Monday, February 20, 2017

The Schimpelers of Louisville Were Rolling in Clover




“Rolling in clover” Fig. having good fortune; in a very good situation, especially financially.  From the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms.

Labeling their proprietary whiskeys “Old Clover” and “Cloverdale,” the Schimpelers of Louisville joined more than a dozen distilleries and liquor wholesalers aspiring to be “in clover” with their liquor brands.  In that pursuit the Louisville, Kentucky, liquor wholesalers were exercising one of the principal strategies (tricks?) of the whiskey business — shamelessly making dubious claims.

Clover, that attractive and sweet vegetation, was a popular name bestowed on whiskey in the pre-Prohibition era.   The trademark for “Clover” itself belonged to Rhem-Zeihler Company of Louisville.  Boyle and McGlinn of Philadelphia registered “Clover Club”;  J & G Butler of Columbus, “Clover Dale”;  Deverlaux & Meserve of Boston, “Clover Leaf”; and S. Hirsch of Kansas City, “Clover Nook.” [See my post on Hirsch Dec. 2011.]   Another six whiskey houses, not bothering with trademarks, variously issued “Clover Bottom,” “Cloverdale,” “Clover Lawn,” “Clover Leaf,” “Clover Rye,” “Clovertop,” and “Clover Valley.”

In order to fight their way through this crowded field of “Clovers,”  the Schimpelers resorted to stretching the truth that, while not at all unusual in the liquor business, might have startled their customers had they known about it.  For example,  a “puff” article the company generated in 1895 asserted that the Schimpelers “…are largely interested in the famous Cloverland distillery, Nelson County, Ky., the entire output of which they handle….”  An embossed bottle with that name is shown here.

In truth, there is no evidence that the “famous” Cloverland Kentucky distillery ever existed.  The name appears nowhere in government records that were carefully kept for taxing purposes.  Clover Bottom was a name given to a Kentucky distillery but it was located in Anderson County, not Nelson County.  Other records indicate that at the time the Schimpelers actually were obtaining whiskey from the Pleasure Ridge Park Distillery in Jefferson County.  Far from handling the entire output of that distillery, the Schimpelers were only one of about two dozen whiskey dealers who were drawing from it for their brands and often claiming ownership for themselves.  

The Schimpelers were prone to making claims without documentary evidence.  They advertised that “Old Clover” had been endorsed by the president of the Kentucky Board of Health, prominent physicians of Louisville,and “leading professors of Louisville’s medical colleges.”  Just assertions, no evidence. In an 1899 ad they also claimed to be …One of the first houses to bottle their product in bond under the supervision of government officers, thus guaranteeing to the consumer the absolute purity and quality of “Old Clover” whisky….”  The National Bottle-In-Bond Act, passed by Congress two years earlier, had nothing to do with guaranteeing whiskey quality.  Moreover, the act dictated that distilleries age whiskey four years.  None would have been available for bottling until 1891 — two years after the Schimpelers’ ad appeared.

It is hard to be too judgmental about the Schimpelers’ “alternative facts,” however, since similar claims were standard in the liquor industry and the family was struggling for profitability in a crowded, competitive field. 
F. X. Schimpeler, known as “Xavier,” had been born in Baden Germany, in December 1829, in the resort town of Bodman on the shores of Lake Constance.  It is a wine-growing region and after his education in German schools Schimpeler may have been employed in viniculture before leaving for the United States in early 1854.  A brother, Joseph, appears to have arrived earlier and settled in Louisville where he was engaged in the liquor trade and had become a partner in Wolff & Schimpeler, a business located on Market Street between Second and Third.  Xavier also found work in the field, working for C. Henry Finck & Company, a whiskey wholesaler located on the same block.

In 1873, the Wolff & Schimpeler partnership fractured, with each man going his separate way.  Joseph set up on his own at 47 Market Street and by the next year Xavier had left C. Henry Finck and partnered with him to open a liquor house called Schimpeler Brothers.  In the meantime Xavier had married Katharina Krieger, born in O Neustalt ander Hardt, Germany, and an immigrant to the United States.  In quick succession the couple had two sons, Charles Xavier born in 1859 and Henry born in 1860.  As they matured both sons were taken into the firm, initially as clerks.

About 1878, Joseph died leaving Xavier as the sole proprietor of the firm.  About 1884, he took son Charles as a partner and changed the firm name to F. X. Schimpeler & Son.   When Henry was ready for executive status about 1892, he was made a partner and the name amended to F. X. Schimpeler & Sons.  The company headquarters then was located at 230 West Market Street, the building shown right.

With Xavier’s death in April 1900 at age 71, Charles took over the presidency of the organization, moving it to a building, shown here, at 416 Main Street.  Within two years, however, for reasons I have not yet discovered, the whiskey business his family had established more than a quarter century earlier disappeared from Louisville business directories, never to return.

The Schimpeler are buried together in Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery, the burying ground for so many well-recognized Kentucky whiskey men.  The family occupies Section P, Lot 290.  Lying beside Xavier is his wife, Katharina who died at age 41.  Both Charles and Henry are buried there with their wives.  During their lifetimes the family had been “rolling in clover” — wealthy —  from profits gained from their liquor house.  Now they lie beneath it. 
Note:  The descendants of the Schimpeler family may think it unfair of me in making them the poster boys for the chicanery that was so common in the liquor industry before National Prohibition.  Why target them when “everybody was doing it”?   Well, a principal reason for fingering them is that the Schimpelers seem to have been so good at it. 


6 comments:

  1. Jack,
    Thanks for this article. I am a descendant of the men and women in this article. I'm researching the family history and would love to talk to you. Please leave me a message and your contact info here - http://leocast.com/contact-us/.
    Thanks again, Leo Osborne

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  2. Hi Jack,
    I found one of the green glass, clover-textured old clover bottles earlier today while digging in a garden. Your images seem to be among very few that I can find. Do you have any more information on when they may have been produced?
    Thanks,
    Chris

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    1. Dear Chris: Since the firm was in business roughly from 1878 until 1902, I would date your bottle from those years. It easily is 100 years old an a good find.

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    2. Thanks for such a quick response! On second look, the bottle seems to be fully machine-made with seams visible al the way to the lip. Would it's design have been copied at a later date? Would gladly send photos.

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  3. Chris: It could be that a post-pro bottler used the same or similar design. I am not sure that seeing the bottle will help me make a more definitive dating but you can email photos to me at jack.sullivan9@verizon.net and I will be back to you by email with any thoughts about the item.

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