Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men: Why This Blog

This is an introduction to my new blog, called "Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men!" It is a spin-off from my earlier and current blog called "Bottles, Booze and Back Stories" with a web address of bottlesboozeandbackstories(at)blogspot.com. That earlier blog is devoted to a wide range of subjects, loosely arranged around bottle and ceramics collecting, whiskey and other alcoholic beverages, and esoteric bits of history. It has attracted a modest audience of collectors, genealogists, friends, relatives and idle curiosity seekers.

This blog is aimed at an even more esoteric audience: Persons interested in the American whiskey industry before the advent of National Prohibition in 1920. That date marks a distinct watershed in the making and marketing of whiskey. After Repeal things would never be the same. The "Dry" 14 years had meant the demise of literally thousands of distilleries, liquor distributors, saloons and brand names from all across the Nation. In their place after 1934 emerged a few large organizations and a diminished number of brands.

Nevertheless, making and selling whiskey from the founding of the U.S. was a major industry. George Washington, we know, was an important early distiller. The men who over time built and maintained this industry often had interesting and notable careers. In addition to their histories are the artifacts they have left behind in many forms, items that often are avidly collected today.

In recent years a very small group of individuals has attempted to gather historical material on as many of these whiskey men and their products as possible. I am fortunate to have been acquainted with several of them. One pioneer was Robert E. Snyder of Amarillo, Texas, who died this year. His work in researching whiskey brands and companies began when he was writing three books featuring whiskey miniature bottles. In 1980 Bob also published a book on whiskey ads and other ephemera called "Whiskey Paper." More recently he sold a binder reference that lists hundreds of pre-Prohibition whiskey brands, the outfits that produced them, and their location. His contribution was enormous.

Bob's work in turn was an inspiration and major source for Dr. Barbara Edmonson, a college professor from Chico, California. Through her collection of old whiskey shot glasses she became interested in research on their origins. She amassed a collection of old directory pages for distilleries and liquor distributors from virtually every major city in the United States. From those and other materials she wrote two books, "Historic Shot Glasses: The Pre-Prohibition Era," (1985, reprinted 1992) and "Old Advertising Spirits Glasses (1998).

Occasioned by my collection of ceramic whiskey jugs, as I began to write extensively on this era, I was in touch with Dr. Edmonson, now deceased, and purchased from her the directory pages. Those played an important part in some 200 articles, many of which have been compiled into two volumes: "The American Whiskey Jug" (2002) and "Mostly Whiskey" (2009). Most of the jug collection subsequently was sold at auction; I currently collect whiskey-related paperweights.

With the dawn of the Internet age another major researcher has emerged. He is Robin Preston of Altanta, Georgia, a shot glass collector. Drawing on the work of Snyder, Edmonson, myself, and others -- as well as his own investigations -- Robin has created the www.pre-pro.com website that makes much of this accumulated research readily available online. With a strong mixture of factual material and images he has taken the data resources to an entirely new level of richness.

Why then a felt need for a new blog on this topic? Two reasons. First, Robin's site is limited by space in providing narrative accounts of the organizations that he documents. Second, over the years I have accumulated a great deal of information on pre-Prohibition whiskey men (few women were ever involved in the trade), information that lends itself to the kind of short illustrated article that a blog makes possible.

In the posts to follow I will relate the stories of many enterprising Americans and their enterprises, illustrating them with appropriate photos and images. My plan is to put up a new post every two weeks or so. If you have just found the site, I hope you will be encouraged to come back from time to time.
Jack Sullivan 4/6/2011

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