Saturday, December 4, 2021

A Slab Seal Bottle Opens the Book on J. C. Marks


Shown right is a ruby red whiskey slab seal label that identifies the contents as “Old Monongahela Rye” from the J. C. Marks Co. of Birmingham, Alabama.  Behind the bottle is the story of Joseph C. Marks, a liquor dealer whose sharp-witted jousts with prohibitionary forces in Birmingham, Alabama, and Louisville, Kentucky, were successful for years but unable to stem a national movement.

Marks’ shrewd approach toward “dry” forces was first manifested in the late 19th Century when Shelby County, some 30 miles down the road from Birmingham, required a license to sell liquor within its boundaries.  Marks dispatched a traveling salesman named Newman into the jurisdiction.  There Newman took an order for a gallon of whiskey costing $2.50 from B.L. Moore, who turned out to be shill for the prohibitionists.   The authorities pounced on Newman, who protested that he was only an agent.  The sale, he contended, had taken place in Birmingham when J. C. Marks, who had a license there, filled the order and sent the whiskey to Moore.  The Supreme Court of Alabama agreed.  Newman (and Marks) prevailed, continuing to sell liquor in Shelby County.

With a former local schoolmaster Adolph S. Loventhal, Marks in 1887 had open a liquor, wine and cigar business with offices, warehouse and workspace in a four story  building at 2117 Second Avenue in Birmingham.  These quarters allowed Marks to market his own brand of whiskey, blending it from barrels received by rail from Kentucky and elsewhere to achieve a desired taste, color and smoothness.  His flagship label was “Three Red Barrels,” a name he trademarked in 1906.  

Shown here is a pint bottle that proclaims the barrels as “Our Sign”  Below are quart bottles bearing Mark’s embossed label design.  It involved three stacked barrels with a bird perched on top below the word “purity.” The bottom barrel is split with a disembodied hand stretching out with a glass.  The rear of the bottle is embossed:  “J. C. Marks Liquors…Wholesale Liquors…Guaranteed Full Measure” and the address at the base.  Filled with whiskey, the barrels would show as red, a truly interesting package.

The slab seal bottle that opens this post presents more of a mystery.  According to an article by David Jackson Jr., for Bottles and Extras, this amber bottle was uncovered by a heavy equipment operator while excavating a coal mine near Birmingham.  Only one other apparently is known and it is damaged.  The seal indicates that the contents were “Monongahela Rye,” indicating Marks was also getting whiskey supplies from Pennsylvania.  Single specimens of bottles are rare, particularly when they entail elements such as a slab seal.  My hunch is that others do exist, waiting to be discovered. 

Like other whiskey wholesalers, Marks featured giveaway items to favored customers, both wholesale and retail.  Below are two examples that have come to light.  Below left is a crude mini jug with Marks’ name scratched in the Albany slip glaze.  It is flanked by a much more elaborate mini.  Note that this one advertises “3-Red-Barrels.”

In 1892 Adolph Loventhal, only 46, died, leaving behind his widow, Rebecca, (nee Sobel), and a sixteen year old son, Allison.  Eleven years later Marks, a 43-year old bachelor, married Rebecca, who was five years older than he.  Their union lasted 17 years until Marks’s death.  No children are recorded from their union.

Although Marks could circumvent county license laws there was no way, or so it seemed, to get around the absolute statewide ban against the making and sales of alcoholic beverages imposed in Alabama in 1908.  The whiskey wholesaler promptly moved his operation to a center of the whiskey industry, Louisville, Kentucky.  This time, protected by the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution with perfect legality he could ship his whiskey into any “dry” state or locality in America.

Within a few weeks of his move there, as reported in the Wine & Spirits Bulletin

he had relocated to the heart of Louisville’s “Whiskey Row,” Main Street between Fourth and Fifth.  In this new location, Marks tailored his products to the large mail order audience now opened up to him.  While continuing to blend his whiskeys as before, he now marketed multiple labels, some produced elsewhere and some of his own making.  They included "Cameo Rye,” "Continental Gin,” "Diamond Star,” "Exclusive Club,” "Fred Mason Bourbon,” "J. C. M. Monogram,” “Kewanee,” "Marks Private Stock,” ”Old Plantation Corn,” "Purity A A A,” "Ranger Gin,” "Royal Bond,” "Royal Club,” "Royal Malt,” "Silver Cloud,” and “Waverly." Marks failed to trademarked any of them.

