Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thomas O'Keefe and His Whiskey Pipeline

Tom Moore Distillery
Eagle Distillery
Thomas E. O’Keefe, a major liquor dealer from Oswego, New York, faced a problem plaguing many in his trade:  How could he insure a steady supply of good whiskey?  There he was, located in a small city perched on the eastern banks of Lake Ontario, 40 miles north of Syrause, more than 600 miles from the distilleries of Kentucky with their bountiful outputs of bourbon and rye.  His answer, while not unique, was significant. He prospered by investing at the source.

Born in 1842 in New York State of Irish immigrant parents,  O’Keefe shows up in the public record in 1869 when he opened a liquor dealership at 114-118 First Street in Oswego.  For the next 20 years he apparently struggled to assure supplies for his multiple brands. In 1892, for example,  Federal documents record him as having made a warehouse transaction from the Atherton Distillery, located in LaRue County, two miles south of New Haven, Kentucky.   But that same year liquor dealers in Pittsburgh, Detroit and other places were competing with him for that same distillery supply.

In 1889, after two decades of apparent frustration,  O’Keefe saw his opportunity.  Thomas S. Moore, a master distiller who had worked in the Mattingly & Moore distillery near Bardstown, Kentucky, was restless to strike out on his own.  O’Keefe provided him with the cash to purchase 116 adjoining acres just a half mile from town.  There the partners built the Tom Moore Distillery.  Pictured here, insurance records indicate that the still itself was housed in a frame construction with a metal roof.  Two warehouses were adjacent.  One was ironclad with a metal roof and located 150 feet south of the still and the other was frame with a composite roof, located 310 feet south of the still.

O’Keefe and Moore must have found their collaboration mutually beneficial.  About a year later when the Eagle Distillery located in Daviess County, Kentucky, came up for sale,  the partners bought it.  That facility, shown here, had been built in 1869 by a member of the Monarch distilling clan and had stayed in the family ever since.  Insurance records from 1892 indicate that the building where the still resided was brick with a metal roof.  That still supplied two bonded and three free warehouses,  all of them were of frame construction with shingle roofs.  One of the bonded warehouses was heated by a boiler located 100 feet south of the still.   A cattle barn was also part of the property, housing livestock to which the spent mash could be fed, a frequent feature of distilleries in that day.

The Eagle Distillery was a much more developed property than their own at Bardstown. The cost to O’Keefe and his partner probably was in the neighborhood of $150,000, a substantial sum in those days and 20 times that in today’s dollar.  It gave the New Yorker an assured supply of whiskey for his multiple brands, including “Beaver Run Bourbon,  “Mont Eagle Rye,” “Hazlewood Rye,”  “Woodcock Bourbon,” “O’Keefe’s Pure Malt Whiskey,” “Chippewa,” “Oak Valley” and “Ontario.”

O’Keefe merchandised all these labels strongly not seeming to have had a “flagship” brand.   Some, like his Pure Malt Whiskey, he put in stoneware jugs underglazed with a decor very similar to Irish whiskey jugs like Cruiskeen Lawn. Others, like Woodcock Bourbon he bottled both in glass and ceramic.  His Woodcock label is particularly attractive for the simplicity of the wording and the color picture of the bird. 

O’Keefe also was generous with his giveaways to favored customers, including saloons.  He seems to have  had a particular penchant for gifting shot glasses, issuing them not only for Woodcock, Mont Eagle Rye and Beaver Run Whiskey, as shown here, but also for Oak Valley and Chippewa.   He also give away more expensive items, such as a celluloid and metal match safe with the image of the Tom Moore distillery on it.  While many tip trays were mass produced and most were thin painted medal, O’Keefe’s was sold brass and advertised his Hazelwood Rye.

Note that both the match safe and tray identify T. O’Keefe as a distiller.  Unlike some whiskey men who claimed to be distillers but were not,  O’Keefe had a legitimate claim to that distinction through his co-ownership of two Kentucky distilleries.   He was able to sell whiskey excess to his needs to liquor dealers elsewhere.  A 1906 billhead records that he sold a barrel of whiskey (43.67 gallons) to C. S. Tallcott & Sons, a liquor dealer in the small New York town of Parish.  The cost was $65.51.

