This first image is from Richmond, Virginia, the capitol of the Confederacy. The very young lady shown lifting her skirt advertises “Deep Run Hunt Club Pure Rye” on a deck of playing cards. This was a brand from E. A. Saunders & Son Company, who provided the Southland with wholesale liquor, tobacco, and grocery items via the elaborate railroad network that linked Richmond to southern states. Rectifiers of at least four brands of whiskey, the Saunders family sold their liquor interests to Richmond’s Phil G. Kelly in 1905 after 20 years in business and opened a local grocery store.
The second skirt-lifting girl is one of several trade card images from an outfit that featured “Old Maryland Dutch Whiskies.” My efforts to track down the company behind the brand have proved fruitless. Particularly intriguing about this advertising were the slogans for Old Maryland Dutch: “The Purest Stimulant in Existence” and “When not taken immoderately, there will be an entire absence of Nervous Prostration.” This brand also was “Emphatically ‘The Whiskies of Our Daddies.” One imagines daddies might well be prone to “nervous prostration” if their daughters ran around like the one shown here.
Dreyfus & Weil, Paducah, Kentucky, distillers provided a somewhat more suggestive trade card of young women, in this case dancers, raising up their skirts while three bonafide “dirty old men” take a long look. Sam H. Dreyfuss and his partner regularly were excoriated in the press for the sexual images they presented in their merchandising. Their “Devil’s Island Endurance Gin,” sold with suggestive advertising was accused by critics of having been instrumental in rapes and even one murder.
From lifted skirts to bared bosoms, we head West to San Francisco where Roth & Company had trademarked “Capitol O.K. Whiskey” in 1906. Its saloon sign depicted an underwater topless beauty. Joseph Roth founded this firm in 1859, initially located in the old U.S. Courthouse near Oregon Street. After working with several partners over the years, Roth died in 1891 and the firm in 1906 was bought by Edwin and Mrs. Simon Scheeling. The earthquake and fire that year destroyed the premises but the Scheelings rebuilt and the business survived until the arrival of National Prohibition.
Another popular advertising gimmick was calendars. They might be hung up in a drinking establishment or more cautiously in a customer’s “man cave.” This beauty graced a calendar issued by the Brolinski Saloon of Niagara Falls, New York, likely given out to the boys along the bar. Brolinski likely bought this image from a catalogue and personalized it by having his name and address attached. The lady involved was clearly a Middle Eastern harem dweller, a popular exotic image of the pre-Pro era.
Another lass clothed only in gauze is somewhat inexplicably holding onto a horse. She may, however, be what one Milwaukee liquor dealer thought Lady Godiva might look like. He was A. M. Bloch who founded his enterprise in 1877. Over the thirty years of its existence Bloch’s firm was located at several addresses on the city’s Water Street, where many of its liquor emporiums were located. Although not mentioned on this ad, Bloch’s flagship brand was “Joker Club.” As a former resident of Milwaukee, I know this is about as racy as things there. A stripper who once came to town advertising her “Elimination Dance” was asked by the press what she would be eliminating. She replied: “Not a helluva lot in Milwaukee, bay-bee.”
Even staid Boston could spawn a risqué image, this one from Felton & Son, founded by F. L. Felton and located in South Boston. The company house brands were “Felton Rye,” “Old Felton Rye,” and “Felton’s New England Rum,” the latter the excuse for this tantalizing saloon reverse glass sign. The Feltons were distillers and known most particularly for their rum, advertised as“…Unsurpassed by any in the market, is warranted copper distilled, perfectly pure….” Would the Feltons, I wonder, have vouched for the “perfect purity” of the nude on their sign?
As we creep into full frontal nudity, we can thank David Sachs of Louisville for this image of a brunette-tressed beauty with lightning coming from her head and trailing a wispy wrap. Sachs’ advertising consistently portrayed his firm as a Kentucky distiller when in truth he was a “rectifier,” blending and mixing raw whiskeys obtained from real distillers. Such outfits often contracted for the entire production of a Kentucky distillery for a year or more and then appropriated the distillery name. Sachs & Sons over the years claimed to be the proprietors of the Oakland Distillery in Henderson County and later the Saxon Distillery of Marion County, both in Kentucky.
At this point, all modesty has flown away. Whatever covering this nude may have had is now held above her head, advertising “Big Spring” whiskey. This sweetie was brought to the public by the infamous “Whiskey Trust,” an attempt to create a monopoly in the whiskey trade in order to drive up prices. Located in Louisville, the organization officially was known as the Kentucky Distilleries & Warehouse Company. More successful than other similar attempts at combining distilleries the Kentucky outfit operated from 1902 to 1919, buying or spawning more than a dozen brands, but never achieved its price goals.
The invention of celluloid made possible a variety of liquor-related advertising items that retain their appeal even a century or more later. The shapely female shown on this match safe is a excellent example of celluloid art, even though it is difficult to understand why light is shining from the palms of her hands. This interesting image was brought to the drinking public by Herman Frech, a pre-Prohibition Minneapolis liquor dealer, located at 14-16 North Sixth Street. His logo, unseen here, appears on the opposite side. It presents his name, a whiskey bottle, two glasses and a box of cigars.
If one nude sells whiskey, hey — why not try three? That may have motivated B.S. Flersheim to issue a trio of nudes on a saloon sign advertising his mercantile company in Kansas City, Missouri. The sign displays the unclad ladies visiting the study of a gent sitting in an easy chair and quaffing a brand of whisky aptly named, “Its Tempting.” That label was trademarked in 1904. Another B.S. Flersheim & Company brand was “Old Bondage.” Its use on this sign would have been really kinky. Founded in 1879, Flersheim’ liquor business survived until 1918, a 37 year run.
There they are risqué whiskey fans. A dozen females in various stages of dress and undress. They were issued all over the country, from reputedly stogy places like Boston and Milwaukee to more exciting locales like San Francisco and Niagara Falls. These images all had the same purpose: to sell whiskey. Moreover, they all faced the same fate: Banishment to the ranks of collectibles once women begin to frequent drinking establishments.