Monday, July 29, 2013

Peter Welty: Known Through the Jugs He Issued

 Although facts about the personal life of Peter Welty of Wheeling, West Virginia, are scanty, he has left behind a strong legacy of strikingly decorated whiskey jugs by which to remember his apparent long career as a whiskey man.

Welty’s origins are relatively obscure.  His family were German immigrants and Peter’s birthplace appears to have been Germany  He first comes into the public record in the 1860s as a partner in an import and wholesale liquor business run by his brother,  Christian Welty,  known corporately as C. Welty & Bro.  In 1882 located at 11 South Main Street, according to Wheeling business directories, the firm later moved to 1118 Main Street.   From an 1887 invoice  it appears that Christian later retired from the scene and Peter Welty was running the liquor dealership.   The invoice is on C. Welty & Bro letterhead but signed by Peter Welty & Co. at the Main Street address, indicating a transition.

Shown on a 1889 letterhead here is an illustration of the Main Street entrance and a second outlet that Peter had opened at 1121 Market Street.  Two other names appear on the document,  C. Wm. and Samuel Welty.   Peter does not appear to be their father since the two men, brothers,  had been living with their widowed mother, according to the 1880 census.   Nor do the age differences suggest Peter could be their brother.  My guess is that he was an uncle,  but additional research is required.  Welty seems to have been particularly proud of his Market Street facility which he boasted extended “the full depth of the Square from Main to Market St.”   His ads showed a cutaway version of the building.

If you look carefully at the drawing, it is clear that lots of jugs are stacked inside, many containing whiskey.   Welty may have been one of the last whiskey dealers to employ the large, two gallon or more, saltglazed stoneware jugs with stenciled designs and lettering.  Shown here are three examples of those containers, all remnants of the Civil War era when whiskey often came in large containers. 

In the later part of the 19th Century and into the 20th, Welty shifted his containers to a more contemporary look.   Among them were stoneware quart jugs with a light glaze, brown necks and fancy gold lettering.  They held respectively,  “Monticello Rye,” a highly praised Baltimore Maryland product, and “Old Crow,”  a successful Kentucky bourbon.   So far, I have been unsuccessful in determining exactly what pottery or potteries made these containers.  No so, for a third jug that has a light top,  dark bottom, gold lettering and a hand-painted flower on the front.   Advertising “Dougherty Rye,”  a Pennsylvania whiskey,  this jug was made by Fulper Pottery of Flemington,  New Jersey.   Despite  having no pottery mark the link back to this pottery was  definitely made several years ago.   Welty seems to have fancied the Fulper jugs since there are at least five varieties that have come to light with his name on them.
The Fulper Jug

I find it interesting that although Welty also was a “rectifier,” mixing up his own blends of whiskey that he chose to put other people’s whiskey into the fancy containers. Those included the national brands noted earlier and the well-known “O.F.C. Taylor,” another Kentucky label. Among Welty’s own brands were “Smoke House,”  trademarked in 1905;  “Old Eighty-One (81),” trademarked in 1909;  and “Old Fowler,” never trademarked.

Welty’s business success was not limited to dealing in liquor.   Wheeling was a center of the region’s insurance industry with one life and ten fire insurance companies located there.  Peter was the vice president of one, Aetna Fire and Marine.  About the same period he was listed as one of the incorporators of the Artic Ice and Storage Company with principal offices in Wheeling.  It was capitalized at half a million dollars.

It is difficult to determine exactly how C. William and Samuel Welty fit into the picture.  Although their names appear on company letterheads,  their titles and responsibilities do not.  In the 1880 census   C. William Welty, then 22, was recorded as a “clerk,” likely for a family owned firm.   Samuel, 18, was “at school.” At the time of the census ten years later in 1910, Samuel is listed as a liquor dealer and merchant, almost certainly working for Peter.

Meanwhile Prohibition was tightening the noose on the liquor trade in West Virginia.  As early as 1883,  the lower house of the West Virginia  legislature had passed a ban on alcohol but it was defeated in the State Senate.   By 1910 some 37 of the 55 counties in West Virginia were completely dry or had permited towns to pass “local option” laws.  In 1912,  statewide prohibition was put to the voters and passed by a majority of  92,342 votes.  As a result, liquor and beer were banned completely from West Virginia on July 1, 1914 -- a full six years before National Prohibition.   The New York Times reported that on that day 1,200  West Virginia saloons shut down, along with every liquor dealership.   The Times noted that “no serious disorder and very little excitement” attended the closings but that in final hours drinks were being sold at bargain prices.