 But O’Keefe would find that the owner’s role also had a downside.  In 1909 fire destroyed two of the three Bardstown warehouses with a loss of 14,000 barrels of whiskey.  Although some of the loss likely was covered by insurance and no other damage occurred,  his supplies must have been disrupted.  The warehouses were quickly rebuilt, again at some cost to him.

National Prohibition brought an end to all O’Keefe’s enterprises.  The Eagle distillery, name changed in 1908 to “Imperial Distillery,” was shut and the plant dismantled.   Moore and O’Keefe’s Bardstown whiskey operation terminated.  According to one writer,  all the whiskey that was not stolen subsequently from the Tom Moore warehouses was taken by Federal agents to “concentration houses” and all the equipment was salvaged.  After Repeal in 1934 Moore’s son rebuilt the distillery on the same property to a 2,400 bushel a day capacity.  O’Keefe was not involved.

Facts about Thomas O’Keefe’s personal life are scanty. The public record lists him in 1877 as having  been a member of the Oswego Board of Public Works Commissioners.  In 1888 he was among the incorporators and an investor in the Oswego Agricultural Fair Association, capitalized at $30,000.  O’Keefe appears never to have married.  The 1900 census, found him, age 58, listed as the head of the household living with his sister, Katherine Doyle, and her husband,  Patrick.   Two servant girls rounded out the household.   As information about his personal life is uncovered, I will add it here.  In the meantime we can remember him as the canny Irish whiskey man who built a personal “pipeline” for whiskey from Kentucky to New York.

Monday, May 27, 2013

George Bieler and His Boys "Pulled Together"

For more than a half-century a family named Bieler operated a wholesale and retail liquor business in Cincinnati, Ohio, evidently prospering by close collaboration.  A 1905 book that provided caricatures of the city’s businessmen celebrated the Bielers’ success by depicting one of the second generation, likely Charles J., and two hands,  those of his brothers, as they guided the Geo. Bieler Sons Company.  The family motto displayed there was “Pull Together.”

The "pater familias" of the Bielers and founder of the liquor enterprise was George Bieler. He was born in Ohio in 1841, the son of Henry Bieler, an immigrant from France who in 1850  was recorded as running a coffee shop in Cincinnati.   George grew up in Cincinnati, was educated in its public schools, served a number of years working for others in the mercantile trades, and about 1867 struck out on his own with a partner to found a liquor dealership called Bieler, Pistler & Company.  At first  the business was located at 343-345 Main Street in Cincinnati,  but with a need for expansion later moved to 813 Main.

The 1870 U.S. Census found George, age 29,  living in Ward 9 with his large and growing family.  His wife, Louisa, five years his junior, had like George, been born in Ohio.  She was just 18 at the time of their marriage.  By 1870 the couple had four children, including three boys, George A., the eldest born in 1864; Charles J., born 1866;  and Henry F., born 1868.  A fourth son, William, would come along a year later.   Living with the family was George’s father, Henry, 64,  listed by the census as a merchant and a widower.

George Bieler’s partner departed the business about 1887 and the company became just Geo. Bieler Co.   During this period,  the father had been taking his sons into the business as they arrived at maturity.   Most of them showed affinity for the business. An exception may have been William who is recorded in the census as a salesman for the Federal Products Company.   Nonetheless, sons George A., Charles, and William would be “pulling together” in the liquor trade for much of their lives.