Marks also was selling brandies, absinthe, wines and cordials.  Shown here is the only labeled example of a Marks bottle I have been able to find.  It is for a “Banana Flavor Cordial” and bears his Louisville address.  For five prosperous years, Marks was able to sell his whiskies in “dry” areas.  A popular size for his whiskies was a half gallon bottle, many with a bail handle.  Shown below are two example.  The jug at left is embossed only with Louisville; at right the company lists Louisville and — amazingly “dry” Birmingham.

As he had found a way around the strictures of Shelby County, Marks had found a way legally to stay in Birmingham.  Marks’ strategy was revealed in a 1917 advertisement that appeared in Birmingham newspapers.  Its headline reads:  “Buy for Christmas Before the Christmas Rush where Purity, Quality,  Reliability for 25 Years has builded The Largest Wholesale Liquor Business in the South.”  Reading down to the bottom, the J.C. Marks Liquor Company claimed to be operating from its “Same Old Stand” in Birmingham. 

Now operating from “wet” Kentucky this whiskey man had determined that so long as the money transaction and shipping took place from Louisville, he could use his original Birmingham location to take and transmit orders. The payment went directly from customers to Marks in Louisville and the liquor was express mailed back to Birmingham. All this was perfectly legal. The state’s prohibitionists must have been furious.

Marks was not alone in such strategies, leading the Congress in 1913 to pass the Webb-Kenyon Act that removed the Constitutional protection for interstate sales.  Because of court challenges, eventually reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, enforcement did not occur until several years later.  By that time Marks now in his late 50s had closed out his liquor house and moved with Rebecca to Cleveland Heights, Ohio, to live among relatives.  He died there at the age of 60, having seen the imposition of National Prohibition.  Rebeca followed him to the grave a year later.  Both lie in the Temple Cemetery of Nashville, Tennessee, in Section A, Lot 38, graves 1 and 2.

For 30 years via several strategies, Joseph Marks was able to circumvent the efforts of the prohibitionist to shut off the making and sale of liquor.  In the end, however, those forces proved too strong to be overcome by any single individual and, indeed, for an entire industry.

Note:  Seeing the J.C. Mark slab seal bottle on the Internet, brought me to the David Jackson article, a record of the Shelby County case, and other sources of information on J.C. Marks.  The picture of Mark’s “scratch” jug is through the courtesy of Bill Garland, the guru of Alabama whiskey ceramics.


Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Elijah Craig Served the Lord — and Liquor

Although some authors credit Elijah Craig as the “Father of Bourbon,” others have challenged that designation declaring that while Craig was an early Kentucky distiller it is unlikely that he was making bourbon whiskey.  For me, Craig’s place in history is not about whiskey but about his championing of religious freedom. 

Elijah was born about 1738 in Orange County, Virginia, the fifth child of Polly Hawkins and Toliver Craig.  From his boyhood he displayed unusual intellectual gifts, with a strong streak of religiosity.  Virginia was state where all residents were required by law to tithe to the Anglican Church and attend Anglican worship at least once a month.  The official faith was deemed by elite Virginians as essential element of the commonwealth’s social structure.  Other theological ideas were in the air, however, with Baptists considered by many to be particularly dangerous.

Early Baptists faced opposition.  By law they were required to obtain licenses in order to preach, documents that often specified the place of worship and, in effect, outlawed itinerant circuit riders and tent meetings.  When ministers balked at those restrictions, they often were jailed.  Baptists also were subject to verbal and physical abuse.  David Thomas, a Baptist missionary to Virginia, was attacked while conducting a home service in Fauquier County and brutally beaten.  Later he would survive an assassination attempt.

Nevertheless,  Craig was drawn to Baptist beliefs by Thomas and in the mid-1860s began to hold meetings in his tobacco barn.  In 1866 he, along with other family members, was formally baptized.  Full of fervor, he began to preach even though still a layman, resulting in his being jailed in Fredericksburg for several weeks for preaching without a license.  Ordained in 1771 Craig became the pastor of a small Virginia church.  Unwilling to submit to obtaining a license, he was jailed several more times.

