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.

1 comment:

  1. As a novice to whiskey bottle collecting this is fascinating to me. I have a few of the more common examples of K T & K china jugs (Limegrover, Meredith). Would love to get a copy of your updated list to use for reference if possible. Meanwhile, I will continue to enjoy your blog.