With the death of their father circa 1899 at the age of about 58, the name of the company was changed once again, becoming Geo. Bieler Sons Company.  The head of the firm, according to Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce directories, was Charles.   My assumption it is he, looking dapper with a handlebar mustache, who is shown in the caricature.   He guided a firm that featured a number of brands, including “Arcade Special,” “Clifford Club,” “Derby Hall,” “Fruit Jar,” “Lyndale Rye,” “Old Ronny Club,” and “T W Samuels.”  The brothers trademarked Clifford Club and Old Ronny Club in 1906,  Fruit Jar in 1907 and Arcade Special in 1917.  Unaccountably there is no record of them registering the brand with which the firm was most associated,  “Brookfield Rye.”

Blenders of whiskey not distillers,  the Bieler boys heavily  merchandised Brookfield Rye using the slogans, “Rare Old Perfect,”  and “Made famous by public favor.”  Although they packaged their whiskey in glass bottles, they favored ceramic jugs to make their product stand out amid the intense competition being provided by a plethora of Cincinnati liquor dealerships.   Shown here are stoneware quart bottles with a honey brown salt glaze and the firm name incised in the face.  They held both bourbon and rye.  Brookfield Rye containers came in brown glazes with embossed lettering in both quart size and a mini-jug that celebrated the 1867 founding of the firm.  These jugs were the product of the Monmouth-Western Stoneware Company.

Like their Cincinnati competition,  the Bielers provided an array of giveaway items to saloons and other favored customers.   Among them was a gracefully shaped back of the bar bottle with “Brookfield Rye” in gold on the glass.  They also provide tip and serving trays to advertise Brookfield Rye.  The second tray shown here, featuring a comely lass with a see-through gown and a bottle of whiskey in her hand deserves special note.  The image was lithographed from the art work of Angelo Asti, a frequent exhibitor at the Paris Salon.  Born in Italy, he resided most of his life in Paris but once made a brief trip to the United States,  more specifically to Ohio, where he may have met the Bielers.  Asti’s signature appears at the lower left of the tray.   My favorite Bieler giveaway was a honey brown ceramic pig that has a butt plug that identifies it as from George Bieler Sons and containing Ronny Club Whiskey.   In 2013 this once giveaway item fetched $778 at auction.

As their business continued to succeed and grow, the Bieler boys had personal lives.  George A. married and fathered two children, but his wife died at an early age.  The 1910 census found him, a widower, living with his children, Florence, 20, and Arthur, 17.  His occupation was listed as  “liquor dealer.”  Sometime during that decade, he married again, a woman named Amelia.  In 1920 the census recorded him living with her and his two children, both now adults.

Charles Bieler married late.  The 1900 census found him, age 33, living with his widowed mother, Louisa, and four younger sisters with ages ranging from 22 to 16.  At an advanced age he married Clara M. a woman who, according to census figures, was 18 years his junior.  They would have one child, Martha, who was born in 1920.   Henry F. was the third Bieler in the business, identified by the 1910 census as the “secretary” of the liquor company.  That year also found him living in Cincinnati with his wife, also named Clara, and three children ranging in age from 16 to 6.

The Bieler Boys continued to pull together and prosper through the 1900s. In 1901 they moved their operation to larger quarters at 717 Main Street only to move again to the northeast corner of Seventh and Main Streets in 1903.  There was a shift to the northwest corner of that same intersection several years later.  The next address in Cincinnati city directories was to 126 East Seventh St. in 1911.   Despite the firm’s success, Prohibition was fast closing in.  When Ohio went dry in 1916, the end of Geo. Bieler’s Sons Co. was in sight.  They moved to quarters at 119 East Pearl that same year, probably to maintain their mail order business, but terminated altogether in 1918.

Succeeding census information finds the Bieler Boys each going his own direction. The 1920 records Henry still in Ohio, working as a farmer.  By 1930 he had left his native state and was farming near Twin Falls, Idaho.    Both George and Charles were listed as having no occupation in 1920, still living with their families in Cincinnati.   The 1930 census, however, cites Charles as back to work in the liquor trade as a “salesman.”  Because alcoholic beverages would remain banned for another four years, it is not clear what Charles was selling.   Since whiskey could still be sold to physicians for “medicinal” use, it is possible he was working for one of the Cincinnati outfits providing that trade.

