Saturday, April 4, 2020

Half a Million Hits and Two “New Finds”

Foreword:  This post marks the point where this blog has reached just over 500,000 “hits” over its lifetime.  By comparison with many other websites that is a paltry number but “BottlesBooze…” from the beginning has been idiosyncratic, “about more things than you can shake a stick at,” and has not been geared to attract legions of followers.  From time to time I have used it to introduce “new finds” in collectible bottles, and just in time for this half million milestone two such have recently come  to light.  

The first is an under-glaze transfer jug that figured in a trans-Atlantic debate I carried on thirty years ago with the leading British expert on ceramic bottles, Alan Blakeman.  At that time I was convinced that most, if not all, of the fancy whiskey jugs were made in Scotland or England and shipped to our shores.  Alan disagreed. He argued that the U.S. must have had pottery firms with the capability of designing and executing even intricate transfer designs. Alan was right.  

I saw the proof for myself in 1998. It was a small stoneware butter crock, likely a salesman's sample issued by the Sherwood Bros. Pottery of New Brighton, Pennsylvania. The crock is drawn with an elegance and precision equal to anything the “Old World” could produce. Ad copy on the item offers to provide underglaze transfer printed items of equal perfection to Sherwood Brothers clients.

The crock was part of a private collection of Sherwood Bros. ceramics that I had driven 280 miles to see in New Brighton.  The collector who regularly dug at the site of the former ceramics works, shown above, had  found a shard that indicated a similar pattern might be found on a whiskey jug.  In the 32 ensuing years I have looked for such an item without result —until last month.  Seen below is the jug as it appeared on eBay in March, advertised as “very rare” — almost an understatement.  Attracting five bidders, opened at $125 and ultimately sold for $305.

In tandem with the Sherwood Bros. jug, the same seller listed a second  container, this one from the Fulper Pottery Company of Flemington, New Jersey.  Year ago I identified this ceramic works as the source of a distinguishable variety of whiskey jug.  Since then I have compiled a list of some 135 different examples of Fulper products, a list I make available upon request.  I had never, however, seen this particular example before.  It advertised “Imperial Club Pure Rye” and was issued originally by the William Page & Company of New York City.

Because these jugs essentially are decorated over the glaze and are more than 100 years old, they frequently show wear on the gold lettering and design, particularly on the lower half that typically has a dark glaze.   As shown here, this jug shows some minor wear but in general has its decoration intact. I am particularly impressed with the elaborate gold crown at the center of the label that seems utterly intact.   Despite its appearance, this item, offered at $95, failed to attract single bidder.  Unfortunately these ceramics often do not fetch more than $50. In good condition, as this whiskey jug is, I think they are undervalued.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

W.W. Denslow: The Wizard of “Bird’s Eye Views”

After the Civil War, a radical shift in artistically depicting vistas emerged, with farmscapes, landscapes, cityscapes and buildings often were shown from a bird-eye perspective, as one observer has put it, “rendered with maplike precision.”  Currently experiencing a revival of attention in the art world, such drawings often were done by itinerant self-taught American artists.  W. W. Denslow, shown above, was by contrast an accomplished artist, best known for his later illustrations for “The Wizard of Oz.”  Nonetheless, Denslow adopted the simplistic technique to accomplish a series of 100 plus lithographs of more than passing interest.

In 1876 Denslow was hired to provide a portfolio of sketches for the centennial celebrations held on the Fourth of July at Chambersburg, Franklin County, Pennsylvania.  The author, I. H. M’Cauley,  wrote a brief history of the region and provided information on each sketch, barely mentioning the artist.  Nevertheless, still struggling to make a living from his drawing, Denslow likely was happy for the commission although it must have consumed considerable time visiting and recording the sites.  My assumption is that the artist could profit additionally from individual sales of the lithographs.

