Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Art Nouveau Whiskey Jug

Among my favorite artistic movements is “Art Nouveau,” a style that burst into wide popularity about 1890 in Europe and the United States and held sway until snuffed out by the cold winds of World War One three decades later. Characterized by lavish ornamentation with lines reminiscent of twining plan tendrils or ribbons flowing in the wind, Art Nouveau was frequently used in the merchandising of the day, selling everything from bicycles and eggs to cigarette papers, throat lozenges, and -- yes -- whiskey.

An example is the Thomas Rossland scotch whisky jug, displaying a familiar Art Nouveau theme, the “Tree of Life,” with its roots, branches, leaves and some kind of round fruit. This jug recently fetched more than a $1,000 at auction. It was the product of the Doulton Lambeth Pottery , now known as Royal Doulton. Between 1882 and 1914 this British pottery manufacturer issued dozens of whiskies that incorporated highly glazed necks, shoulders, handles and bodies with Art Nouveau themes in a range of rich and colored glazes.

In the United States, by contrast, only a few distillers and whiskey dealers used the decors common to Art Nouveau. Note here a Doulton jug, predominantly brown and yellow with distinctive flowers in a drapery. Below it is an American jug that features similar flowers. It is from “Coronation Brand” and is “Scotch-type Whiskey.”

Thereby hangs a mystery. This jug is part of a series of three, all of which go under the name, Coronation Brand, but with presumably different contents. One of them is labeled “Irish Type Whiskey” and the other “Kornschnapps Style Liquor” -- a German alcoholic beverage. All profess to be “Products of Ohio.” Each reflects the Art Nouveau sensibility in the differing modes of flowing shapes that surround their labels. Two decades of trying to locate the origins of these highly unusual whiskeys has yielded me absolutely no clues.

Nor are there any clues to the potteries that might have made and designed the labels for these jugs. My suspicion is that it was Sherwood Brothers of New Brighton, Pennsylvania. (See my blog of November 2009.) This is the only U.S. pottery in my knowledge with the ability to do wrap around transfers of the good design and sophistication represented by these Art Nouveau containers. Sadly, often Sherwood Brothers did not mark their products.

Whoever made them clearly were taking cues and themes from Doulton jugs, such as the 1900 “Good Luck and Happiness to You” whiskey done in the Art Nouveau style. One final American whiskey jug done in that mode is also from Ohio. It is labeled “Finest Old Sour Mash” and was issued by the R. Brand & Company distillers from Toledo. Many of these Brand jugs carry a mark indicating that they were made in Scotland by the Port Dundas Pottery, second only to Doulton in its ability to create attractive whiskey containers.

As I continue to seek an answer to the puzzle of of these Coronation Brand jugs, it is my hope that through this blog new information may come to light. In the meantime I will treasure looking at these Art Nouveau artifacts on display in my house.

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