Although Brookfield Rye is a label in history only and the Bieler name gone from the contemporary liquor industry,  we remember this family that not only pulled together but showed, as one observer has put it, an unusual amount of  “pizzazz.”  Certainly their flair for merchandising their liquor has left collectors of whiskey-related items with a number of unusual and interesting artifacts.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Men and Whiskey "Comin' 'Round the Horn"

The Docks of San Francisco c1900

 Around Cape Horn we've got to go,
To me way, hay, o-hio!
Around Cape Horn to Call-e-a-o
A long time ago!

Frank M. Cartan and his partner, Timothy F. McCarthy, both had taken that trip around Cape Horn on their way to Call-e-a-o (California).  Often a perilous trip for ships, sailors and passengers,  it later proved to be just the journey their whiskey required to make it a standout among the many competing brands of San Francisco.

According to his obituary, Cartan emigrated to the United States from Dublin, Ireland, in 1870.  Whether he was drawn by the promise of gold and early on worked, as did many Irish of his time, toiling in the mines of Northern California is uncertain.  According to San Francisco sources, in 1873 with a partner he established a wholesale liquor and wine company at 513 Sacramento Street.  His partner, McCarthy, similarly had been born in Ireland.  Four years older than Cartan, he appears to have arrived in San Francisco about the same time.

It is possible the two men knew each other in Ireland.  In addition, on their way from the Emerald Isle to the United States both had taken the danger-filled trip around the southern coast of Latin America, probably on the kind of combination sailing and steamship showna above. With perhaps some exaggeration,  seamen reported winds between 35 and 125 knots,  waves usually between 80 to 120 feet and only a 90 second time lapse between swells.  The likelihood of surviving on a ship going down were counted as “minimal.”  The lifesaving station was accounted as “a hut manned by four Chileans.”

Whatever their experience “Rounding the Horn” the partners early on decided to bring their whiskey to the West Coast by the same route.  Somewhat unbelievably, it not only made economic sense, it was said to improve the quality of the liquor.  On the economics side of the equation,  the long sea journey was not all that expensive.  For example, The New York Times reported in August 1903 that:  “Distillers have found that it costs less to send whiskey to Bremen and Hamburg and ship it from there by way of Cape Horn than it costs to send it  from Louisville to San Francisco by rail.”

Statistics provided at an 1887 Interstate Commerce Commission hearing back up that astonishing claim.  A distiller documented to the ICC that  a barrel of whiskey could be sent from the Port of Baltimore around the Horn to San Francisco for about $1 a barrel.  That was five times cheaper than shipping the same barrel across country by freight train.  Cartan, McCarthy’s expenses, when divided into 40 gallons of whiskey per barrel, add up to an around-the-Horn transit cost to San Francisco of only about 3 cents per gallon. 

Moreover, many whiskey producers had the idea that  sloshing around inside barrels on the high seas mellowed and aged whiskey in beneficial ways that sedentary storing in warehouses failed to accomplish.  Some Scotch whiskey distilleries were accustomed to aging their product on long sea voyages to the U.S. and beyond.  A few American distillers  sent their whiskey afloat into the Caribbean and back.  The boast was that whiskey shipped by sea acquired “a unique and most agreeable softness.”

Cartan, McCarthy and their suppliers in the East took the longest trip of all.  Carried on oceangoing steamships, their whiskey shipped down the East Coast of the United States,  traveled the length of Latin America,  rounded Cape Horn (remember, no Panama Canal at that time), headed up the Pacific Coast of the Southern Continent, cruised past Mexico and finally arrived in San Francisco weeks later, at the docks shown above.  Note the barrels on the wharf.

The company’s flagship brand, as shown here on a provocative trade card,  was “Castlewood.”  Decanting it from the barrels in which the whiskey was shipped, the partners sold it in five gallon glass demijohns as well as in smaller quantities.  Their bottles, most of them in amber, often were heavily embossed and ranged in size from quarts to flasks, as shown here.  Like many San Francisco liquor dealers,  the company issued a range of giveaway items to saloons and other favored customers,  among them shot glasses and saloon signs.  Among the latter was a dramatic depiction of a Mexican cowboy holding aloft a bottle of the firm’s Azule “pure natural spring water,” said to be from the discovery of the Sierra Azul Springs.