For example, I would assume that Adam Kieffer of “Rock Dale” outside St. Peters, Pennsylvania, would have purchased at least one picture of his domain.
The farm in exquisite detail is shown in prosperity, with a three-story stone house, a large barn with an ample hay stack, a thriving orchard, and pictures of hogs, cows and horses.  The surprise feature is a railroad train running right through Kieffer’s spread, towing both a boxcar and a passenger car.

The Price farm above appears even more well-to-do, with two sizable barns in view and a variety of outbuildings.  Here the emphasis was on the large orchards on one side and the fields of grain on the other.  Except for the horse and buggy, no livestock are visible, likely shut away in one of the barns.

Somewhat less impressive is the farm of James K. Andrew.  Although the barn is of the usual scale and livestock are evident, the farmhouse appears to be more modest and the number of outbuildings limited to two.  Note that this farmscape is bifurcated by a road through which a team is pulling a Conestoga wagon. As was his custom Denslow has signed the lithograph in the lower right corner with his initials.

Denslow also provided illustration of rural enterprises.  His landscape of the Antietam marble works, sawmill, and home of Henry Walter leaves no doubt that the primary products of the site were cemetery monuments and tombstones.  The work of cutting the marble and planks in the sawmill was facilitated by the diversion of the stream.  The region is drained by the east and west branches of Antietam Creek, a south-flowing tributary of the Potomac River.

Among my favorite Denslow illustrations is that of Hopewell Mills.  Here the sharp edges of other sites have been softened by some gentle curves, including the hill known as Bare Knob behind.  The view looks northward from a stone arch bridge over the east branch of Antietam Creek.  While the buildings and bridge no longer exist, the two roads do.  The one with the wagon today is known as Fish and Game Road.

A third rural enterprise sketched by Denslow is of a thriving whiskey-making operation.  After John Durkin’s death Oscar Good had purchased from his family the three-story stone distillery with the smaller bonded warehouse at the left.  The artist emphasizes the activity of the facility by showing a worker rolling one of many barrels to where sales are being made to horse-drawn wagons coming and going.  The slopes behind the distillery are the Blue Mountains, a beautiful low Appalachian range that extends for more than 100 miles through the southern Pennsylvania countryside.

The next illustration takes us from the profane to the sacred.  Robert Kennedy Memorial Presbyterian Church, also known as Welsh Run Presbyterian Church, is a historic place of worship in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Built in 1871, it is a 1 & 1/2-story frame Italianate-style building. Still standing, the church features a Tiffany stained glass window dated 1934.  The church is named for Rev. Robert Kennedy, who served the congregation twice during the period 1802 to 1843.

Denslow also was commissioned to illustrate buildings in an urban setting, including the Indian Queen Hotel, located in downtown Chambersberg.  It was a two story brick building with a center hall.  The ground floor on one side held the bar and on the other a parlor.  Rooms were upstairs.  As might have been noticed earlier, no attempt was made by the artist to provide perspective: the man in the buggy is smaller than the figures on the sidewalk beyond.  In this he was imitating the self-taught itinerant artists of his time — a style many people had come to expect and liked.

W. W. Denslow would go on to illustrate many books, particularly those for children.  His renderings for “The Wizard of Oz” in 1900 would bring him fame and fortune.  With his wealth he bought an island off Bermuda, lived there as a recluse and ultimately drank himself to death.  His legacy remains in the many charming drawings he made — including, I believe, the lithographs for the
Chambersburg centennial celebration.

Note:  This is the second article I have posted on this blog about W. W. Denslow.  He was, in fact, the subject of my first post way back on April 30, 2009.  For my “Pre-Prohibition Men” blog I have written a biography of O.W. Good, the Franklin County distiller, dated April 6,2012.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

The Artifacts of Carrie (“Carry”) Nation

Born in June of 1846 in Kentucky, Carry Nation, shown here, was woman who stood six feet tall and weighed in at 175 pounds. A fervent member of the Temperance Movement, in 1900 she heard a “Voice from Above” that told her to take something hard in her hands and go wreck saloons. Her first adventure was in Kiowa, Kansas, where she stormed into a barroom and proceeded to heave rocks.  So far as I know, none of her rocks have been collected.  Other Carry Nation artifacts, however, are collected, as documented here.

