Saturday, February 27, 2016

Gregor Meyer and the Origins of a Rare Whiskey Jug

For more than a quarter century, an Ohio collector named Tim Kearns and I have been seeking out ornate ceramic whiskey jugs made pre-Prohibition by the Knowles, Taylor and Knowles (K.T.&K.) pottery of East Liverpool, Ohio.   Working from a list compiled by a now deceased collector named Lloyd Stansbury, for 25 years we have maintained and updated a roster of all such bottles and have shared it with anyone who requested.  For many years we have had a suspicion that one or more K.T. & T. jugs existed that we had not identified — but over many years of looking, found none.
That changed last year when the collection of a Pittsburgh resident named Jay Hawkins was featured in a national bottle magazine.  There among his assembly of Pittsburgh bottles was a “New Find” (to us).  Shown above, it had a purple overglaze transfer on a hotel china white body  that advertised “Gregor Meyer Gold Seal Pure Rye Whiskey.”  Our hunch had been right.  But who was Gregor Meyer and why had he chosen to use a K.T. & K. bottle for his whiskey?

Some research has fleshed out the story of this rare item.  Meyer was born in Switzerland in 1830 and came to the United States when he was 18 years old.  He settled in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, a town adjacent to Pittsburgh, and annexed by it in 1907.   Meyer went to work in a butcher shop.  Striking out on his own some years later, he opened a meat market and grocery store, one that likely sold liquor as most groceries did in those times.  Gregor is shown left.

Apparently determining that booze paid better than beef, in 1883 Meyer opened a wholesale liquor business at Ohio Street and Madison Avenue in Allegheny.   Before long he became recognized as one of the leading wholesale liquor dealers in the Pittsburgh area.  

Part of his success may have been his generosity in providing giveaway items to his customers, both wholesale and retail.  He provided his wholesale customers — saloonkeepers and bartenders — with advertising shot glasses.  For the retail trade he handed out Indian head pennies encased in aluminum.   Shown here with four leaf clovers and horseshoes, these were good luck charms, meant to be stuck in a pocket.
None of this explains why Meyer opted for a fancy jug for his whiskey.  These porcelain-like containers began to be made during the late 1800s when a former employee of K.T. & K. named George Meredith became a liquor wholesaler and wanted a distinctive package for his whiskey,  “Diamond Club.”  He talked the pottery management into creating a jug of his design and issued thousands of them.  The Ohio company, shown above, subsequently decided to market them generally to the whiskey trade and found some buyers across America — but these jugs were relatively expensive compared to common ceramic jugs or glass bottles.

My theory is that Meyer may have been influenced by a competitor right down the street.  Gregor’s shop was at 227 Ohio Street.  Two blocks away at 44 Ohio Street stood the liquor store of John Limegrover Jr.  One of them was imitating — and competing against — the other in commissioning the K.T. & K jugs.  The evidence on who was first admittedly is slim, based in part on the addresses on the containers themselves.   Limegrover moved from the location noted on his jug, shown here, after 1898;  Meyer was still at his address in 1899 so his jug could be the newer.  Moreover, the Limegrover jugs come in three types, advertising three different whiskeys and likely were issued over several years.  On those slim facts, I conclude that Limegrover’s success with these jugs drove Meyer to imitate him.

The jug predates Meyer incorporating two of his sons, Joseph J. and Adolph H., into the business and ultimately changing the name of the firm to Gregor Meyer & Sons.  That occurred after 1900, dating the Meyer jug to the very end of the 19th Century.  Note that the shot glass above was issued after the sons came aboard. They were two of Gregor’s seven children.   His wife, shown here, was Margaret Lavo Meyer.  For his family Meyer built a home in the attractive Troy Hill area of Allegheny, shown below.
Some additional information will help round out the personality and character of Gregor Meyer. It was reported in his obituary that he was “identified with the early development of the city” and well-known in financial circles. He was president of the Real Estate Loan & Trust Company from the time of its organization until it was absorbed by another financial institution. 

