Friday, December 8, 2017

The Grossmans & “The Oldest Whiskey House in the South” ?

Whether or not the Grossmans, father and sons, of New Orleans operated the oldest whiskey house and the largest mail order liquor business in the South, as they claimed, their run of almost 37 years was impressive not just for longevity but for some of the artifacts they left behind, that today are avidly collected.  

Shown left, the father, Jacob Grossman, was born in May 1848 in Lautenberg, West Prussia (now Poland).  By the early 1960s he had immigrated to the United States, originally living and working in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the retail grocery business.  There he met Lena Saloman, who had immigrated from France, and they married in 1864.  The 1870 census found the Grossmans in Baton Rouge with three children, Louis, 5; Adolph, 3, and Isadore, 1.  The 1880 census found them still living there, now with an additional daughter, Cecilia.

In the early 1880s, Jacob moved his family to New Orleans and went into business with Simon Herrmann, a well-known local businessman who about 1876 had founded and operated two liquor houses, at 11-13 Peters and 9 - 11 South Front Streets. In 1883 the company became Herrmann & Grossman.  Shown below is an embossed bottle that contains both their names.

In February 1886, everything changed.  The headline read“Simon Herrmann, Liquor Merchant, Commits Suicide With a Revolver.”  The reason why Herrmann took his life was laid to his being afflicted with insomnia and severe headaches.  After waiting a discrete period, Jacob Grossman closed the Front Street store and changed the name of the Peters Street establishment to his own.  Shown right is a mini bottle bearing an embossed “J. Grossman.”

Although the prior firm had initiated a bitters medicine along with the whiskey line, Grossman promoted it into popularity.  It was called “Old Hickory Stomach Bitters,” named after former president Andrew Jackson.  One side of the label carried an illustration of Jackson’s equestrian statue that sits in Jackson Square, an historic park in the French Quarter of New Orleans.  The other side had an illustration of Grossman, a message, and his signature.  Shown here are two embossed bottles of the elixir.

Grossman, like other liquor dealers, provided advertising signs to saloons, hotels and restaurants carrying his products.  A favorite of mine is a sign showing a Confederate soldier about to ride off to the war, kissing the hand of his distraught sweetheart, entitled “Parting Brings Sorrow.”  It advertised Old Hickory Stomach Bitters.  Note that by now the name of the firm was J. Grossman & Sons.  Both Adoph and Isadore had gone to work early for their father in his business and as they reached maturity he made them partners.  The company also moved to larger quarters at 205 South Peters Street.

The Grossmans’ liquor house issued a number of proprietary brands, some of them blended and bottled in their back room.  They included "Farmer's Choice,” "Good Luck,” ”Old Favorite,” "Old Jim,” "Royal Buck Gin.” and "Southern Belle.”  The only label the family trademarked, however, was “Harmony Club” in 1902, the place where Jacob was said to have held his wedding party years earlier.

Unfortunately, Jacob Grossman was not destined for a long life, dying in 1899 at the age of 51.  He was buried in the Hebrew Rest Cemetery in New Orleans.  His granite monument is shown here.  By this time his sons, Adolph at 33 and Isadore at 30, not only were mature but well steeped in the whiskey trade.  After an appropriate period, they changed the company name to J. Grossman’s Sons, the name shown on their three story headquarters above.  Below is a photo of their bottling operation employing a bevy of young women.

For the next 15 years, the Grossman sons guided their liquor business along the productive lines begun by their father.  Along the way, they were prone to make claims, perhaps exaggerated.  Their slogan, embossed on their whiskey bottles was “Get the Best.” More to the point,  note the two-gallon ceramic jug shown here, one likely sold to a saloon or restaurant rather than to retail customers.  It stated that J. Grossman’s Sons is the “largest mail order house in the South.” My research has indicated any number of liquor businesses that made that claim, one that cannot be easily verified or discounted.

The sons further claimed to be “the oldest Whiskey House in the South,” as shown on a shot glass.  That boast also was open to question, although their company certainly had operated for many years.  My assumption is that the sons dated its origins back to the founding of the Herrmann liquor business in 1876, taken over by their father after Herrmann’s suicide.   Adolph and Isadore issued a number of shot glasses, including to selected customers selling their brands.

The last entry for J. Grossman Sons in New Orleans business directories was 1915.  The reasons for shutting down likely were several.  First, mail order sales for whiskey had virtually disappeared throughout the South and, indeed, all of the U.S. by the passage of the Webb-Kenyon Act that made it illegal to ship whiskey interstate to “dry” states or localities.  Second, although liquor sales remained legal in Louisiana, under “local option” many parishes (counties) and towns had enacted bans on the sale of alcohol.  Finally, although New Orleans remained one of the “wettest” cities in America, the competition among local wholesalers — all facing declining markets — was intense.  Under several company names, the Grossmans had been successful in the Big Easy for a very long time — until economic and political realities caught up with them.

1 comment:

  1. I acquired a J Grossmans Sons whiskey jug yesterday like the one I’m the picture,,,,, can you give me a
    Ballpark value,,, no cracks, or glued together pieces,,, thanks, Tony