Friday, July 4, 2014

A.M. Bininger and His Beautiful Bottles (and Labels)

       
Like many before me,  I have been fascinated by the wide array of colors, shades and shapes of bottles that bear the name A.M. Bininger,  as well as the elaborate and many hued labels employed by this liquor firm for their whiskeys and other alcoholic products.  As in the past when I find an previously written piece that captures the facts behind a whiskey man like Bininger, it makes sense to use it rather than starting anew.  Here I am providing an edited version of material by Donald J. Denzin in his 1994 book, “Antique Eastern Whiskey Bottles.”   Don, a longtime acquaintance, has graciously allowed me to make use of his information on A. M. Bininger for this vignette.  It follows:


Something of Bininger’s long history can be reconstructed...from contemporary records an advertisements.  The company, or perhaps more accurately the family business began in the eighteenth century.  Surviving A.M. Bininger advertisements and labels indicate the firm was “established” in 1778.  This is corroborated by Walter Barrett who, writing in 1863, indicated that the business patriarch of the family, Abraham Bininger, opened a small grocery store [in New York City.]

Abraham Bininger died in 1836 but his descendants carried on the business. By the mid-nineteen century, the Biningers described themselves variously as “grocers” as “dry goods merchants,” as “sole importers and proprietors of Bininger’s Old London Dock Gin,” and as “importers & jobbers of fine brandies, wines, segars, &c.”  They were probably all of these things.

By the time bottle-making technology had begun to make private molds practical, the family business was comprised of separate businesses with separate New York outlets...A. M. Bininger & Co.  (Abram M. Bininger and John M. Bolton) was based at 329 Greenwich....One thing is very clear:  A. M. Bininger & Co. excelled at distribution.  It seems plausible at any given time, that bottled A.M. Bininger spirits were sold at the other Bininger stores....In any event, the apparent commercial success enjoyed by the business is best explained by multiple sales outlets.  Further, it must not have been uncommon for bottles to have been shipped to distant points because A.M. Bininger bottles have been unearthed by diggers far beyond New York City --  ample testimony to the marketing prowess of a nineteen century business which was “big time” by any standard.  Civil War era Biningers have even turned up in the deep South, giving rise to speculation that Union Army supply lines may have transported them to blue-uniformed soldiers.

....A.M. Bininger & Co. seems to have moved often....In late 1857 or early 1858, A. M. Bininger moved to 17 Broad St....The firm moved again, probably in late 1859, to 338 Broadway....The company flourished during the Civil War years.  Housed at 19 Broad Street from 1861 until 1863 or early 1864, it marketed products in fifteen different bottles, well over half the A.M. Bininger total, with this embossed address.  The names under which its whiskey and gin were sold, “Day Dream,”  “Regulator,”  “Peep O’Day,” “Night Cap,” “Traveler’s Guide,” “Knickerbocker,” and others suggest that the flair associated with Madison Avenue today was at one time a staple on Broad Street as well.

This was also the era in which the widest variety of bottle shapes were pressed into service.  Jugs, urns, flasks, a cannon, and a clock were proudly embossed with 19 Broad St.  The labels too were uniquely fanciful.  Colorfully printed with advanced chromo lithographic techniques, 19 Broad Street labels paraded cherubs, soldiers, buckskinned pioneers, fruit baskets,  pastoral scenes and frolicking children.


....By 1864 A.M. Bininger & Co. had relocated to 375 Broadway.  Directories indicate the company remained there for no more than two years....According to city directories, the company had relocated to 39 Walker Street by 1866 and it moved next to 15 Beaver Street the following year.  No embossed bottles are known from either the Walker or Beaver St. locations.   Not surprisingly, Beaver Street, in southern Manhattan near the port, was a popular quarter for those engaged in the importing of spirits....The business may now have been less robust than in its Broad Street years because A.M. Bininger & Co. had not only eliminated the use of flamboyant bottles, it had consolidated floor space with “liquor dealer” Frank Bininger.  Both shared the 15 Beaver Street address, according to the 1870 city directory.   Similarly, perhaps in response to the same economic pressures,  Andrew and Abraham Bininger had come together under one roof at 92 Liberty Street, a few years earlier.