Peter Welty & Co. had not waited around for that calamity to strike.  The business moved lock, stock, barrel and jug in early 1914 to nearby Pittsburgh and set up shop there at 103 Smithfield Street.  During this era, the company appears to have moved from ceramic containers into glass. Shown here is a clear labeled pint of  Old Fowler and an amber labeled quart of Old Eighty-One.   The company’s sojourn in Pennsylvania would prove to be relatively short-lived.  It disappeared from Pittsburg directories in 1918 as National Prohibition closed in on liquor sales everywhere.  Although neither the company nor its brands revived after Repeal,  Peter Welty left behind a legacy of fancy decorated whiskey jugs that today keeps his memory alive.  


Thursday, July 25, 2013

The “Man in the Middle” of Phoenix Bourbon

One of the most famous whiskeys to come out of the Far West was a brand called “Phoenix Bourbon,”  the product of a San Francisco firm called Naber, Alfs & Brune (NA&B).   William Alfs, the man represented by the middle of that company name proved to be its mainstay through earthquake, fire, and the “drying up” of markets as Western towns, counties and states increasingly voted bans on alcohol.

Alfs was born in Germany in 1852.  Census data records his emigration date as 1872, when he was 20.   He appears to have headed directly to California, the objective of many  immigrants dreaming of riches. He settled in San Francisco.  Four years later he married Josephine Weiss, the daughter of Henry J. Weiss, a San Francisco resident.  Josephine also had been born in Germany.  The 1880 census found Alfs living with his wife in his father in law’s home. His occupation was listed as “wholesale liquor merchant,”  My surmise is that he earlier had been working in for other San Francisco liquor dealers and knew the trade.

The company in which he became a partner in 1880 had been founded nearly a decade earlier by owners named Ehlers & Brand.  They were wholesale liquor dealers at 322 Clay Street.  Ehlers left the company in 1875, selling his interests to Henry D. Naber, who, like Alfs, had immigrated from Germany. Those partners subsequently moved the business in 1877 to 413 Front Street.  In 1880 Brand sold out to  William Alfs and Henry Brune.  Thus was created the liquor dealership known as Nabors, Alfs & Brune, as shown here on a trade card.  It was destined to be come one of the West’s most prominent liquor enterprises.

Over the years the company featured several whiskey brands, including “Union Club Bourbon,”   “Gold Medal Bourbon,” and  “Rock and Rye.”  Their premier brand, one one most heavily advertised and widely sold, was “Phoenix Bourbon,”  sometimes merchandised as “Old Phoenix Bourbon.”  The name of the firm was always emphasized whether on the paper label or the embossing on the bottles employed.

NA&B were particularly noted for elaborate designs on glass flasks.   As shown here, the bottles came in two sizes and two colors, both amber and clear.   Some of the flasks emphasized that the partners were “sole agents” for Phoenix Bourbon.  The company also sold the whiskey in tall quart bottles.  All bear the embossed emblem of the phoenix, a creature of mythology, a long-lived bird that is characterized by being cyclically regenerated or reborn. Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.  Originally trademarked in 1891 by a Chicago firm, the name somehow devolved on NA&B.

The partners advertised Phoenix and other brands widely.   Perhaps the most unusual of their ads was on a color lithographed trade card showing two dogs, wearing hats and smoking,  while above them a bevy of low-bodiced ladies seem to be sprouting from a tree.  The only wording on the card is “Did you say Phoenix Old Bourbon?”  Other ads included a push for “Damiana Bitters,” touted as “The Great Mexican Remedy.”  Damiana was a Latin American herb that was said to have powers of male sexual invigoration.  It also proved to be a big seller for NA&B.

Unlike many of its competitors, collectors complain, NA&B was short on giveaway items. Two that I have found are a shot glass with the phoenix insignia and, most unusual, a cast iron “match retriever.”  It features a bird, I assume a phoenix, that tipped over and speared a wooden match stick with its beak.  It obviously was meant for the bar of a saloon and carried the name of the three partners.  This gizmo would appear to be an 
artifact unique to the San Francisco firm.