Recognizing that once a rock is thrown through a saloon mirror, it loses its usefulness as a weapon, Carry soon switched to an implement known as a Crandall hammer, normally used by masons to dress building stone.  When that proved inadequate to her purposes of smashing barrooms, she moved to — and stayed with — the hatchet. In time she owned three, naming them “Faith,” “Hope,” and “Charity.”

This axe became an enduring symbol as Carry performed her “hachetations” in saloons across the country.  Invited into speak in his Guthrie, Oklahoma saloon by Moses Weinberger following her pledge not to do any hatchet swinging, Carry reneged and chopped a chunk from his mahogany bar.  This was only one of dozens of bars bearing the scars of her fury.

Early on she began to need funds for her living expenses and to pay jail fines, railroad fares and hotel bills.  According to the Kansas Historical Society, while she was speaking to an assembly on a Topeka street in 1901, a man handed her some small pewter hatchets. He suggested, "Sell them to this crowd and you can pay your costs and fines this month." The listeners quickly snatched them up. 

 After that the zealot in a bonnet was never without a bag full of them to sell, stored in a bag slung over her shoulder.  In her autobiography, “The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation,” she said of the pins, "They carry a message with them, it is the heart of a mother crying, "Carry A. Nation for my baby, for my loved ones, Carry A. Nation against the saloons.”   Women all over America who supported Prohibition wore them with pride.

Other hatchets with her message were contributed by adherents.  Shown here is a tiny medal item that bears a presumed likeness of Carry on the blade.  Dated 1901 and reading “Axe of All Nations,” the handle implored  “Cut Out the Whiskey.”  Meant as a watch fob or for a keychain, this hatchet was the handiwork of a friendly Michigan stove manufacturer. 

The origins and use of another, painted hatchet remains a mystery.  The slogan “All Nations Welcome But Carrie,” was used against the lady but she cannily adopted it as her own mantra to disparage the saloonkeepers who shut the door on her.  As shown here by the “Down with Rum” plaque, the hatchet became a symbol for the entire Temperance Movement.

“The badge of our army,” Carrie declared widely of her “Home Defender” pinbacks.  Historians note that the concept of women as Home Defenders was central to the prohibition movement. Women were seen as protecting the home from the ravages of alcohol and other vices. Nation herself donated one of these buttons to the Kansas Historical Society in 1901.  The Home Defender carafe shown here obviously held nothing stronger than sweet tea.

Photographs of Nation abound.  Those she also sold.  In her autobiography she declared:  “I never want to picture taken of myself without my Bible, my constant and heavenly companion.”  The hatchet was a second “constant companion,” abeit somwhat less heavenly.   My favorite photo, below, is of Carrie talking to two men on the street.  Her hands hold neither Bible nor axe, but are extended as if in supplication — a humanizing and sympathetic pose unlike the others.

Other Nation memorabilia are the many cartoons that were inked about her during her rampage and even afterward.  The one at right was contemporary with her crusade.  The one at left, by Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) was aimed at latter day prohibitionary efforts.  

The last artifact is a ceramic figural made by Schafer & Vader, a German pottery that made mini-flasks call “nips” for both European and American liquor outfits.  I date this statuette from the early 1900s.  It is not clear whether it is meant to represented Nation herself or one of her acolytes. The woman is carrying a Bible, but no hatchet, and wears a large cross around her neck, something I have not seen on Carry.  In either case the object is satirical.  Schafer & Vader had a lot to lose if America went dry.  And did when it did.

Note:  Kansas, a state in which Carry Nation spent much of her life, through its Museum of History in Topeka has preserved a considerable amount of material about her.  Several of the photos used here are from the Museum’s online exhibit that features posts on various aspects of the hatchet-swinger’s life, including a quiz.  The contact:

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Appreciating Balinese Wood Carvings

During my first of eight visits to Indonesia in 1968, my scholarship money provided sufficient funds to plan a short trip to the Island of Bali.  While there I was introduced to Balinese wood carvings and over the ensuing twelve years and five later trips to Indonesia, began to collect pieces that now adorn our home.

