Monday, January 4, 2016

Jug Progression with Albany’s Winchell & Davis

Many whiskey men made use of ceramic jugs to hold their products.  Before the invention of the bottle machine by Mike Owens, wholesale and retail dealers recognized that clay-origin containers were the most economical way to bottle whiskey.  Among them, the firm of Winchell & Davis of Albany, New York, were notable because their containers through the years literally followed a history of progress in the design and manufacture of whiskey jugs. 

The first Winchell & Davis jug shown here was redware pottery with a ginger jar shape and Albany slip brown glaze.  In addition to those characteristics, the label is done by scratching the outer glaze. The cumulative impression is that this item is from an early generation of jugs.  Each container was individually done and thus there was no consistency in the Winchell & Davis “scratch” labels.

The next development in the evolution of the whiskey jug was using stoneware for that purpose.   Unlike redware into which liquids could leach, stoneware almost always has a glassy interior that prevents any leaching.  They were salt glazed, that is, a one point in the kiln process, handfuls of salt were thrown on the fire.  When the salt vaporized, it covered both the outside and interiors of the ceramic.  This surface could be not scratched but was amenable to being labeled by a technique using a cobalt glaze squeezed from a tube like a cake decorator.  This was a time consuming process and, as shown here, the script would differ from jug to jug.  These ceramics did, however, allow for more text, in this case reading, “Wholesale Wines & Liquors.”

Jugs like those above, however, were labor intensive since each had to be individually labeled.  A subsequent advance was the use of stencils to make labels.  This was a simpler process, involving putting a stencil of cardboard or metal on the face of the jug.  Then cobalt glaze was spread on top of the stencil with a special brush.  The process was done in one quick step and then the container was fired again to seal the cobalt.  

Jugs with “bee hive” and other rounded shapes would soon be out of fashion, however, replaced by a “shouldered” jug like that at right, said to make kiln stacking more efficient.  This container has an all-over off-white Bristol glaze.  The application of this label was even simpler than the stencil.  It was applied with a rubberized inked stamp that was rolled over the surface of partially fired clay, then usually covered with a clear glaze and give a final firing.  It insured permanence to the label.

Winchell & Davis also employed other pottery techniques. Shown right is a mini-jug advertising its “OCB Whiskey.”  Here the label has some design features made possible by a more elaborate stamp.  From the evident wear on the surface, however, it appears that that this label was applied without an overlay of clear glaze.  Although the ink was fired subsequent to its application, if unprotected by an overglaze, the wording is susceptible to wear over time.  

The Winchell & Davis liquor operation appears to have begun sometime in the early 1880s and survived for almost forty years.  The partners were William R. Winchell and Jared L. R. Davis. Winchell was a native New Yorker, born in Washington County in 1836.  Also a New York native, Davis was eight years younger.  Winchell initially was a partner in Messenger & Winchell “Importers and Wholesale Dealers in All Kinds of Liquors.”  That house was located at 14 Hudson Avenue in Albany.  By 1881, Davis had joined the firm as a manager.  Within the next several years, Messenger departed and the company of Winchell & Davis was born. Their first address was 504-506 Broadway.

The partners featured a small number of proprietary brands, including “Albany Club,”  “Good Old  O.C.B.” and a whiskey from a Louisville distillery called “Chase Rye.”  They did not package all their goods in ceramic;  for smaller amounts, the partners used glass bottles.  Shown here is an illustration of an Albany Club rounded quart and a strap-sided quart flask with the firm’s name embossed. 

In order to keep up with the competition, Winchell & Davis also provided special customers with giveaway items.  To saloonkeeper and bartenders, they provided shot glasses advertising Albany Club Whiskey.  To retail customers the firm provided attractive trade cards, including one of a shapely barmaid carrying a tray with a bottle of Chase’s Pure Barley Malt Whisky.  The tag line is “Ask for It.”  That appears to be why the dog appears to be begging for a sip.  

Both men participated in Albany community activities.  Winchell was an officer in his local Fish and Game Association and a representative to the national body.  He also participated in Masonic orders.  In 1890 when the Masonic Veteran Association of Albany was formed, an assemblage of long term lodge members, Winchell was elected its first president.  Davis was the Albany director of the Greenbush and Nassau Electric Railway Company. 

With the success of their business in 1904 the partners filed papers of incorporation with the State of New York.  Organized to “import and deal in wines, liquors and mineral waters,”  the new company was capitalized at $30,000 (equivalent to $750,000 today) with $10,000 in cash on hand. Unfortunately, in April of that same year, William Winchell died at the age of 67.  His death was followed shortly by Jared Davis in November, 1904.  He was only 59.

At this point it appears that Joseph A. Burkart undertook the management of the firm, keeping its name intact.  He advertised frequently in Albany and vicinity publications.  As shown below, its ads made a point of claiming to have “the largest, neatest and cleanest Liquor Store in Albany.”  The firm also opened a second outlet at 25 James Street.
In 1915, possibly outgrowing the old space, the company built a new store down the street at 380-382 Broadway.  Designed by Rochester architect F. Ray Scherer, the headquarters was constructed of brick and featured a metal skylight.  The company was destined to occupy this building only for only a short time, however, until National Prohibition in 1919 required that the liquor dealership be shut down after almost 40 years in business.

The demise of both Winchell and Davis in the same year — one in which they had incorporated their wholesale liquor firm — seems highly unusual. Both apparently had been active recently in their business and other activities in Albany.   As a legacy, however, they left us a progression of containers that graphically demonstrate the technical improvements to whiskey jugs over time.

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