In 1891,  Henry Naber retired from the firm, possibly because of ill health and moved to his rural estate. He died the same year, only 49, leaving behind a widow and five children.    Alfs and Brune formed a new co-partnership, retaining the old firm name of Naber, Alfs & Brune. In 1889, according to San Francisco directories, the company moved to 323-325 Market Street .  At the time of the 1900 census Alfs was living in Alameda City,  a suburb of San Francisco, with Josephine and two children, Frank, 16, and Lilly, 9.  They also had two live-in servants.  Alf’s occupation was given as “wholesale liquor merchant.”

Alfs was considered as something of a business “guru” by the Pacific Wine & Spirits Journal that frequently solicited his comments on the whiskey trade.  In an 1891 statement he was quoted to  say:  “I feel that the fall business is opening up rather slowly.  The summer months have been very dull and for some reason the fall movement is late.  We have done as well as could be expected for the season.  The winter business ought to be first class and there is everything to favor it -- good crops, good prices and general prosperity.”  The following year Alfs was more positive, calling business “quite satisfactory” despite a generally sluggish economy.

Life changed for Alf and his partner in 1906 as the result of the San Francisco earthquake and fire.  Their business went up in the conflagration but “Phoenix-like,”  appropriately enough, rose from the ashes to relocate, at least temporarily to  825 Mission Street.  In 1910,  the company moved to permanent quarters at 631-635 Howard Street.   By 1913, Brune had removed himself from the business. In retirement he went to live in an Italianate Victorian mansion he built in Alamo Square that, as one writer has characterized it, “let Brune flaunt his wealth.” More than a century later, with its exotic Turkish parlor and extravagant interiors, Brune’s house, according to observers, is still considered “the crown jewel” of San Francisco mansions.

Brune’s exit left Alfs as the sole owner. From being the “man in the middle,” he had emerged, much like the “Phoenix,” atop Naber, Alfs & Brune. He operated the liquor dealership with the help of his son, Frank, when the boy gained maturity.  In 1913 Alfs saw much of his mail order business gradually dry up with the implementation of the Webb-Kenyon Act forbiding shipments of liquor into areas where sales of alcohol were banned. He continued in business, however, until the advent of National Prohibition when he finally was forced to shut down.  This time Phoenix Bourbon did not rise from the ashes.  The brand disappeared, leaving only its distinctive bottles as collectors’ items.  William Alfs died in Alameda in 1928, at the age of 76:  another instance of an immigrant boy finding success and prosperity in the U.S.A.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hannah & Hogg Sowed Thistles in Chicago

In 1873 a pair of immigrants, one a former paper hanger, the other a grocery clerk, opened a Chicago saloon they called “The Thistle,”  emblem of their native Scotland.  Within a few years they had planted their “thistles” all over town and owned the most elegant hotel in the Windy City.  Their names were Alexander Donnon (A. D.) Hannah and David Hogg.

Hannah was born in Wigtonshire, Scotland, in 1845, the son of Alexander and Mary (Patterson) Hannah.  Educated in the public schools of Scotland, at the age of 23 he emigrated in 1868 to the United States and went directly to the far Midwest, finding work as a clerk in a store in Bernard, Kansas.  In 1872 he moved east to Chicago where he entered the liquor business as a traveling salesman.

David Hogg, born in Kinrosshire, Scotland, in 1842, was the son of Robert and Elizabeth (Scott) Hogg.)  Educated in his homeland like Hannah, Hogg emigrated in 1863.  He initially worked as a
paper hanger and painter in the East, arriving in Chicago 1869.  There he continued toiling for several years in the wall paper business with two local firms.  Then Hannah and Hogg met and the synergy between the two Scotsmen was electric.

In June 1873 they formed a partnership to run a drinking establishment at 190 Madison Avenue they called “The Thistle.”  They soon branched out into the wholesale and retail liquor and cigar trade, calling their operation simply “Hannah and Hogg.”  The thistle as shown on several items here, was their enduring trademark.  It appeared prominently in their advertising, on their cigar box lids, and on the front of their whiskey jugs.  The thistle also was prominent as part 
of their decor for their “wet goods” stores, opened one by one over the years at a number of Chicago downtown addresses,  including 222 S. Clark, 166 and W. Madison, 146 E. Madison, 151 E. Randolph, 112 Monroe and 88 LaSalle Streets.  As shown here, each of those Hannah & Hogg outlets also boasted larger than life sized stone statues out front as advertising gimmicks.