Meyer also took an active interest in civic affairs. He represented the Thirteenth Ward on the Allegheny Select Council for several terms and for many years was a member of the School Controllers of his ward.  When he died in 1900, Gregor Meyer was buried in St. Mary Catholic Cemetery in Allegheny County. 

Tim Kearns and I agree that there may be more such fancy china jugs to be discovered.  We just hope that it does not take twenty years until another one is unearthed.

Note:  Thanks to Jay Hawkins for permission to use the photo of this “rare find” jug in his collection.  It should be noted that Mr. Kearns wrote a book on K.T.& K. called “American Bone China,” published in 1994 by Schiffer Books.  It contains many examples of K.T.&K. fancy whiskey jugs.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Booze and Bullets: Mixing Whiskey and Hunting

When I was a cub reporter in the Wisconsin North Woods years ago, my boss Dan, a jokester, loved to hit the crowds in local bars just as deer season began.  He would tell the outsiders, “I never go out in the field without a few belts of whiskey in me to keep warm.”  Then he would watch with amusement at the looks of alarm on the faces of those planning to hunt the next day.

Although Dan was only kidding, I think, the juxtaposition of whiskey with hunting was a familiar theme in liquor ads both before and after National Prohibition.   Whiskey advertising frequently extolled the value of strong drink for hunters or found other ways of identifying their product with the nimrod’s sport.   In the saloon sign above, advertising Kinsey Pure Rye Whiskey, we see a story unfolding.  The hunter and his dog have intruded on posted “No Trespassing” land, only to confront an angry farmer with rod in his hand.  The hunter is offering a flask — obviously of Kinsey Rye — and the farmer seems about to take it.  Moral:  Whiskey is handy to have on a hunt.
The pre-Prohibition Angelo Myers Co. of Philadelphia was not the only liquor wholesaler to make use of this “Field and Stream” fantasy.  Old Overholt, a long-produced Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey, founded as early as 1810, used a similar theme on one of its advertising signs given to saloons. The “No Trespassing” sign is absent here, but the farmer carries a stick.  He seems pleased, however, at being offered a swig from a flask of Old Overholt.  In the distance a second bearded yokel is climbing a fence to get his share.   Given the angled posture of the hunter, he may have been imbibing earlier.

“A Stag Party” is a saloon sign meant to be humorous, issued by the George Stagg Company of Frankfort, Kentucky.  Here two hunters are resting from their labors, toasting each other with whiskey from a bottle of Stagg’s trademarked “O.F.C. Straight Bourbon.”  Both are unaware that a large male deer with a huge antler rack has appeared out of the forest behind them.  That buck was the emblem of the O.F.C. distillery that Stagg operated.  The younger hunter also seems unaware that his rifle, resting as it is on his arm, might go off and damage more than his snazzy jacket.
A scene of gunners resting and enjoying a drink, guns close by, also decorated the labels of “Kamp’s Rye Whiskey.”  In this scene the two hunters apparently have spent the day in the field and shot something tough and stringy — perhaps a wild boar — since they seem to be making dinner by boiling what they bagged over a blazing wood fire.  The only camper who seems to be paying attention is their dog.  The author of this whiskey, Kamp Distilling of St. Louis was not a distiller, but a wholesaler who “rectified” whiskey purchased elsewhere, mixing and blending it, sometimes with other ingredients, to achieve taste and color, then bottling it under a proprietary label.
This theme of two hunters relaxing in camp with their dog and guns was replicated in a saloon sign issued by the company.  Calling this brand of whiskey “The Sportman’s Choice,”  Kamp indicated by this illustration that the hunters were well supplied with whiskey, a full case of quart bottles being evident in the foreground.  It is a wonder these gents could find time between snorts to do any hunting at all.