My first acquisition was a statue of the Ganesha, the elephant god of the Hindu pantheon.  (The Balinese are largely Hindus.)  Although many he has many attributes in legend, he is best known because of his elephant head.  He is worshiped as a symbol of intellect and wisdom, of art and science, and letters and learning.  Shown here, my Ganesha statue is an outstanding piece of Balinese wood sculpture.  It is meticulous carved completely by hand on a dark hardwood. 

I came to own it almost by accident.  In 1969 I had wandered down the beach from my Denpasar hotel when approached by a young man wearing shorts and a torn shirt.  He offered me this marvelous statue in exchange for my shirt — truly a bargain for so impressive a piece.   Because I had packed lightly for the side trip to Bali and had no spare, I gave him as much money as I had in my pocket and went to find a shirt I could give him.  Later on that visit I was taken by acquaintances to see one of the carving studios in the hinterlands.   Amidst the carvers at their work, I accused the owner using electric saws to shape the pieces initially.  “Look around,” he retorted. “We have no electricity.”

On a subsequent trip I decided to add to add other Hindu gods by buying Balinese carvings in shops on Java.  In one recommended store, I found two such statutes.  One is of Hanuman, the central characters in the epic story of the Ramayana and frequently portrayed in celebrations in Bali. The Ramayana presents them as humans with reference to their speech, clothing, habitations, funerals, consecrations etc. It also describes their monkey-like characteristics such as their leaping, hair, fur and a tail.  Because Hanuman often is shown with a white face, he is sometimes called “the white monkey.”  My statute shows him struggling with a “naga” or snake, possibly a sea serpent,  likely as he is on the ocean with an army from India to Sri Lanka to rescue the Ramayana heroine, Sita.

The other is a statue of the Garuda, a being who the wings, head, beak and talons of an eagle or vulture. He may be part human being.  Part of his role is as the enemy of all snakes that are symbolic of death and the underworld. In contrast, Garuda represents birth and heaven; in addition he is associated with the sun and fire.  The Indonsian airline is named for Garuda.  The statues, bought about the same time in the early 1970s, represent continued good work of the Balinese artisans, although the wood from which they are carved is not as heavy.

Those artisans were not above making statues aimed at the tourist trade — and I was not immune from buying one about 1970.  It is of a Balinese woman who is entirely nude.  While the women of the island frequently go topless.  they are well covered below the waist.  This statue with its skinny arms and oversized head clearly was meant for the libidinous male visitor.  Note, however, the attractive multi-coloration of the wood.

I also have two smaller carvings that fit well in a bookcase.
My earlier purchase was of the old man carrying bundles of sticks.  I was attracted to it by its depiction of common life.  One often saw similar individuals, skinny and aged, trudging the dusty roads of Indonesia with heavy cargo.  

  I had spent a great deal of time browsing a shop about 1980, sadly noting a decline in workmanship, when I came upon a truly expertly carved piece and took it to inquire about price.  “You have chosen the most expensive item in the shop. The famous carver who made this has died and there will be no more,” the proprietor said, quoting me a price considerably beyond my means.  While proud of my connoisseurship, I settled on the smaller, less expensive piece shown here, of a family of three pipers.

My last purchase of a Balinese carving was a statue of two bulls locked in battle.  It was an unusual piece, one I had never seen before.  It also fit well into a niche in our home that needed something of interest to liven an area.  

While I have not returned to Indonesia for some 32 years, I am told that the quality of Balinese carving has continued to deteriorate.  Older pieces, however, are regularly seen on auction sites like eBay.  For those interested in collecting, the 1988 book, “Woodcarvings of Bali” by Fred and Margaret Eiseman is highly informative.