Hannah was president of the company and Hogg vice president.  In the years following the creation of their partnership they married sisters.  Hannah wed Catherine Grady in 1875 and Hogg married Mary Grady in 1877.  The Hannahs had three children;  the Hoggs had four.   The two families lived within a block of each other on Chicago’s fashionable Oak Street.

The pair were liquor dealers rather than distillers, buying bulk whiskey, bottling it and selling it under  their own labels.  Among their house brands were "Emerald,” "Grayland,” "Hannah & Hogg," “Home Rule,”  "Jim,”  "Old Cameron,” "Silver Thistle” and “Ramshead.” The partners advertised these
brands vigorously in Chicago area media.  Ramshead, for example, was merchandised as “Perfect Whiskey!”  Hannah and Hogg packaged their products in both ceramic jugs and glass bottles and flasks.  In the mode of the times, they also offered giveaway items to favored customers, including shot glasses and bar tokens.  Predictably, the thistle was present on most Hannah & Hogg gifts.

These transplanted Scotsmen were eminently successful and soon became rich and well recognized figures in Chicago.  Canny about politics,  they covered both bases:   Hannah was a prominent Democrat;  Hogg an active Republican.  Hannah was recorded as a Presbyterian and a Mason.   Hogg’s 1905 biography fails to mention any other affiliations.

In time Hannah & Hogg came to own and operate the Brevoort Hotel, one of Chicago’s premier hostelries.  For the purpose they created a separate corporate entity and located their business offices there.  This establishment, located in the city’s Loop District, was built in 1906 and was a landmark at 120 Madison Street.  A post card view of the Brevoort emphasized that it was “absolutely fireproof,” clearly a reference back to the great Chicago fire that had burned out much of the city’s downtown.  Another postcard shows the highly decorated “art deco” bar in the hotel.  It was a major “watering hole” for the city’s elite. The Brevort Hotel was demolished after World War II to make way for a church.

The Brevort Hotel

Chicago establishments did not prosper by serving up effete drinks like Scotch.  Their stapes were beer and “copper stilled Kentucky Bourbon,” wrote Chicago pundit, George Ade.  The latter, he said, was drunk straight and with none of “that cheap fluid they put under bridges or use in sprinkling the lawn.”  Charles Moll, whose family ran Moll’s Bar at Huston and 134th Streets, remembered Hannah & Hogg. In our interview he extolled the quality of the company whiskey.   So well known was their establishment that the American author,  Theodore Dreiser,  used it as the backdrop for scenes in his famous 1910 novel,  “Sister Carrie.”  In the book he described Hannah & Hogg’s as “a gorgeous saloon from a Chicago standpoint”  and his novel included its manager as a major character.  Although the account was fictional it reportedly was based on an incident in which the Brevoort’s manager had run away to Canada with Dreiser’s sister.

The two founders sold their saloon, retail outlets and brand name about 1910.  A. D. Hannah retired and died in 1913 at the age of 70.  David Hogg continued to run the Brevoort Hotel until 1920, according to records.  He died in Chicago in 1934 at the advanced age of 92.  Both men, with other family members, are buried in Calvary Cemetery in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois. 

Their names on whiskey, however,  had a continuing attraction in Chicago region and the Middle West.   That reputation even survived the 14 years of Prohibition as the Hannah & Hogg label was revived during the 1930s.   The Medley Distilling Company of Owensboro, Kentucky, owned the brand.  Shown here is one of the  two-handled containers in which the Medleys merchandised Hannah & Hogg whiskey.  Note that although less emphasized, the partner’s Scottish thistles survived on the jug.   It was a fitting reminder of two Scotsmen whose business acumen and talent in the whiskey trade made them rich men and allowed them to plant their thistle insignia all over the Windy City.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Looney and Rice: Early Arkansas Distillers

In the first decade after Arkansas was bought from France by Thomas Jefferson as part of the Louisiana Purchase,  cousins who earlier had lived as neighbors in Northeastern Tennessee pulled up stakes and moved with their families to Randolph County, Arkansas.  They were William Looney and Reuben Rice.  Both would prosper economically and socially by becoming distillers.  Looney’s liquor warehouse and tavern, shown here in the process of restoration, is accounted the oldest commercial building in the state.