On the personal side,  Frank Cartan’s early life as recorded by the U.S. census carries more than one puzzle.  The 1880 census found him living at 1006 Leavenworth Street as a roomer.  It listed his occupation correctly as “liquor dealer.” But it recorded his birth date as 1850 and that he was then 30 years old but living with his son, Henry, whose age was given as 19 -- my guess is he was younger.  The census also recorded that, like his father, Henry had been born in Ireland.  Those figures would mean Frank had fathered a child when he was a boy of 11, an unlikely scenario.  Interestingly, there was no mother listed in the family.  Twenty years later the 1900 census found Frank still living in a boarding house, apparently a bachelor.  Henry had left and was married.

As their business grew, the Cartan and his partner moved on several occasions. About 1888 they relocated to 312 Sacramento Street and about 1894 opened a second store at 311 Commercial Street, becoming agents for the United Vineyard Company and expanding their wine offerings.  The partnership was dissolved in 1900.  Cartan was the owner in charge but McCarthy’s name remained although he personally had departed. Cartan brought into the business his son, Henry, who earlier had been selling cigars, according to census data.

During this period,  Frank also was active in San Francisco social affairs.  Although described as of “a retiring disposition, preferring the company of a few warm friends rather than many,” he was a member of the Shriners, Knights Templar and the Bohemian Club.  By this time he also had married a woman named Nanny A. and moved to nearby Sausalito, a town with lovely homes on hills overlooking the Pacific.  He maintained a boat in the harbor there that he called “Eblana,” the Celtic name for Dublin and was said to have enjoyed being on the water.

About 1905, only age 55, Cartan’s health declined and he was stricken with paralysis.  A years later he suffered a severe blow when the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906  wiped out his business.  As his father faltered, son Henry came increasingly to manage Cartan, McCarthy.  By 1907 Henry had reopened at temporary location at 450 Hayes Street.  That same year Frank Cartan died, attended by Nanny and given the last rites by the Rev. Father Valentine.   He was buried from St. Mary’s Catholic Church and interred in Fernwood Cemetery, shown here.  Because the cemetery’s burial records burned in the 1950s, Cartan’s grave is not identified.

Henry Cartan subsequently assumed full ownership of the business. After a brief sojourn on Hayes Street, he moved the liquor dealership to the southeast corner of Battery and Commercial Streets, remaining there until 1917. His final move was to 354 Battery before being shut down by National Prohibition.

The quality of Cartan, McCarthy’s whiskey was tested in California several years ago by several adventurous lads who discovered tucked away in a cellar a full demijohn of the Irishmen’s product, estimated at over one hundred years old.  After imbibing it, they unanimously declared that the liquor remained of excellent quality.  The “unique and most agreeable softness” rendered by the trip around the Horn seemingly had stood the test of time.  Frank Cartan would have been proud.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mathew Quinn: “Faithful Servitor of the People”

In his 1916-1917 liquor price list,  Mathew Quinn of Kansas City, Missouri, expounded his business philosophy and explained in detail the reasons for his success.  He ended by stating:  “We have given proof that this house is a Faithful Servitor of the People.”  What Quinn was serving people in bottle and jug was a wide-ranging line of liquor and wines, as well as groceries, a combination that made him a goodly fortune.  In the process he became an oracle on how to do good business.

Quinn, born in 1869, did not arrive in the world chewing the proverbial “silver spoon.”  He was born in Canada of Irish parentage.  The 1910 census indicated his parents too were born in Canada but that their immediate ancestors had come from Ireland.  The family pulled up stakes in Canada and came south to the United States when Matthew was a tot of about three years.  His early education and work experience do not show up in documents, but we may assume that he served an apprenticeship in the mercantile trades, probably in Kansas City, Kansas.

