored the veterans of the Spanish American War. The label depicted a soldier and a sailor in full combat gear of the times. The bottle gives no evidence of where or by whom it originated. The final example is among the most intriguing. The glass-fronted label shows a young woman in an abbreviated costume and high heels who is striking a provocative pose. The flask was issued by the Emrich Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., which might have been signaling the nature of its clientele. Like the two prior flasks it also is pre-Prohibition.

Label Under Glass bar bottles and flasks are avidly collected. The Emrich Hotel bottle, for example, recently sold at auction for $190. Condition is often an issue with these items. As seen on some bottles here, the glass cracks or the glue holding the label to the glass surfaces discolors. It is virtually impossible to find one in perfect preservation. Nonetheless, even damaged bottles are pricey. By contrast, Label Under Glass apothecary bottles and jars, although frequently collected, seldom fetch more than $50 and often less.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Who the Heck Was Irvin S. Cobb?

Once he 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 Jay Leno 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, 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 Irvin S. Cobb was or what he did. If for nothing else he should be celebrated for his role in repealing the Prohibition amendment to the Constitution.

Irwin Shrewsbury Cobb was born in his grandfather’s house in Paducah, Kentucky, in 1876, shown here in postcard view. At the age of 16 he was forced to quit school to support his mother and siblings. By the age of 19 he was the youngest newspaper editor in the country, working for the Paducah Evening News. Moving to the Louisville Evening News, he gained attention for a humor column entitled “Kentucky Sour Mash.”

Encouraged by the success of his column and encouraged by his wife, he headed to New York City to make his mark. In the Big Apple he eventually landed a job with the New York World and within months was writing a nationally syndicated column, one that eventually boasted readership in the millions. H.L. Mencken, who came to regret it, once compared him to Mark Twain.

As native Kentuckian, Cobb was steeped in the taste and lore of whiskey. As shown here in a movie still, drinking often was a feature of his film roles. At the height of Cobb’s popularity in 1920 National Prohibition was enacted. At first he dealt with it humorously, writing that: “Since Prohibition came in and a hiccup became a mark of affluence instead of a social error as formally, and a loaded flank is a sign of hospitality rather than of menace, things may have changed.”

That jocular attitude had vanished by 1929 when Cobb wrote the only American novel devoted to the American whiskey industry. Entitled “Red Likker” and featuring a map of Kentucky on the cover, the book tells the story of an family that founded a distillery called Bird and Son right after the Civil War. It traces the history of the business to Prohibition when, like most distilleries, it was forced to close. Ultimately the distillery is destroyed by fire and the family is reduced to to running a crossroads grocery store.

Not only did Cobb inveigh against Prohibition in his literary works, he made it a personal crusade. Joining a national organization called the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, he became its chairman of the Authors and Artists Committee. Under his vigorous leadership the committee ultimately boasted 361 members, including some of the nation’s best known figures. As chairman, he blamed Prohibition for increased crime, alcoholism, and disrespect for law. “If Prohibition is a a noble experiment,” he said, “then the San Francisco fire and the Galveston flood should be listed among the noble experiments of our national history.”

When Prohibition finally ended in 1934, Cobb was recognized for his contribution. The first night liquor became legal, he reportedly went to a hotel bar that once again had begun pouring, pulled out a $20 bill and hollered: “Drinks for everyone.”

Immediately after Repeal the whiskey industry feared that the buying public no longer knew how to make mixed drinks. The result was a plethora of drink recipe books. When newly revived Frankfort Distillery wanted one to plug its brands, it turned to Cobb. He obliged with a pamphlet in which he claimed, somewhat fancifully that one of his ancestors, Dean Henry Cobb, an immigrant from Ireland, in 1636 was the first publican licensed to draw spirits in the New World. He also described a great-grandfather who went west to Kentucky and founded “Squire Cobb’s Tavern” along the Cumberland River, a business Cobb claimed the “squire” abandoned one step ahead of the sheriff.

During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Cobb’s reputation plummeted as racist themes came to the fore in his writing. In 1941 his national column was canceled. Increasingly in ill health, Cobb died at age 68 in 1944. He was buried with a simple headstone in a Paducah cemetery. The inscription reads “Back Home.” The memory of Cobb’s life and fame quickly faded. The products to which he gave his name are no longer sold.

Perhaps the most enduring monument to a man who helped rid the Nation of Prohibition is the Irvin S. Cobb bridge. It is a two-lane span that carries U.S. Route 45 over the Ohio River from Brookport, Illinois, to Paducah. Motorists complain that it is a bumpy ride.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Seeing Whiskey Through a Reverse Glass

Reverse painting on glass consists of applying paint to the back of a piece of glass and then viewing the image by turning the glass over and seeing it through the glass. This art form has been around for centuries. It was used for sacral paintings in the Middle Ages and frequently was used for gilded images.

“Verre eglomise,” as the French call it, had something of a renaissance during the 1800s and early 1900s, used by both artists and by the fledging advertising community in Europe and the United States. Quick to see its commercial value in merchandising were American whiskey distillers and dealers. An attractive reverse glass sign in a saloon might entice more customers to imbibe their product.

I find these signs among the most attractive artifacts that the pre-Prohibition whiskey-makers have left to posterity. My favorite is the elegant “art nouveau” sign from John A. Dougherty’s Sons of Philadelphia. The elaborate “W” in “whiskey” is particularly decorative.

This distillery was founded by John Alexander Dougherty, a native of Ireland who arrived as a youth in Philly in 1814 by way of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Originally a baker, Dougherty eventually moved to making whiskey and in 1849 founded the distillery that bore his name. He had several sons who, upon his death in 1866, continued the business until Prohibition.

