Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Caspar Berry: A Whiskey Man “In the Hands of His Friends”

On May 1, 1903, Caspar Berry walked into Boston’s famous Parker House Hotel, shown above, and headed to a banquet room, apparently completely unaware of what was to happen.  He had been told he was there to attend a small dinner party.  As The Cambridge [Mass.] Daily News headlined, however, the Swiss immigrant found himself “in the  hands of his friends.”  Berry, shown right, was the guest of honor that night, celebrating the 25th anniversary of his business career as a successful Bean Town whiskey dealer.

It was an honor that Berry hardly could have dreamed of earlier in life.  He was born in Switzerland in 1846, the son of Mattias and Anna Mathis Berry.  At the age of 26, likely seeking better opportunities in the United States, he emigrated here in 1876, settling in Boston.  My assumption is that Berry served a short apprenticeship with one of the wholesale liquor firms in Boston, learning the trade. 
His firm claimed establishment in 1878,  two years after his arrival.  At the banquet, according to the press, Berry said of his beginnings:  “I started in business about 25 years ago, in about as small a way as any man could, but I made it a principle never to work on another man’s capital.”

Starting modestly but energetically, Berry soon grew his firm into a major Boston liquor wholesaler that by 1894 was located in five-story building at 84-88 Leverett.  He called his enterprise “C. Berry & Co, Importers, Agents, and Wholesale Dealers in Foreign and Domestic Wines and Liquors.”  He also was using one of the upper floors of his establishment to “rectify” whiskey, that is, mixing and blending raw whiskeys received by the barrel from distilleries to achieve desired taste, smoothness, and color.  Rectifying was an art and Berry clearly had mastered it. 

In addition to selling his whisky wholesale generically in ceramic jugs, Berry featured a number of proprietary brands.  They included:  "2 Always In Front,” ”Ashland Club,” “Intervale,” “Golden Buck,” “Kurnwood,” "Old Berrywood,” and "Red Arrow.”  He trademarked Ashland Club, Intervale, and Red Arrow whiskies in 1914.  

Berry’s flagship whiskey was Diamond Wedding, trademarked by him in 1906, a brand name that he appears to have purchased from S.A. Sloman when the latter left the liquor business [see my post on Sloman, March 2015].  Berry inherited the clientele Sloman, through an expensive advertising campaign, had acquired in his efforts to turn Diamond Wedding into a national brand.  Although Berry advertised the label, as shown here, he seemingly was more content with a Northeast regional customer base.
Berry packaged Diamond Wedding in both quarts and flasks for retail customers.  It was sold in glass containers, with paper labels and heavily embossed bottles that carried his name and the name of the whiskey.   As other whiskey wholesalers of his time,  Berry also had a range of giveaway advertising items for his customers.  He provided saloons offering his whiskeys a reverse glass sign, shown above, that colorfully advertised Diamond Wedding Whiskey.   Other Berry giveaways were shot glasses with a pitch for his brands.

Berry was characteristically modest about his accomplishments in the whiskey trade. His success, he told the banquet-goers, had several causes.  “I had a good wife as a partner, and an honest accountant, and I have been blessed with good health.  I have always endeavored to treat my customers fairly and also my employees.  

Berry’s mention of his wife, is interesting, since his first wife, Elsbeth “Lizzie” Doherty, had passed away in 1896, leaving him to live as widower with two unmarried adult daughters.  At the age of 57 in 1897, he would marry again.  She was Emily Schuebeler, the daughter of Louis F. and Minette Kaufhold Schuebeler and Swiss-born like Berry.  With two wives, it is difficult to determine if Caspar was crediting Lizzie or Emily with his business success.

At the 1903 banquet, the commendations for Berry came thick and fast.  The congressman for the district, the Hon. William S. McNary told the assembly that he had known of Caspar Berry long before meeting him in person, having heard of him spoken of in the highest terms.  McNary intoned:  “It is customary in this country to hear of successful men in business, but no man is more fitting of a testimony like this than a honorable businessman.”  My assumption is that McNary was a drinking man.

Other encomiums to Berry were forthcoming.  The toastmaster,  Boston City Clark E. J. Donovan, told the crowd:  “You do not honor him because because he has made a few dollars but because he has been honest to his fellow men.  He has been not only an honor to his own country but to America, also.  There is a good representation present of what the bone and sinew of the American people are.”   
Those present that night included many from the alcohol trade, including representatives of Empire Distilling, Rex Distilling, Massachusetts Brewing, Genessee Brewing, Boston Beer Co., and the California Wine Assn.  The assemblage saw Berry presented with a Masonic charm, studded with five large diamonds, hanging on a double gold watch chain, something valued in today’s dollar at about $7,500.

Immediately following the press report of Berry’s festivities, however, was a brief news note that held portents for the future of the liquor trade.  It recorded that one John T. Shea — obviously not invited to Caspar's party — that very day had been elected recording secretary at a meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Saloon League.

Over the ensuing years, the League would grow increasingly strong, culminating in the imposition of National Prohibition in 1920.  Berry may have felt the anti-liquor tide rising even earlier.   The last business directory listing for his company was in 1916.  He died in 1919 at the age of 73 and was interred in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, a place where many prominent Bostonians are buried.

During the years following the 1903 Parker House celebration Caspar Berry must have thought back frequently and pleasantly on the tributes, among them being termed a “thorough gentleman,” and an “honest and whole-souled man”  — accolades we all would cherish.   


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