To reach Arkansas, the Looney and Rice families were forced to endure a trek through much of Tennessee, bringing with them their young children and
Randolph County, Arkansas
a few slaves.   Perhaps tired by the journey they stopped in the far northeast of the state on the Eleven Point River near the rural towns of Dalton and Pocahontas, shown here on a local map.  Looney settled on the west bank of the river;  Rice on the east bank about a mile distant.  In contrast to owners of the large plantations in southern Arkansas, these early yeoman farmers with their few slaves established small farmsteads under the governmental jurisdiction of the Missouri Territory and were documented on the 1815 and 1816 Missouri territorial tax lists.

Both men early on began farming and growing fruit trees.  Their intent from the outset appears to have been distilling.   With an extensive apple orchard,  Looney specialized in making apple brandy, although he may have distilled whiskey from grain from time to time.  He is credited with producing 1,500 gallons of brandy a year.  At his death, according to probate records, he left behind two stills,  27 still tubs, and some 21 gallons of apple brandy.  After his slaves the stills were considered his most valuable property. 

Rice’s distilling appears to have been largely whiskey.  He was growing and selling both wheat and corn, both necessary ingredients for that liquor.   The probate record of Reuben’s son who inherited his father’s distillery indicates that he had two stills, 20 tubs, and two cooling tubs through which the copper coil  “worm”  ran.   The distilling scene shown above with a slave provides an idea of what Looney and Rice’s operations might have looked like. Both men probably sold their liquor in stoneware jugs with brown Albany slip glaze, as the one shown here.  A similar jug has been handed down in the Rice family, believed to have been produced by a local pottery.

One historian estimates that between 1800 and 1830 annual per capita consumption of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. exceeded five gallons, about triple that of consumption today.  As a result of such demand, both Looney and Rice prospered.  When he died in 1846 at about the age of 61, Looney was one of the richest men in Randolph County, with extensive land holdings, 13 slaves and livestock.  Moreover, he was sought out for public office.  During a period from about 1816 to 1825, he served as justice of the peace and magistrate in two local townships.  Moreover, when a territorial legislature had been elected for Arkansas,  Looney was named to an administrative post that would allow him to manage affairs in cases where the legislature could not meet.  In 1820 he was commissioned as a captain in the Third Regiment of the Arkansas Militia.

Randolph County Courthouse
Reuben Rice, like Looney, became wealthy and expanded his land holdings.  Although believed to be illiterate,  he served family and friends as administrator and security for estates in probate and in 1835,  he was elected as one of three commissioners to establish the first courthouse in Randolph County,  located in Pocahontas, that became the county seat.   As shown here, it still serves that purpose.  Another notable structure Rice built, and this time with his own hands, was an impressive house.  The log structure had a one large room on the first floor and a gable-end fireplace.
The Rice House
Adjoining the large room was a small side room.  It is conjectured that the room had shelving for items that were being sold from the front  room, including jugs of whiskey.

By the 1840s,  Reuben, who had been born with the Republic in 1776, had retired from farming and distilling, leaving the operation to his son.  Both he and his wife, Lydia., died around 1850, when Reuben would have been 74.  At least five generations of the Rice family subsequently lived in the house.   As a result it was kept in excellent condition when, in 2004, descendants of the original Rices donated the structure and a small amount of land to the local college in Pocahontas.  That same year the house was put on the National Register of Historical Places and attested to be the oldest extant home place in Arkansas.

Similar good fortunate acceded to William Looney’s tavern.  After his death his widow, Catherine, remained on the farmstead and converted the building into a dwelling.  Four generations later relatives in 2006 donated that building to the college.  Restoring it to its original look as a tavern was funded through the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council.  Shown here completed,  the tavern too is now on the National Register.  The Looney Tavern and the Rice House have become important tourist destinations in Arkansas.  Both are testimony to the distillery trade as a source of wealth and commerce.
The Restored Looney Tavern

If Looney and Rice had lived longer, they likely would have been appalled at the fate of the distilling industry in Arkansas. Today there are more than 200 archeological sites of abandoned and ruined distilleries in Arkansas.  Most were victims of the organized temperance movement in the state that began in Little Rock in 1831.  For the next 90 years  Prohibitionists worked diligently to make Arkansas “dry.”

