Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Philip Lobe Sounded a Ram’s Horn Over Baltimore

In the Bible, at the orders of their leader, Joshua, the Israelites marched seven times around the walls of Jericho, then the priests blew their rams horns and the walls of the city fell.  When Phillip Lobe introduced “Ram’s Horn Rye” on the streets of Baltimore, nothing quite so drastic occurred, but the city’s drinking public definitely took notice.

The whiskey man who named it such, Phillip Lobe, was born in Hesse-Kassel, Germany, in April 1851 and emigrated to the United States at an early age.  The 1870 census found him at 18 working for a Baltimore butcher named Gompright and living with the Gompright family.  Over the next ten years, Lobe apparently decided that liquor, not loin chops, was his real meat.   In the 1880 census he is listed as “keeps liquor store.”

In 1874 Phillip had married.  His wife was Mary G., a woman who had been born in the Prussian part of Germany.  By 1880 the couple had three children,  Henry, born in 1875;  Ferdinand, 1878; and Bertha, 1979.  Another daughter, Sadie, would come along in 1887.

Lobe’s business was listed at 278 West Pratt Street from the outset of his appearance in Baltimore directories in 1884.  With the success of his liquor trade, he was forced two years later to move to larger quarters down the block at 220 West Pratt.  When that space proved too small within two years he moved to 204 West Pratt.  That address would be his corporate home for the next 18 years.

Much of Lobe’ success was due to his Ram’s Horn Rye.  A ram’s horn had played an important part in his Jewish heritage.  In the earliest Biblical reference, Abraham finds a ram caught by his horn in a thicket and sacrifices it to Yahweh.  More commonly a ram’s horn was played as a trumpet, called a “shofer.”   It is referred to 72 times in the Old Testament, including its sound crumbling the walls of Jericho.  Applied to rye whiskey, Lobe’s Ram’s Horn attracted widespread attention, although he never bothered to trademark the name.  A photo from the Maryland State Archives shows a horse-drawn Lobe van rumbling down a Baltimore street delivering his whiskey to local saloons and restaurants.

He sold his whiskey to those establishments in large quantities, usually in gallon size ceramic jugs with his underglaze label on them.  Note that he was requesting that customers “return when empty.”  A frugal man, Lobe would clean, refill and sell them again. 

He marketed his retail whiskey in glass as with the “LFS Special” quart bottle shown here. Smaller quantities were sold in flasks, including an amethyst pint and a clear half-pint.  All bottles contained his embossing.  
Lobe’s popularity was enhanced, no doubt, by the quality of his items gifted to favored customers buying his products.  Of special note was a label- under-glass back of the bar bottle with a color image of his Rams Horn label.  He also gave away a well-designed shot glass with an outline of a ram’s head etched in the glass, likely to both wholesale and retail customers, as well as a corkscrew with Ram’s Horn advertising.
Some good luck also attended Lobe’s business career.  When the Baltimore fire of 1904 burned out a large part of Baltimore’s downtown and many of its liquor dealers, Lobe’s Pratt Street address was just outside the burned area.  He likely was able, at least for a time, to take advantage of lessened competition to increase his base among both wholesale and retail customers.  

He also was fortunate in having two sons who were interested in  following in his footsteps.  As they matured both Henry and Ferdinand, the latter shown right, were brought into the firm, eventually becoming managers.  They assisted Lobe with a final move in 1913 to 9 North Howard Street.  The company name became Phillip Lobe & Sons.

Their business history was not without its problems.  In November 1911, the U.S. Attorney for Maryland, acting for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, seized and confiscated 10 cases of Royal Crest Buchu Gin that the the Lobes had in their possession.  The charge was that while the tonic was 38.8 percent alcohol that fact failed to be listed on the label as required by the Pure Food and Drug laws.  The labels clearly noted that Philip Lobe and Sons were the distributors.  The family was found guilty and fined $200 (equivalent to $5,000 today.)

As he aged, Phillip increasingly turned his business over to his sons. He lived until April 1920, dying just after his 69th birthday, and long enough to see National Prohibition enforced, causing his sons to shut down the liquor business of 36 years and move on to other occupations.   With his family grieving at his burial site, he was interred in Oheb Shalom Cemetery.  His gravestone is shown below.
I was particularly attracted to the story of this whiskey man by his use of the Biblical symbol of the ram’s horn to name a whiskey and then to market Ram’s Horn Rye actively and attractively. As Phillip Lobe was lowered into his grave, I hope that a ram’s horn “shofer” appropriately was sounded over the Hebrew burying grounds.












10 comments:

  1. Thanks for this great article!! I am Philip Lobe's Great-great granddaughter and collect his half-pint bottles.
    Susan Adler Davis

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    1. I recently found a railroad dump full of phil lobe 1/2 pints and some pints. Unfortunately most of them are cracked and in rough shape.

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    2. Patrick: Baltimore diggers find Lobe bottles with some regularity. I do not know that anyone has found a cache as the one you did. Too bad the bottles were damaged. Jack

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    3. This dump was loaded with all kinds of flasks, crown and blob beers. I got a few different flasks in good shape but not a single Phil lobe intact. Between my friends and I we dug over 20 Phil lobe flasks. Out of all of them 2 pints were undamaged that my friend dug.

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  2. Susan: Thanks for being in touch. Glad you liked the article. If you collect Philip Lobe's bottles then you will want to attend the Baltimore Bottle show in early March each year at the Community College in Essex. You may well find some there.

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  3. Hey jack, I dug up a Geo. Weber's family wine and liquor emporium bottle. He was located on 726 & 728 eastern ave. In highlandtown. I'm having trouble finding information on him and was wondering if you knew anything about him.

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  4. Patrick: Sorry I cannot be any help to you. Have checked my files and find nothing anywhere on a George Weber. Wish I had some advice to give you on where to aim your search, but no clue.

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  5. Thanks for writing back so quickly. I figured I give t a shot and see if you had any info. I love reading your article. Lots of good info here.

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  6. Patrick: Thanks for your kind remarks about my posts. I enjoy doing them. After responding I recalled that my wife's great-grandfather in Peoria, Illinois, according to family lore, may have been distiller. His name was George Weber -- but we have been able to find little more than that about him.

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  7. You're welcome! My friend sold a George Weber 1/2 pint to some on ebay that said she was a decentant of him. I'll have to ask My friend what state that person was in. I'm pretty sure he said Illinois.

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