Friday, February 28, 2014

Fraternal Organizations: By Their Nips Shall You Know Them

This post is devoted to the ceramic figural containers, often called “nips,” that were issued by American fraternal organizations during the late 19th and early 20th Century.  These bottles usually held booze and I have a personal back story. All grist for this blog.  The back story is alluded to obliquely by the male face right.  It is of a Papuan warrior in full battle dress who will become relevant later.  Now to the bottles and their issuing organizations.

The heyday of American fraternal groups roughly was in the century between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Vietnam War.  Overwhelmingly white male in their constituency, membership numbered in the millions.   One reason for their popularity was that a Moose or an Elk or an Eagle or an Owl could taste liquor outside of disapproving looks from his spouse or other females.   It is said that even during the 14 years of National Prohibition fraternal clubhouses remained “wet.”  Earlier, these groups had celebrated their alcoholic environments by authorizing ceramic flasks,  emblazoned with their symbols, holding a swallow or two of whiskey.  Popularly called “nips,” many fraternal bottles have survived to the present day and are avidly collected.

The Loyal Order of Moose was funded in Louisville, Kentucky, in the spring of 1888 purely as a men’s social club.  After spreading to a number of other cities, it did not prosper and by the fall of 1906 had only two lodges, both in Indiana.   Enter James Davis, a Welsh immigrant with strong organizing skills.  He saw the Order as a way to provide a social safety net for working class men. By establishing a low annual membership fee Davis built the organization into a strong force and created an educational facility and a town in Indiana called “Moosehart.”  In 1923 the Order of Moose boasted 1,669 lodges “in every civilized country controlled by the Caucasian race.”  After hitting a peak in 1966 of more than one million members, the Moose have steadily declined in numbers to an estimated 800,000 in 2013.

The two Moose nips shown here,  as was common with fraternal organizations, featured the likeness of the animal for which the organization was named.  The second one shown here was produced by the Weller Pottery, a company founded by Samuel Weller in Fultonham, Ohio, in 1872.  Ten years later he moved it to Zanesville in a region of Ohio with rich deposits of pottery-making clay.  It is estimated Weller created this bottle for the Moose about 1890.

The next three nips are from the Elks, including the one above.  That organization officially is the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks or BPOE.   This organization had a modest beginning in 1868 as a private club in New York City, formed to avoid laws limiting the opening hours of local saloons. Early members were mostly from theatrical performing groups.   The Elks soon evolved into a major U.S. fraternal, charitable and service order with more than a million members.  Unlike many other such groups, the BPOE traditionally been all-male without an official female auxiliary.

Eating and drinking have always played a part in BPOE socializing and so proliferation of their nips is not surprising.   Elks meetings were generally held at night around victuals and alcoholic beverages.   Note that two nips have clocks on them, set to 11 p.m.  A Order website explains why:  "At every meeting of the BPOE, and every social function, when the hour of 11:00 p.m. tolls, the Lodge conducts a charming ceremonial known as the "Eleven O'clock Toast." In fact, the clock tolling the eleventh hour is part of the BPOE official emblem, and is directly behind the representation of an elk's head in the emblem of the Order.

The second Elk nip shown here, the one with a clock and elk head contains what appears to be a motto, “Cervus Alces.”   In actuality it is the scientific name for a European elk species.  Note that the ceramic is shaped like a flask but its irregular base identifies it as a replica of an “Elk’s Tooth,” an symbol of the organization that many members sported as a watch fob or tie clasp.   By such symbols members identified each other. The the third Elk nip shown here was imported from Germany.  It was the work of Shafer & Vader, famed Thuringa creators of thousands of whiskey nips.  (See my February 2010 post on Shafer & Vader).   Also in the shape of an elk’s tooth, this nip was commissioned for a Portland lodge of the BPOE.  It was a promotional item for M. Nelson, proprietor of the Lotus Saloon.  He used it to advertise that he had H. Weinhard’s Rheingold Beer on tap.