“Rod and Gun Club Rye,” ads and labels, unlike those above, do not show any overt drinking.  Here the hunter and his dogs seemingly have flush a pair of snipes and a covey of quail.  The nimrod seems in a quandary, as do his dogs, about which birds to shoot.  With the first shot, all will be in flight.  Miller & Mooney began business about 1884 in Philadelphia as liquor wholesalers.  They likely experienced frustration in getting adequate whiskey supplies and so bought their own distillery in nearby Berks County, Pennsylvania.  It was the Wheatland Distillery, operating under the “bottled in bonding” legislation and known in Federal annals as Registered Distillery #75 in the 1st District of Pennsylvania.

The label of the “Off & On” whiskey appears to show a hunter who is in no quandary about what to aim at.  Crouched on the forest floor, he is intently banging away at his unseen quarry.  This was one of many brands from the Herman Myer Company of New York City.   Like other wholesalers Myer was rectifying and bottling whiskey under his own labels.  One of my favorite Myer brand names is “Naked Mermaid.”   Herman apparently was getting supplies from a relative with a distillery in Covington, Kentucky.

The preceding seven whiskey-and-drinking examples were all issued pre-Prohibition.  The distilleries or wholesalers behind those brands all were forced to shut down their operations by 1920 with the imposition of the national ban on making or selling strong drink.  With Repeal fourteen years later, the liquor trade went right back to identifying gun sports with their products, as the ensuing four ads indicate.

Paul Jones began as a whiskey salesman in the late 1800s but soon branched out into distilling.  He bought the famous Four Roses brand and his Frankfort Distillery was one of the few companies allowed to sell liquor for medicinal purposes during Prohibition.  After Repeal, the major brand became “Paul Jones” whiskey.  In this 1940 ad, a hunter with a smoking gun is shown hauling out a large dead bear and exclaiming:  “And to think I went out after rabbits!”

Hunting bears, however, could be problematic, as in the following ad for Canadian Hunter whiskey.  Here a hunter with two dogs seems to be distinctly “over his head” in hunting bears.  The moral here seems to be that in order to “live to tell the tale,” the man with the gun needs to be well fortified on Hunter Whiskey.  

The Sunny Brook hunters have their shotguns sighted on quarry that never fight back, waterfowl.  Dressed in the traditional plaid shirts, the men seem to have one hapless goose in their range.  Printed in magazines during the 1940s, this ad was from the Sunny Brook Distillery Co., owned and run by Rosenfield Bros. & Co. of Chicago.  They established the brand in 1891 and quickly achieved a national audience.  They sold their their properties during Prohibition.  The brand was revived after Repeal.

The final post-Prohibition ad shown here provided two contrasting scenes of hunting.  On the left is an 1890s hunter and the ad suggests that his gun was the “the kind that killed at both ends.”  Like the weighty blunderbuss, the ad suggested:  “The end of the day drink meant a whisky that was plenty heavy too….”  The modern hunter, in the picture on the right, by contrast carried a light weapon and preferred a lighter whiskey.  The Hiram Walker Distillery of Peoria, Illinois, was glad to accommodate with its Signet Straight Rye — four years old and 100 proof.

After the 1940s, the idea of juxtaposing hunting and drinking as an advertising theme seemed to wane significantly.  It was an age of radio comedians who often joked about the combination.  “What are your hobbies,” someone asked Phil Harris.  “I hunt and drink,” he replied.  “What do you hunt?”  “Drink,” said Harris.  More important, serious stories abounded of drunken hunters in the woods shooting themselves or others.   The idea of mixing booze and bullets in advertising waned until today when it is virtually unthinkable.

Note:  In a post forthcoming soon I will review the use of hunting themes in beer merchandising, both before and after National Prohibition.

Labels:  whiskey and hunting, Kinsey Rye, Old Overholt, Kamp's Rye Whiskey, Rod and Gun Club Rye, On and Off Whiskey, Paul Jones, Hunter Whiskey, Sunny Brook Whiskey, Signet Whiskey