An 1855 law gave municipalities the power to ban alcohol, mandating that prospective taverns be approved by a local majority. That law established a precedent that allowed counties to hold referendums on whether or not to allow alcohol to be sold within their borders.  By 1914, only nine Arkansas counties had managed to keep their saloons and distilleries open. In 1915, the General Assembly passed the Newberry Act, effectively banning the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the entire state, anticipating National Prohibition by five years.   Even after Repeal many local jurisdictions to this day ban the sale of alcohol.  Ironically,  Randolph County, the venue where William Looney and Reuben Rice found liquor to be so lucrative, is one of them.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Hentzes of Philly Lighted Up Times Square

When the very first lighted billboard went up on Times Square in New York City in 1904, the neon sign flashed out its message for “Trimble Whiskey,”  the flagship brand of a liquor dealing family, not from the Big Apple, but from quaint, staid Philadelphia.  The family’s name was Hentz, well-known in the East Coast liquor trade.

The “pater familias” of the Hentz clan was Jacob, a native of Pennsylvania, who married a local woman by the name of Suzanna.  The 1850 census found them living in Philadelphia and gave Jacob’s occupation as “liquor inspector,”  probably a state or city government employee charged with assuring the quality of retail whiskey and wine.   The couple were recorded as having three children,  Susanna, born 1833;  Jacob H., born 1934, and William, born 1838.

Jacob H., perhaps to distinguish himself from his father, subsequently altered his name to J. Henry Hentz and was known by that throughout his adult life.  In 1949, while still in his teens, he enter into a business partnership with William R. White, an older man who may have provided the majority of the original capital.   They purchased a liquor dealership that traced its origins back to 1793 when Philadelphia was still a relatively small town.  Over the years several owners had followed. Indications are that J. Henry had started in the whiskey business clerking for the prior owner.  

After a number of years working together as White & Hentz,  White left the scene and although the name was unchanged,  Hentz was the sole owner.  The firm’s headquarters throughout its existence was located at  222-224 North Second Street.  Shown here, the smaller building was erected in 1793 and the taller one in 1860.  The facility extended back to Broad Street a distance of 200 feet with the receiving and shipping dock situated at the rear.

The 1870 census found J. Henry, 36,  living with his wife,  Elizabeth Smith Bloom.  The census taker recorded her name as “Lizzie,” but another source says she was called “Ma Bess” within the family.  At that time the Hentzes had three children,  J. Henry Jr., born in 1860;  Lillie, born 1862;  and William, born 1864.  A fourth child had died in infancy.  J. Henry was listed as a businessman in “wines and liquors.”  Indicative of the wealth he already had amassed in this business,  the family had four domestic servants in their home.

As J. Henry Junior matured,  his father saw that he received advanced education.  The son graduated from Pennsylvania University and subsequently began to work at White, Hentz & Company.  According to a biography of the firm,  Junior proved to be “very active and energetic and was admitted to partnership in 1885.”  Apparently believing that the firm was in good hands,  J. Henry made an extensive trip to Europe in 1879,  returning in November 1881.  He is recorded as having visited “all the leading markets of in Europe and returned with much knowledge, which can only be obtained by personal observation in the old world.”  Among his stops were Rheims and Cognac in France for their wines and brandies;  Rotterdam in Holland with its gin and schnapps;  the seaport of Cadiz in Spain, and Oporto in Portugal. 

Upon the father’s return, the Hentzes moved to expand their operations to other cities.  They opened a branch at 17 William Street in New York City, represented there by a D. Lieber,  who appears also to have handled the imports of wine and liquors generated by J. Henry’s visit.  They also opened a branch in Washington, D.C., initially four blocks from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue and later in the Glover Building at 1419 F Street N.W.   The Hentzes featured a number of brands, including “White, Hentz Whiskey,  trademarked in 1905;  “Monogram Pennsylvania Rye,”  trademarked 1906, and “Pennsylvania Monogram Rye,” trademarked in 1907.

The company’s flagship brand, and the one it merchandised most vigorously was Trimble Whiskey,  a brand inherited from prior owners and said to have originated in 1830.  They trademarked the label in 1905 and advertised it widely.  The bottle was distinguished by a green label and the slogan, “When you drink, drink Trimble.”   Other Trimble ads could be plain or sometimes fancy,  with poetry thrown in.   As shown here, the verse was:  “Laugh, and the world laughs with you/Weep, and you weep alone/For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth/But has trouble enough of its own.”