Saturday, February 8, 2020

Native Americans Selling Whiskey II

Forward:   The official Government view about selling liquor to Native Americans was expressed in an 1833 report by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to Congress:   “The proneness of the Indian to the excessive use of ardent spirits with the too great facility of indulging that fatal propensity through the cupidity of our own citizens, not only impedes the progress of civilization, but tends inevitably to the degradation, misery, and extinction of the aboriginal race.”  Given that warning and federal laws against selling booze to indigenous peoples, it is startling to realize how many distillers and liquor dealers used Indian images on their whiskeys.  This post, my second on this subject, documents nine more.

The first example is a label from Calumet, Michigan, showing a comely maiden in  a headdress advertising “Copper Queen Whiskey,” a blend.  It was produced by Nariso Bianchi, an italian-born 1897 immigrant to the U.S.  About 1904 Bianchi, with a partner, opened a saloon and liquor store.  Although he was a “rectifier” not a distiller, that is, blending whiskeys for color, taste and smoothness, he did his own bottling and labels, advertising Copper Queen Whiskey as proprietary.

By coincidence Calumet at the time was named “Red Jacket,” the same name and personage as the next whiskey.  Red Jacket was a Seneca chief who had fought on the side of the British in the American Revolution and was named for having worn the British red coats.  His real name was Sagoyewatha (He Keeps Them Awake), and was adamant against the white man, his ways and especially the Christian religion.  Nevertheless, Buffalo distiller Thomas Clark named his facility and whiskey after him.  Red Jacket is shown here wearing a medal later bestowed on him by George Washington, a reward for abandoning the warpath.

Meanwhile, in Chicago a young Bennett Pieters was profiting greatly from selling a highly alcoholic Red Jacket Stomach Bitters.  By wrapping his remedy in an Indian motif, Pieters was tapping into the rampant myth of the times that Native Americans possessed special knowledge of medicines.  For a time it made him rich, until several fraudulent schemes and his own alcoholism led to his downfall.  Abandoning his family, Pieters joined the U.S. Cavalry in 1871, went West, and became an Indian fighter. 

Searching for an image to illustrate his “Old Redskin” blended whiskey, Thomas A. Brownrig of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, chose a scowling chief with a downturned mouth, carrying a hatchet.  American Indians of the Abenaki and other Algonquian languages-speaking nations had inhabited that part of coastal New Hampshire for thousands of years before European contact.  Brownrig advertised widely in local media  calling himself a “Dealer in Foreign and Domestic Liquors, Imported Goods a Specialty.”  He also claimed be Portsmouth exclusive agent for the popular I. W. Harper Whiskey.  

Meanwhile on the West Coast, the Gottstein brothers of Seattle chose a canoe-borne indigenous American to be embossed on their liquor flasks.  Chief Seattle (1786-1866) was a leading figure of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes who pursued a path of accommodation toward white settlers.  A widely publicized speech arguing in favor of ecological responsibility and respect of Native Americans' land rights has been attributed to him.  

An Indian maiden illustrated “Tippecanoe,” a double fire copper whiskey from Joseph Pfeffer, a Cincinnati liquor wholesaler.  For saloon signs, almost always displayed in places where women and children were excluded, the Tippecanoe husky lass was shown bare-breasted.  When used on the label of a bottle that might find itself on a grocer’s shelf or a druggist’s display case where the eyes of the world might see, the maiden was more chastely dressed. At the bottom of a shot glass, as shown here, it is hard to tell.  

From a letterhead came the Indian chief advertising “Sachem” brand whiskey.  The term “sachem” is defined as a North American Indian chief especially the chief of a confederation of the Algonquian tribes of the North Atlantic coast.  In this case the whiskey was the product of the Rehm-Zeihler Company located in Louisville, Kentucky.  This firm was established by O.E. Rehm in 1904 and continued in business until closed by National Prohibition.

The comely Indian maiden seen here was an advertising element of Isaac and Bernard Bernheim Bros., acclaimed as the most successful distillers in American history.   Located in Louisville, the brothers registered the famous “I.W. Harper” brand. The "I W" initials were borrowed from Isaac's own name, while Harper was the surname of a well known Kentucky horse breeder. The whiskey went on to win multiple medals for quality, the first being at the New Orleans Exposition in 1885.