Quinn surfaced in the written record in an early “History of Kansas,”  teaming with a New Yorker named Martin Myers who had arrived in Kansas City in 1881 to work in the meat packing industry.  In 1886 Quinn and Myers pooled their resources, purchased a stock of groceries and opened a store at 129 North James Street.  According to the history, “they did a successful business at that place for two years....”  The relationship between the two may have been fractious.  In 1888 Myers sold out to Quinn but 15 days later took a new partner and opened another, competing, grocery store in the very next block of James Street.

The differences between Quinn and his partner may have been about the role of liquor sales in their offerings.  Kansas had enacted one of the first statewide bans on alcohol in the U.S., beginning in 1881.  State law imposed strong restrictions on beer, wine and liquor sales. Possibly as a way of escaping those prohibitions, about 1894 the Irishman moved away from James Street, crossed the river to Kansas City, Missouri, and there opened a grocery store at 549 Main Street.  The building is shown here on a Quinn liquor catalog.  According to an article in the Kansas City Times, the store was “leaning more toward the sale of whiskey than of groceries.”  Quinn clearly was proud of his liquor department,  showing it in his brochure and describing it as “the most complete and attractive in Kansas City.”

In the meantime he was having a personal life.  The 1910 Census records Mathew Quinn, age 41,  living at 2610 East 2610 28th Street in Kansas City, with his wife,  Margaret Ross Quinn.  She had been born in Cairo, Illinois, in 1870.  Their family included four boys and a servant girl.  According to the census taker the children were Ross, 15; Vincent, 12; Lester, 7, and Donald, 5.   Mathew’s occupation was given as “merchant-grocer.”

Quinn did not neglect kitchen staples. In time he became a major wholesale and retail grocer in Kansas City.  In 1899 he ran a large ad in the Kansas City Journal that merchandised “carloads of flour,”  “tons salt meat,” and “carloads soap and washing material.”  Among the last were house brand boxes of “M. Quinn’s Laundry Soap” selling for 25 cents.  That same year the newspaper counted him among local store owners who had pledged to display in their street level windows goods made in Kansas City that they were keeping in stock.  As with many grocers of the time, however, liquor proved to be the most lucrative part of Quinn’s business.  As many of the states and localities around Kansas City were going dry, he found his mail order business booming.

He obliged by stocking and selling many top national whiskey brands.  They included "Cascade," “Cedar Brook,” "Clarke's Pure Rye,” "Clover Springs,” "Diplomat,” "Duffy's Pure Malt,” "Four Roses," “Golden Wedding,” "Green River,” "Guckenheimer,” "Mattingly & Moore," “O E V (Old Enough to Vote),” "O F C,” "Old Chief,”  "Old Ripy,” "Old Taylor,” "Pleasant Springs,”  "Sherwood,” "Sunny Brook,” "Susquehanna,” "V B P (Very Best Procurable)” and "W J Garrett."   He also had his own label, whether blended on his own premises or purchased elsewhere is unclear,  a brand of rye he called “Quinn’s Quality Quantity” or “QQQ.”  It sold for $1 a quart.

He packaged this whiskey both in bottles and in a highly distinctive ceramic jug. As shown here, it was a canteen shaped container that came in several sizes and shades of brown.  It was decorated with Quinn’s name and a triangle.  Today it is a favorite with whiskey jug collectors.   He also used less dramatic containers for other beverages, including a bale-topped jug with his logo either at the bottom or the top, either underglazed or with no glaze.  Like other whiskey men, Quinn also advertised through shot glasses,  some of them emblazoned with his characteristic QQQ.   As shown by a catalogue page,  he also put his label on other liquors, like gin, and featured a line of wines and brandies.

Not simply content with terming himself and his business “Faithful Servitor of the People,”  Quinn took special efforts to explain to the public and his customers how he operated.  When his establishment experienced a fire in November 1899, for example,   he took a newspaper ad to promise refunds to his customers for unfilled orders and pledged “...we will turn every wheel and work night and day to get our business running again.”  He ask that patrons put off buying until he once more was able to open his doors.