The Order of Owls, a lesser known and today virtually extinct fraternal organization, was founded by a group of businessmen in South Bend, Indiana, in 1904.  By 1911 the Owls claimed more than 300,000 members in the U.S. Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Australia and South Africa. Unlike other such groups, the Owls disavowed any religious ties.  Its literature boasted that their Order was "a secret society of good fellows, who believe in love, laughter and the Kingdom of Heaven ON EARTH.  It does not believe in postponing one’s enjoyments until after death.”   Such declarations brought attacks from church groups and may have led to the organization’s decline.

The unabashed hedonism of the Order obviously meant attention to drinking and nips.  The Owls did not disappoint.   The small blue flask with the ceramic closure featuring three owls is among the most attractive of those artifacts.   A second Owl mini-flask is an imitation ear of corn with what appear to be ritual symbols on the body.  .

Our final group of bottles can be attributed to the Fraternal Order of Eagles,  founded in 1898 by a group of six theater owners in Seattle, Washington.  Hoping to avoid a musician’s strike they banded together in an informal group that met on local theater stages and after taking care of business rolled out a barrel of beer.   With that “wet” beginning, no wonder the Eagles  issued nips.  Shown here are three of them, all bear the figure of the eagle.  On one the eagle looks left, on the other, right.  The third resembles the official U.S. eagle emblem, with olive branches in one claw, arrows in the other.  It appears to be the work of Shafer & Vader.

From its theatrical beginnings the Eagles grew into a member service organization, providing funeral costs, medical services and other benefits to members.  It also took on social and political causes. The Eagles pushed for the founding of Mother's Day, provided  impetus for Social Security and pushed to end job discrimination based on age.  In 2011,  the Order claimed 850,000 members and 250,000 members in its auxiliary.
We have identified one commonality among all four fraternal organizations:  significant consumption of alcohol among members.  Another common thread was racial discrimination.

All four organizations have had some form of exclusionary membership policy, expressed as “whites only”  or as with the Moose and Eagles excluding all but “Caucasians.”  Over the years the Elks, for example, have faced lawsuits about violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Because of the Eagles’ sponsorship of social legislation, many Democratic politicians belonged to that organization, including a Congressman for whom I was once worked.  Reacting to its “Caucasian only” clause, the National Democratic Party asked its office holders to resign from the organization.  My boss was a Eagle.   Enter the gent shown above.  Asked to do a report on the situation by the Congressman, I discovered a 1920s book on ethnology that declared that the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea were “the true Caucasoids.”   My report  included that information and contained a photo similar to the one here, with the caption:  “Wait ‘til this gent bellies up to the bar at the Eagles Club.”   The Congressman subsequently quit the organization.

Whatever the future of fraternal organizations,  whatever their gender, religious or racial policies are or might become, one can assume that social hours and refreshment will be ever a part of their existence.   Although the nips shown here are all about a century old, they continue to be a reminder of that liquid reality. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Gold Medal for Jack Daniels


With the world being in the throes of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, gold medals are on everyone’s mind.   One  gold medal has been on my mind since I won it on an internet auction site recently.  Shown here, it actually is a bronze reproduction for use as a paperweight. The medallion has an interesting bas-relief design showing a woman wearing a crown, trailed by a small boy and a man carrying an ax who seem to be encountering three individuals dressed somewhat haphazardly in togas.  Not an easy message to decipher.

The clue to its identity lies in the writing below.  It represents a medal awarded at the “Exposition Internationale de Gand,”  that is, the World’s Fair in Ghent, Belgium, in 1913.  Such expositions tended to give out gold medals like lollipops in a kid’s barbershop to all kinds of products that bothered to participate and demonstrate their wares.  In this case, turning the medal over, shows -- perhaps suprisingly -- that this medal was awarded to the American whiskey maker,  Jack Daniels.

Depicted here on a paperweight,  in 1857 Daniels began his career as a teenage apprentice to a man who was both a distiller and a Lutheran preacher in Tennessee.  After a visit from a woman prohibitionist the preacher gave up the distillery, located on interestingly-named Louse Creek, and Daniels took it over.  About age 14 he was making wagon trips to Huntsville, Alabama, to sell his whiskey.  After service in the Civil War he was able to acquire distillery property near Lynchburg, Tennessee and about 1866 he registered with the state as Jack Daniels Distillery. 