Our final Native American selling whiskey is a stern-looking chief whose face graced the label of “Old Yock” brand straight rye whiskey from Dillinger Distilleries of Ruffdale, Pennsylvania.  For several years before the Civil War Samuel Dillinger drove a large Conestoga wagon pulled by six horses across the Allegheny Mountains on the Nation Pike, transporting merchandise between Baltimore and Pittsburgh.  After settling down in Pennsylvania, he became the second largest distiller in the state, hauling out fifty newly filled whiskey barrels every day from his distillery to store in his warehouses and then delivering a quality aged rye like “Old Yock” to his customers.

Note:  My first article on this subject was posted on October 27, 2017.  

Friday, January 24, 2020

Dr. Seuss, Horton, Who-ville and Climate Change

Forward:   This is my third post on Theodore Geisel, better known as “Dr. Seuss.”  My first, “Dr. Seuss Sells the Sauce,” (July 3, 2010) featured Geisel’s early career when he drew beer and whiskey ads.  The second, “When Dr. Seuss Shot Down Lucky Lindy,” (July 16, 2016) displays his later work as a political cartoonist taking on the pro-Nazi movement, centered around aviator Charles Lindbergh, in pre-WW II America, This current post was occasioned by my seeing the motion picture developed from Seuss’s famous children’s book, “Horton Hears a Who.”  The theme takes on new meaning in our time of climate change.

The original Dr. Seuss story was written in 1954 and dedicated to “My Great Friend, Mitsugi Nakamura,” dean of Doshisha University in Kyoto.  It followed an extended trip Geisel made to Japan and has been seen as a subtle reference to the effects of nuclear weapons.  The movie, made more than a half-century later, elaborates on the original to bring new messages to the fore.

The story:  A speck of dusk is adrift in the air in a jungle setting. The dust speck floats past Horton the elephant and he hears a tiny yelp coming from it. Suspecting that an entire society of very small creatures are living on that speck, he catches it and places it on top of a flower.  Thus, we are introduced to Who-ville, a microscopic idyllic village that seemly has existed for centuries.  Who-ville’s Mayor smugly can trace his ancestry back to a caveman.

But the Mayor is worried. Since the Who universe began to drift, the city has begun experiencing strange phenomena — changes in the weather and violent shakings.  When he tries to warn the citizens and have them retreat into shelters, he is opposed by the scheming Chairman of the Town Council who in effect calls the warning a hoax.  The Mayor also has learned from Who-ville’s only scientist how small their universe really is and that if Horton does not find a “safer more stable” landing place, Who-ville and all its inhabitants will be destroyed.

Speaking through an amplifying device, the Mayor convinces Horton to find such a location and in the book tells him:
“My friend,” came the voice, you’re a very fine friend,
You’ve helped all us folks on this dust speck no end.
You’ve saved all our houses, our ceilings and floors,
You’ve saved all our churches and grocery stores.”

What the Mayor fails to realize is that “it’s a jungle out there” and many of Horton’s fellow animals are just as intent on destroying the speck as Horton is to protect it.  They snatch the clover and speck away from the elephant and a vulture drops it into a field.  The result is damage to the town but nothing catastrophic.  Not being able to hear the Whos, the skeptical animals are about to drop the speck into boiling oil when the message gets through and Who-ville is saved.

At the conclusion of the movie the narrator (Charles Osgood) points out that Horton’s jungle and the earth, like Who-ville, are specks floating in a giant universe.  My own thoughts take the Who-ville story futher.  The Council Chairman is like President Trump and other climate change deniers.  For short term political advantage (e.g. courting the coal industry) they are willing to sacrifice valuable time and even the future of the Earth.  Dr. Seuss’s jungle for me is the rest of the universe — chaotic, unforgiving and no help in a planetary crisis.  In that sense we are all Whos, but without a Horton to save us.