In his 1916-1917 liquor catalog Quinn calls his establishment “the Largest Grocery, Wine and Liquor House in the West.”   He explained his low prices in detail:  “Of course we buy in car load lots.  Of course we pay spot cash; we don’t even wait the customary twenty to thirty days, which enables us to go into the market and buy the same high class goods for less money than any retail store can purchase them.” 

Much of Quinn’s exposition is about his dealing with customers, boasting of a reputation “of never having one complaint or one order returned.”  He added that it was a “record we can point to with pride.”  In another statement addressed to his customers, he said he would “boast just a little” about his policy of seeing to it that any time shipments were lost, broken or damaged in shipping to make good the shipment at once and bear the financial burden until the transportation company reimbursed him.  “...During all these years,” Quinn declared, “not one man, woman or child has ever lost a penny by dealing with me.”

Unfortunately,  Quinn’s 20 years of “square dealing” were soon to come to an end.  Although, unlike Kansas, Missouri never declared a statewide ban on alcohol, the U.S. Congress in 1913 passed the Webb-Kenyon Act that eventually banned mail order sales of liquor into “dry” areas, a law still on the books.  Matthew found his customer base severely diminished.  As National Prohibition loomed,  M Quinn Company, an indication of  its reliance on liquor rather than groceries, is recorded as shutting its doors in 1918.

The same year Quinn’s sons, Ross and Vincent, who probably had been working in his establishment,  started their own business, the Quinn Candy Company.  They are said to have sold their father’s remaining liquor out of their confectionary until National Prohibition in 1920.

Mathew Quinn died in 1921, the cause given as “apoplexy,” a diagnosis that covered everything from heart attack to stroke.   His wife, Margaret, had preceded him in death, succumbing to pneumonia in 1911.  They are buried together in Mount Saint Mary's Cemetery in Kansas City.  A granite plinth says simply “M Quinn.”

The final picture shown here is of the firm’s “private offices.” I am intrigued by the thought that the gentleman at right looking at the camera was Mathew Quinn himself.  In my imagination,  I hear him say:  “Yes, indeed, I was a faithful servitor of the people.”

Note:   In the course of researching this vignette over the past several months, I have been in touch with a descendant of Matthew Quinn whose name also happens to be Matt Quinn.  He has been helpful in adding some information about the family and his assistance is most appreciated.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Lowenbachs: Whiskey in Three Generations

A name that continues to arise in the liquor trade in both Virginia and Maryland is Lowenbach.   While not all the details are clear,  there is sufficient information to give us substantial clues to the family and their activities, including the bottles and artifacts they left behind.

The story begins in Harrisonburg, Virginia with a merchant there,  probably a liquor dealer, name Moritz (aka Morris) Lowenbach.  The 1860 census recorded him as born in 1825 in Konigwart, a spa town in what now the Czech Republic.  After emigrating to the U.S. and settling in Virginia, the Lowenbachs became an established extended family in Harrisonburg.  One Jonas Lowenbach was recorded as a sucessful tanner and a founder of the Rockingham Bank.   At the time of the census Moritz was 35 years old and married to a Virginia-born woman named Sarah, who was eleven years his junior.  At that point they had no children but three years later Sarah would give birth to a boy they named Charles.  Soon this son would have a sister Lillie, also known as Lizzie.

About 1870,  Moritz moved from Harrisonburg to Baltimore where a brother, unnamed, was living and began a liquor business there.  He called it Moritz Lowenbach & Co.  Over the years the company moved several times to addresses on West Pratt Street and South Howard.  The company flagship brand was “Old Pimlico,”  a familiar Maryland name.  Another brand was “Old Private Stock,” as on the flask shown here.