Embossing now went full circle.  The last known A,M. Bininger bottle, like the very first ones, included no embossed address.  it appears, in fact, as if the older “338 Broadway Old London Dock Gin” was actually used, but adapted with slug plates, to fashion a new generic bottle.  The last bottle is embossed simply, A.M. Bininger & Co., New York” on a single panel.

Circumstantial evidence makes it seem that in its final years the firm may have been made to yield its high-profile style for the sake of economy.  Yet it is just as logical to conclude that forces were personal in nature rather than business-driven.  By 1867 Abram Bininger was no longer a young man.  Whatever the situation, neither the company name nor its bottles appear after the early 1880s.

Happily for collectors of American glass, the legacy left by A. M. Bininger & Co. is a special one.  The bottles, unrivaled at the time for imaginative form, set a standard for later package design which has seldom been matched. 

Collectors can only imagine what “Night Cap,” or “Day Dreams,”  “Old Times Family Rye,” or ”Knickerbocker” must have tasted like.  They can, however, still appreciate the company’s bottles and appreciate fully the creativity and craftsmanship which make Bininger glass unique. 

At some opportune moment, perhaps a collector somewhere will propose a toast to old Abram M. Bininger and to the company that used such inventive bottles to sell whiskey to New York City and beyond.

Note:  After I contacted Don about using his material, he sent me the following addendum:

"Abraham M. Bininger was defeated when he ran for Alderman of the Fifth Ward (NY Times, Nov. 9, 1854).  He lived at 167 W. 49th Street, a four-block walk away from Times Square.  I found an entry in a 1901 NYC directory that identifies E. Eising as  "successors to A.M. Bininger."  At the time, E. Eising was located at 47 Front St." [A post on Eising can be found in this blog dated January 2012.]

Additional Note:  The majority of the the images shown here are through the courtesy of Ferdinand Meyer V whose Peachridge Glass website shows off these bottles and their fabulous colors so much better than is possible with the small formats possible through this blog.  I highly recommend a look-in to that site.  











4 comments:

  1. Very nice finds. I would like to mention that the A.M. Bininger--son of Isaac Bininger--of 19 Broad Street died in 1870. His uncle was also named Abraham, I believe he died in 1836 although outside of one book I can find no proof of that. The uncle started business from his home in what is now City Hall Place, then 20 Maiden Lane, then 86 Maiden Lane and finally 141 Broadway.

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  2. Dear Christina: Thank you for the additional information. The Biningers had a good sense of design and thus made sure that their legacy of bottles and labels would be treasured by future generations.

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  3. To say there's some confusion on all of the men who had the name Abraham Bininger would be an understatement. Abraham the immigrant was a noted Moravian preacher. Of his four sons, Abraham Jr. and Issac set up a business in Salem NY and NYC to sell produce and baking goods. The business was run for a few years together but ultimately they decided to go their separate ways. Abraham Jr. would go on to create the A. Bininger Grocery House and Issac's son Abram Merritt Bininger would create the A.M. Bininger liquor empire. Both Abraham Jr. and his nephew sold cigars, wine and household items. I'm a descendant of Abraham Jr. and have had much fun tracking the descendants. There were numerous Bininger businesses in NYC including harness and leather makers, cloth merchants and wholesalers of just about anything. Many owned buildings that are now part of the World Trade Center complex and along the East River. Spencer Bininger Hopping

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  4. Dear Spencer: What an illustrious heritage! One of the reasons I used Don Denzin's account of the Biningers was that my own independent research had been thwarted by the confusion among collectors about the various Abrahams. Thanks for providing something authoritative for this blog.

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