Within a few years Daniels with his nephew Lem Motlow had build his whiskey business into one of the largest in the the United States.  Daniels believed in advertising and publicity.  When an international fair was held in Liege, Belgium, in 1905,  his whiskey was represented and won a gold medal.  By the time of the Ghent fair, however, Daniels, a bachelor, was dead, victim of a gangrenous injury in 1911.  Having no wife or children he left the distillery to Motlow.  The latter was of the same mind about publicity and took his whiskey wares to Ghent.

The Exposition, shown here in panorama. was held on an area of 130 acres not far from the center of town, close to a recently completed railway station.  Renovations were made to a number of buildings in Ghent.  The construction is said to have been controversial and the fair ended on the eve of World War One when many Europeans were not in a fair-going mood   Despite having been sold to townsfolk as an economic boon,  the Ghent Expo ended seriously in debt.   By that time, however, Motlow was home in Tennessee savoring his gold medal.

The medal design was by Godefroid Devreese (sometimes given as “de” Vreese) Shown here, he was born at Courtrai, Belgium, in 1861. From the age of fifteen he practiced sculpture in the studio of his father, Constant Devreese, a well known Belgian artist.  At the time of the  Exposition,  Devreese was considered one of Europe’s outstanding sculptors in the mode of  “art nouveau.”  That style had been the rage during the latter part of the 19th Century but was slowly going out of fashion in the 20th.  Nonetheless, Devreese created his gold medal in the art nouveau style.

It is worthwhile comparing the Devreese original with the Daniels reproduction.  A primary difference is in the backgrounds.   In the original the wall behind the figures is utterly plain.  It emphasizes the six figures shown.  The Devreese design indicates that the woman with a crown likely is greeting three Greek muses, probably those associated with music,  “Aoid”, song; “Melet,” practice, and “Mneme,” memory.  This may be why the boy behind the woman has is throwing flowers from a basket toward them.  Concertgoers know that performers are thrown flowers.  None of this pageantry is evident in the Daniels paperweight.  There a pebbled background obscures the grace of Devreese’s design and makes it look clumsy and “heavy.”  Moreover, the molding of the figures on
the reproduction is crude, particularly when compared with the elegant original.

Nevertheless, the Jack Daniel whiskey folks are proud of their medal, despite it having been supplied by a little known and apparently unsuccessful World’s Fair.  As further evidence the distillers have included it on a shot glass of their issuance.  Shown here, it is rendered in gold and carries a reminder that it was bestowed on Jack Daniels at  “Ghent, Belgium, Gold Medal, 1913.”  The discovery of this glass opens a question:  Was the bronze paperweight issued at the time of its award, which would make it an antique or manufactured and issued more recently?  I lean toward a later, post-Prohibition date.  Although such signs sometimes can be misleading,  the item lacks the patina and evidence of wear that artifacts of that vintage can be expected to display.

Moreover, Jack Daniels is a whiskey producer that has outdone all of its U.S. rivals in the number and variety of paperweights it has issued over the years.   In my collection I have no fewer than nine,  all of them circulated post-Prohibition, and there are many more. Among those in my collection are an attractive etched black glass weight, decorated with ears of corn and sheaves of wheat, shown here. It carries a sticker on the back identifying it as a product of the Fenton Glass Works of Williamstown, West Virginia, one of America’s oldest and most successful.  Founded in 1905  Fenton glass appears to have weathered the onslaught of foreign competition and at least the last time I looked is still doing business under direction of the Fenton family.

The Jack Daniels crowd, however, do not always “buy American.”  Shown here is a weight that displays a variety of whiskey labels related to the Tennessee whiskey.  It bears a sticker on its felt-lined base that identifies it as from the “Waterfill Glass Collection.”   Research discloses that items so marked come from China.  This post closes showing a weight that display souvenir shot glasses that the company has sold through its Lynchburg General Store. 
The “back story” of the Jack Daniels gold medal weight has led from Louse Creek and Lynchburg, Tennessee, to Ghent, Belgium, and then on to Williamstown, West Virginia, and China,  finally returning to Lynchburg.  That odyssey is recalled each time I look at the bronze paperweight now sitting on a pedestal in my office.