In 1901,  both Life and Puck, national magazines, found space for some puffery on Trimble Whiskey, calling it “a whiskey with a history” and adding:  “This history embraces a reputation for purity that has extended over one hundred years.  It is doubtful if any other whiskey on the market has every been before the public for such a length of time.”

Following the practice of the liquor trade of the time the Hentzes also featured a number of giveaway items to favored customers.  Some were aimed at the general consumer, such as a metal bullet corkscrew and Major League Baseball schedule and score booklet for the 1903 season.  The Hentzes also believed in distinctive signs.  Particularly impressive was a saloon sign done on reverse glass advertising Trimble Whiskey.   They also sponsored signs painted on the sides of buildings.  One shown below was recently uncovered on Bleeker Street in New York.

Thus, the Hentzes were receptive when approached by Oscar J. Gude, a master of outdoor billboards and electric light signs, who had an idea of turning a neglected uptown New York City intersection into the place we know today as Times Square.  As one author has said: "Times Square was already an advantageous place to hang things due to the sight lines created by long, even avenues. As one of the first electric signs, the Trimble name could be seen from almost a mile away down certain corridors. At night, the words 'Trimble Whiskey' could be seen reflecting into the new Times Square across the plaza. Theater goers leaving one of the new stages on 42nd Street stopped to take a gander at the glowing lights before boarding a trolley, or entering the crisp, new subway station."
Trimble Sign on Bleeker Street

A novel of the time captured the impact of the neon sign.  One character remarks on the brightness of Times Square and the following conversation ensues:

“I think it might be the brightness of Trimble Whiskey.”  Jess squinted at the billboard behind them

“Those clanking glasses almost make me want to drink Trimble...”  Jack laughed, glancing over his shoulder.

“It’s all anyone would talk about when the advertisement went up.”  David rolled his eyes....

“Why wouldn’t you drink Trimble?”  An unfamiliar voice of a man they were passing ahead.

J. Henry never got the full benefit of the buzz his Times Square flashing billboard had generated.  He died the same year that the sign went up.  J. Henry Junior took over the management of White, Hentz.  He continued to operate the liquor business with great success.  He had married at an early age to Anne, whose maiden name likely was Hammett.  She was a Pennsylvania native, born of Scottish ancestry.  They had two children,  Jacob (J. Henry III), and William.  Living with them were his wife’s sister and three servants.  The whiskey business clearly was remaining profitable.

The White, Hentz Co., survived at the same address under J. Henry Junior until the forces of Prohibition required its closure in 1918.  Trimble Whiskey disappeared. Nonetheless,  the family had run the liquor business for 69 years.  Moreover, they were recognized as pioneers in lighting up and “making” Times Square.   Should there be any doubt,  just look at the famous American site today.  Trimble Whiskey may be gone but the lights, the lights, gleam ever more brightly!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Chapin and Gore: Kings of the Chicago Saloon

 Writer George Ade, who spent a decade working on newspapers in Chicago, claimed in his book,  “The Old Time Saloon” that the Windy City’s drinking establishments ranked with those of Port Said and Singapore as being the wildest and wickedness ever.  “Chicago was just as tough as it knew how to be....Saloons were everywhere, many of them open all night and all day Sunday.”

According to Ade, it was commonly stated that when a new drink parlor opened anywhere in
Chicago’s Loop, the saloon keeper threw the keys to the place in Lake Michigan.  “The famous hangouts had not been closed for a minute for years and years,”  he claimed.  Perhaps the most famous of all the city’s saloons was the one founded by Gardner Spring Chapin and James Jefferson Gore whose “Chapin & Gore” partnership led them to the pinnacle of Chicago fame.

Their story began inauspiciously in the early 1850s.   Born in Georgia,  Gore at the age of 19,  by his own later account,  had driven a team from Texas to California overland and then “because of his love of adventure” had joined the Forty-Niners prospecting for gold.  His biography says:  “It was the day of the six-shooter, the quick draw, and the steady eye and hand, when he was learning his apprenticeship and learning the ways of the world....”  Eventually Gore drifted into the life of a teamster,  driving a team of mules and hauling freight to Nevada.   An illustration in the biography romanticized Gore's occupation.