Sometime during this period,  Sarah died.  Perhaps wanting a mother for his children,  Moritz is recorded as having married a second time.  This time his wife was Bertha, a woman 18 years younger than her husband, an immigrant from Germany.  She gave birth to two more children, Joseph and Emma.  Evidence is that she was a loving stepmother and the two sets of children appear to have been close.

As Charles Lowenbach was growing up,  his father brought him into his liquor business.  Eventually, perhaps when his father’s Baltimore firm went out of business in 1898, the son moved to Virginia, the state of his birth, and began a liquor dealership in Alexandria.  He brought his younger half brother, Joseph, into the business with him.  They called their liquor dealership Lowenbach Brothers. The business was located at King and Alfred Streets in what now is Old Town, Alexandria.

The Potomac Bottle Club has listed a number of bottles from this firm, including a 9.5 inch round glass jug with ears and a wood handle. It advertised “Virginia Rye Whiskey”  Other glass containers included a “lady’s leg” quart with a fluted neck and base. A detail of the face of that bottle proclaims: “From Lowenbach Bros. Liquor Dealers, Alexandria.  A straight necked bottle with the same slugplate also has found its way into local collections.

Lowenbach Bros.’ flagship whiskey brand was "Wakefield Rye,"  a label they advertised widely in Alexandria newspapers.   A 1910 ad shows the partners were not modest in their claims.  It trumpeted that Wakefield Rye was the “Best Medicinal Whiskey” and that their store was the headquarters for the “Best Wines and Liquors in the City.”  A second ad claimed that “If You Want a Good Medicinal Whiskey -- the Right Kind”  you should drink theirs.

As many liquor dealers of that time,  the Lowenbachs issued giveaway items to favored customers.  Among them was a celluloid pocket mirror with a striking picture of the Greek goddess of the hunt, known as Diana.  A close-up of the item shows that it advertised Wakefield Rye,  clearly a lower end whiskey at $4.00 a gallon. 

Meanwhile, one of the Lowenbach Bros., Charles,  was having a personal life. About 1886, according to census records, he married India Lewis.  They would have two sons,  Maurice R., born in 1892 and Lawrence, born in 1893.  As the business progressed, Charles and his family moved to Leesburg, Virginia.  Brother Joseph, who may never have married, was recorded living at 900 King Street with a manservant.

Lowenbach Bros. appear to have established another whiskey dealership in Culpeper, Virginia.   The DC bottle book records a labeled half pint that advertises “Pure Old Country Brandy from Lowenbach Bros. of Alexandria and Culpeper.   That designation and other clues indicate that the “mystery bottle” shown here with Taye Griffin, the man who dug it, was a product of Lowenbach Bros.  It is embossed in large letters “Wakefield Rye,”  the brother’s flagship brand.   The embossing also reads “The Culpeper Liquor Company, VA.”  According to a newspaper report,  Griffin had been researching the origin and location of the business in Culpeper for two decades without any success.  My guess is that they operated a short-lived storefront from which the brothers sold their liquor.

As Lawrence Lowenbach matured he join Lowenbach Bros. in Alexandria.   City directories for several years in the 1910s listed him as a bookkeeper at the firm and boarding at 2226 S. Columbus Street.  When Virginia voted statewide Prohibition in 1916, Lowenbach Bros. was forced out of business.   After three generations in the whiskey trade,  members had to find new occupations.   The 1930 census recorded Charles and his wife, India, still living in Leesburg at 316 King Street.  Charles was working as the manager of a hardware store.  Other Lowenbachs lived next door, likely a nephew and his family.

Charles died in 1937, followed by his wife in 1948.  The two are buried in Leesburg’s Union Cemetery where they occupy Plat B, Lot 638, Site 3.  Laurence Lowenbach, who died in 1944, is buried near them. No evidence exists that Lawrence  attempted to open a liquor dealership after Repeal in 1934.  Thus ended the Lowenbach dynasty that over three generations did whiskey business in two states and four towns.

Note:  The information for this article came from a variety of sources,  principally census records.   Photographs of Lowenbach bottles are through the courtesy of Dr. Richard Lillienthal.