Friday, February 25, 2011

New Find: Sherwood Bros. Jug from Nebraska

For some 34 years, I have been keep track of American ceramic whiskey jugs and have written two books about them, as well as having collected and viewed hundreds of examples As a result, it is very unusual to be presented with a jug that I have never seen before, particularly one that was produced by a pottery about which I have written extensively.

That is exactly what happened in January 2011 when John Bass of Redding, California, emailed me a picture of a ceramic whiskey, shown here, one completely unknown to me. The the shape and decoration on the jug are exactly the same as a jug from the Wm. Edwards Co. of Cleveland, Ohio. That jug was featured in my blog of November 2009. Both ceramics are marked as the product of Sherwood Bros. of New Brighton, Pennsylvania. Mr. Bass’s jug, however, advertises Country Club Bourbon from E.E. Bruce and Co. of Omaha, Nebraska.

Mr. Bass sent me the picture after seeing my article on Sherwood Bros. pottery. The bottle clearly was well traveled from Omaha. It had been owned by his mother in California. She told him that it had been given to her 40years earlier by her mother-in-law in New Mexico. That lady claimed that the ceramic was then 100 years old. The dating was not quite correct. The ceramic whiskey now is more than100 years old and can claim antique status but it was not quite that vintage when his mother received it. The dating, however, does not compromise the uniqueness of this new find.

Who was E.E. Bruce and his company? Shown here, Edwin Estelle Bruce was a leading druggist and businessman in Omaha. He opened an wholesale drug business in 1887, accounted by contemporaries as “one of the finest in the West.” His company occupied a four story building in Omaha. Like many other drug companies, Bruce’s firm also sold a line of whiskey -- the flagship brand being Country Club Bourbon.

Not only did E.E. Bruce order a whiskey bottle from Sherwood Brothers, he also employed jugs from the famed Redwing potteries of Minnesota. A two-gallon Redwing jug bearing Bruce’s logo is shown here. Made rich by his drug and liquor business, Bruce occupied a Georgian Revival mansion, located in Omaha's Gold Coast neighborhood. He also was well-known in Omaha business circles, according to a contemporary account, respected for his ability, enterprise and ingenuity.

Presumably as a result of this reputation, Bruce was tapped by the elite of the city to be a principal officer for a world’s fair known as the Trans-Mississippi International Exposition. This event was inspired by leading Nebraskans to illustrate the “progress of the West,” highlight the 24 states and territories west of the Mississippi River, and meant to spur economic development. Held a mere five years after Chicago’s highly successful1893 Columbian Exposition, the Exposition ran from June to November 1898.

Bruce held the pivotal position of Exhibits Manager for the Exposition, an extravaganza that covered 108 city blocks in Omaha and involved 4,062 individual exhibits. The success of his efforts can be measured in the 2.6 million people who visited during the six month run of the fair. Constructed quickly of flimsy materials, none of the Exposition buildings survives today. Bruce’s mansion still stands. Moreover, we can remember this Omaha druggist and whiskey dealer by the ceramic jugs, including a new find from Sherwood Bros., that are part of his legacy.


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