For example, John Ellwanger, a German immigrant who began his career as a delivery boy in a Dubuque, Iowa, dry goods store, and went on to become a wealthy whiskey wholesaler, featured a hunter in his sign for “Old Knapsack Rye.” Given the startled look on the face of nimrod, my guess is that he has a flask in his own knapsack and has been reminded to take a swig. Ellwanger used his resources from selling whiskey to become a leading business and political figure in Dubuque during the late 19th Century and into the 20th.
Theobold & Son of Columbus, Ohio, left less to the imagination by their saloon sign for their flagship brand, “Old Coon Sour Mash. Above is the image of two hunters in the twilight with coon dogs and dogs who have treed a small raccoon that is looking at them intently, obviously with some apprehension. The hunters, however, seem transfixed on a bottle of whiskey that one of the men is offering the other. The dogs seem disinterested in the quarry. It may be that Old Coon has saved the hide of the treed coon. The Theobolds were in business from 1860 to 1916 when Ohio voted to go “dry.”
This next image similarly leaves little to the imagination. In this ad we see a hunter, shotgun at the ready, who has taken out a flask and is pouring himself a “snort” in the midst of his quest for game. The text tells the story: “A good time coming” The only thing a sportsman enjoys more than the anticipation of Cream of Kentucky “Thee” Whiskey.” This libation was a proprietary brand of the I. Trager Company of Cincinnati. The company was being supplied by the Old Darling distillery of Prestonville, KY. and was in business from 1887 to 1918.
The three images above were from pre-Prohibition liquor outfits but even after repeal, the juxtaposition of whiskey with hunting continued. At left is a flask and label of Huntsman Straight Bourbon that was the product of the Wisconsin Liquor Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Here two hunters are about to join their dog by crossing a fence, a gun seemingly dangerously placed. It suggests that the two have been nipping at their “Huntsmen” already. Whatever outfit was behind this whisky long since has left the Milwaukee scene.
While the letterhead from R. B. Grainger Distilling Company does not overtly feature hunting, the Kansas City, Missouri, pre-Prohibition liquor house flyer that follows leaves nothing to the imagination. It offers the public the a “handsome TRAVELERS FLASK with ALUMINUM DRINKING CUP with some extra fine OLD R.B. GRAINGER Straight Kentucky Whiskey….This beautiful FLASK always comes in handy and they are especially convenient for your hip pocket when fishing and hunting….” This firm appeared in business directories from 1912-1917.
The Bernheim Brothers and their I. W. Harper whiskey brought us the most subtle whiskey cum hunting image with the saloon sign shown here. It has all the familiar accessories of the well-decorated hunter’s cabin, replete with pelts, guns, boots and a dog. The I.W. Harper sign is hung discretely from trophy antlers and a wicker covered I. W. Harper jug — like one I used to own — sits awaiting on a table. The colorful lithograph on tin is entitled “Here’s Happy Days.”
This hunting scene of a hunter who apparently has killed seven ducks with one shotgun blast was one of a series of post-Prohibition hunting ads featuring Paul Jones whiskey, a brand created by Jones who began his career as a liquor salesman and expanded to be a major force in the distilling industry. After his death the family sold the brand to the Seagram’s people who likely were responsible for this ad. The message here is that the whiskey had become five times more popular than before — apparently not “impossible’ like a single shot taking down seven fowl at once.
Another post-Prohibition ad series features “Sunny Brook,” a whiskey that originated in 1891 with the Rosenfield Brothers in Chicago. The brand gained a national reputation during the late 1800s and early 1900s only to be stopped by National Prohibition. At the time of Repeal in 1933 the Rosenfields sold the distiller and brand name to American Medical Spirits and later National Distillers who ran a series of ads with hunting motifs.
Now we turn from booze to brews. I am particularly fond of this image of a hunter who is resting after a day of one kind of sport and moving on to another, one that has him chatting up the comely saloon waitress. The look between them is entrancing. Less so is the rifle, presumably loaded, idly placed at the edge of a round table and a dog that bears no resemblance to a hunter. Schlitz, whose sign brags that it made Milwaukee famous, no longer exists.
Another Wisconsin beer that is no longer extant is Gund Beer of La Crosse. This pre-prohibition saloon sign depicts “A Wisconsin Deer Hunt…The Return…Two Bucks.” The reference is to the price for a case of Gund. Only one dead buck is shown, ready to be gutted skinned by firelight by a gleeful hunter with a Gund in his hand. His companions are celebrating nearby. Once more we are looking at the artful lithography on tin available to breweries to gift watering holes that featured their beers.
This addition of another ten whiskey and beer ads to those already posted provide ample testimony to the strong links that have existed for time immemorial between alcohol and hunting — a relationship as fresh as the present. The moral is: If you don’t have a gun, stay out of the woods during hunting season and maybe even if you do.