Pennsylvania was a state that seems to have fostered elegant glass signage. The second example, also from Philadelphia, is redolent with gold. It advertised a distillery founded in 1874 by Angelo Myers. Framed in gold, the sign also features two medallions that commemorate gold medals the whiskey had won at national expositions. This firm, with Myers father and son as presidents, survived 44 years before Prohibition closed its door. Quite unusually, two of four Myers’ one time corporate officers were women.

A third Philadelphia sign advertised the “Army and Navy Whiskey” from the James Moroney Co. A wholesalers and importer, Moroney founded his firm in 1875. Other brands he featured were “Moroney Pure Rye,” “Old Navy,” and “Round the World Scotch.” The company closed in 1918.

In Pittsburgh, the Joseph S. Finch & Co. was founded in 1873 to great success and made its “Golden Wedding Rye” into one of America’s best known brands of whiskey. It was responsible for two elegant reverse glass signs, one that screamed gold and a second that replicated its Golden Wedding logo. In this case, we know the identity of the creator of at least one of the signs. The back of the first, faint but visible, is written: John Golding Glass Sign, 240 Pearl Street, New York.

Although Hill Side Rye is advertised as being Pennsylvania whiskey, the brand actually was distributed by a New York City based outfit (1880-1918) known as Steinhardt Bros. There were four of them - Lewis, Henry, Morris and David. Together they forged a highly successful whiskey business. Not distillers, they collected whiskey from a variety of sources, “rectified” (mixed it) and sold it nationally and from outlets in New York under a number of brand names, including “White Lily Pure Rye,” “Emerald,” and “Lafayette Club.” This sign bears the signature of artist Thomas G. Jones of New York.

Unlike most of the distillers and wholesalers above, Pfieffer Bros. were relatively latecomers to the whiskey business, first opening their doors in 1902. Rectifiers and wholesalers, their glass sign features the firm’s flagship brand, “Silas Moore.” Pfieffer Bros. also sold their whiskey under brands names such as “Dixie Belle,” “Old Cornelius,” and “Tom Hudson.”

Pfieffer Bros. and the other whiskey companies cited above successfully were in business from the time of their founding until National Prohibition. This time spread makes it virtually impossible to date exactly any of these signs. Not so with the company that produced the final example shown here. “Royalty Club” was a brand name of the Anton Friedmann company in Cincinnati, Ohio. City directories first show Friedmann’s organization in 1870. By 1874 it had disappeared.

Although reverse glass advertising signs are still being made, many of them attractive, our legacy from the pre-Prohibition whiskey makers set an artistic standard that will be difficult to match--ever.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Kids Selling Tobacco

Last March my blog concerned the dubious use of children in order to sell whiskey through trade cards and ads. More recently I have become interested in the frequent use of youngsters, up until a few years ago, to sell tobacco products. The interest was kicked off by a 1890 ad for Mail Pouch chewing tobacco, shown here, that featured a laughing baby in diapers and the double entendre caption, “He just found his mail pouch.”

Perhaps West Virginia’ most famous consumer product -- one whose faded ads can still be found on thousands of barns across rural America -- the company began with brothers Aaron and Samuel Bloch, who ran a small grocery and dry goods store in Wheeling on the Ohio River. They also had a small cigar factory on the second floor. They conceived the idea of flavoring the scrap cuttings that were left over from the cigars and selling them in paper bags as chewing tobacco. Thus an industry was born.

The brothers had excellent marketing sense and built the company to national fame. Aaron was succeeded as president in 1902 by brother Samuel, who in turn passed the company along to his son, Jesse Bloch, in 1937. Jesse’s son, Thomas took over in 1947 until the firm was sold in 1969. Mail Pouch chewing tobacco is still being sold.

By using a baby to advertise their chew tobacco the Blochs were only emulating a wide range of tobacco manufacturers who used the images of children to sell their products. In a blog in June 2009, I related how Richard Outcault, the creator of Buster Brown, franchised several cigar makers to use his child cartoon character in their merchandising. One colorful label showed a man blowing cigar smoke from his ears, to the clear delight of Buster and his dog, Tige.

Subsequently I have found four more cigar makers using kids to flog their products. The most interesting are Nabob Cigars. Their box lid features a pair of boys, one white, one black, both in tattered or ill-fitting clothes. The white lad is smoking a cigar and clearly enjoying the experience. The black youngster seems to be wishing too he had a cigar.

Three other lids feature little girls and were sold under childish names. “Toto” seems to have sprouted butterfly wings. “ Lulu” is an preschooler with a shawl and heavy coat. “Elsie” is hatless and leaning on a well. Neither of the latter two looks particularly happy. Were these the children or perhaps grandchildren of the cigar makers? My research has found no answer.

A happier tobacco-selling tike was featured in a trade card by the G. W. Schreiber Co. of Philadelphia, a dealer in tobacco and “segars.” Why a tike catching an eel in a net should be considered an apt selling point for tobacco products escapes me, other than the general idea that images of children catch the attention of consumers.

These images, however, pale before a 1951 series of ads for Marlboro Cigarettes that ran in a number of national magazines. In them a series of super cute infants relate messages for both Mom and Dad. To Mom, the toddler had a question: “Can you afford not to smoke Marlboro?” And a second baby admonishes: “Before you scold me, Mom, maybe you better light up a Marlboro.” Dad got no questions, just approval for always smoking the infant’s choice.

Given what we know today about the dangers of smoking, these ads, particularly the Marlboro campaign of almost a half-century ago, may seem like something out of the Dark Ages. Today it would be unthinkable to merchandise tobacco using kids. But not so long ago....