In reality,  when Chapin, a broker in mining stocks, met Gore,  the latter was sick and broke.  He asked Chapin for the loan of $200 so he could continue to his destination.  Impressed with the younger man’s personality and despite that being a large amount of money at the time, Chapin loaned him the cash and thereby began a lifetime friendship.  From Chapin’s “grubstake,”  Gore prospered and eventually relocated in Chicago.  Meanwhile Chapin moved to Fairbault,  Minnesota, where he opened a dry goods store.  When business there proved to be poor,  he moved to Chicago and opened a modest grocery on Madison Street.   Remembering Chapin’s kindness,  Gore sought him out and suggested they go into business together. 

The partners subsequently opened a grocery store in 1865 at the corner of State and Monroe Streets.  Gore convinced Chapin to add a liquor department and before long liquor  was their principal merchandise.  They put out a brand of their own which they called “1867 Sour Mash.”  That reportedly was the year they made liquor their prime enterprise. But it was the great Chicago Fire of 1871 that brought the pair to public notice. 

The Chicago public came to dote on the colorful Gore, known fondly as “Old Jim” because of his response to the conflagration.   To keep the stock of whiskey safe from flames and looters,  he hired men to roll barrels full of bourbon and rye -- some claim as many as several hundred kegs -- into Lake Michigan.  While some was diverted, many reached the water to be recovered later.  Chicago newspapers headlined the story.  Chapin & Gore advertised this whiskey as “fine as silk” and sold it for an inflated price as “Lake Whiskey.”

So popular was their liquor that the partners eventually opened seven retail outlets in downtown Chicago.  They decorated them with large colorful cartoon caricatures of famous personages.  Chapin & Gore also opened a saloon they called Chapin & Gore’s Cafe.  Chicago historian Stephen Longstreet says that this drinking establishment featured good food and had a reputation for being “high toned.”  Illustrious patrons included William McKinley, later to be elected President,  Author Mark Twain, and “Buffalo Bill” Cody.  Of Cody it was said he could always be found where there were good listeners and, more important, good whiskey.   Chapin & Gore’s liquor was so good it began to attract a national audience to its brands which included “1867” and “Old Jim Gore,” which the firm trademarked in 1904.  The partners eventually acquired their own Kentucky distillery near Cloverport in Breckinridge County.  They opened branch offices in Kansas City,  Indianapolis and even Paris, France.

Chapin & Gore also became known for the design of their whiskey containers.  Bottle collectors are familiar with their several very attractive versions of a glass amber barrel-shaped bottle.  Those are attributed to the Frankstown Glassworks and later the Hawley Glass Company, both of Pennsylvania.  Also shown here are examples of the firm’s straight quart bottles and embossed flasks.   Other containers were ceramic including a jug with a gold lip and label with an overprint of a cobalt “1867.”   Another two-handled jug design replicated a Greek amphora and featured a flared lip.  The partners also issued an   molded and embossed ten-sided shot glass.

Another part of the enduring Chapin & Gore legacy is a building that their firm  commissioned and still bears their name.  Located at 63 East Adams the 1904 structure combined warehouse and office space with a street-level liquor store and bar.  Hired for the design were noted Chicago architects Richard Schmidt and his partner Hugh Garden.  According to one commentary, the pair demonstrated through this facility, “the aesthetic possibilities of the utilitarian building through the use of interior functions, fine brickwork and decorative terra cotta.” In 1998 the building received a facelift as ornamental cornices and capitals removed in the 1950s were restored.  The Chapin & Gore Building, shown here, has been designated a Chicago landmark, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is an established part of the city's architectural heritage walking tour.

After Jim Gore died in 1891, Chapin carried on and the firm’s ads continued to claim that Old Jim Gore Sour Mash Whiskey was “the best in the world.”  Chapin was forced to shut down all alcohol related aspects of the enterprise as a result of National Prohibition.   As a brand name, however, Chapin and Gore was revived after Repeal in 1934.  At first it was produced by the National Distillers Corporation of Louisville that held nearly 140 brand names under its control.  Subsequently the brand was sold to one of the Bardstown distilleries that produced it under the somewhat misleading label:  “Distilled by Chapin and Gore.”