A contemporary wrote of his oratory:  "His preaching was of the most solemn style; his appearance as of a man who had just come from the dead; of a delicate habit, a thin visage, large eyes and mouth; the sweet melody of his voice, both in preaching and singing, bore all down before it."

Following the American Revolution Craig was politically active as the Baptist representative to the Virginia legislature, said to have worked with Patrick Henry and James Madison to protect religious freedom in Virginia and at the federal level.  The Church of England was “disestablished,” i.e., lost government financial support.  Baptist ideals of “separation of church and state” took hold.

Throughout this period while preaching and pastoring, Craig was engaged in agricultural activities, likely including distilling some of his corn crop into the “white lightning” early Americans called whiskey. Craig pulled up stakes in Orange County and led his congregation west to the newly formed “Kentucky County” in western Virginia.   There he purchased 1,000 acres of land where he planned and laid out a town, below, that came to be named “Georgetown,” honoring George Washington.  Kentucky County would achieve statehood in 1788.

As he entered middle age, Craig’s ability and apparent limitless energy came into full flower.  While continuing to serve as pastor to a Baptist congregation, in 1787 he established the first classical school in Kentucky and later donated the land for what became Georgetown College, the first Baptist college west of the Alleghenies, shown left. Craig was an early industrialist, in Georgetown building the state’s first textile plant, first rope manufactory, first lumber mill, first paper mill, and a gristmill.  Aware of the dangers posed by conflagrations and with a lot to lose, Craig also formed the town’s first fire department and became its chief.

About 1789, Craig took his place in whiskey history by building a distillery, making use of the cold stream of pure water coming from Georgetown’s Royal Spring, giving rise to the idea that he “invented” bourbon.  At the time, dozens of small farmer-distillers west of the Alleghenies were making whiskey from corn that some called “bourbon” to distinguish it from the rye whiskies coming from Pennsylvania and Maryland.  True bourbon, however, must be aged in charred barrels that impart color and flavor.

Several theories have been offered about how Craig created bourbon. One is that a barn fire charred the inside of some of the barrels he used for his whiskey. When aged in those charred oak barrels, the whiskey took on some of the color and flavor, giving it a more mellow, sweeter flavor.  Another is that, as a frugal pastor, Craig wanted to be able to reuse barrels that had previously stored fish and salt. In that story, he intentionally charred the inside of the oak barrels to remove the fish flavor before aging his whiskey within.  There is no proof for either theory.

Nonetheless the legend stands, repeated over and over.  Whiskey guru Michael Veach has a plausible suggestion of how the Elijah Craig story got started: “He was an early Kentucky preacher and he was a distiller, and that is why in the 1870s when the distilling industry was fighting the temperance movement, they decided to proclaim him the father of bourbon. They thought, well, let’s make a Baptist preacher the father of bourbon, and let the temperance people deal with that.”

Craig eventually owned more than 4,000 acres and enough slaves to cultivate it, and operated a retail store in Frankfort, Kentucky.  His whiskey does not seem to have had more than a local reputation and his other enterprises not always were successful.  When he died in Georgetown in 1808, The Kentucky Gazette eulogized Craig as follows: "He possessed a mind extremely active and, as his whole property was expended in attempts to carry his plans to execution, he consequently died poor. If virtue consists in being useful to our fellow citizens, perhaps there were few more virtuous men than Mr. Craig.”

Today Heaven Hill Distilleries in Bardstown, Kentucky, is happy to perpetuate the bourbon legend.  Elijah Craig bourbon whiskey is made in both 12-year-old "Small Batch" and 18-year-old "Single Barrel" bottlings. The latter is touted by the distillery as "The oldest Single Barrel Bourbon in the world at 18 years ….”  said to be aged in hand selected oak barrels that lose nearly 2⁄3 of their contents in the evaporation, known as the “Angel’s share.”  Needless to say the whiskey is pricey.

Notes:  A considerable number of sources were consulted for this post. Most important for details on Craig’s stance on religious freedom was an article in Wikipedia.  The drawing of Craig that opens this post is the only likeness of the preacher/distiller to be found.  It may or may not bear any resemblance to the original.  Finally, in my only visit to the Heaven Hill Distillery some years ago, the brand coming off the bottling and labeling line was “Elijah Craig.”  No one offered me a sample.

Friday, November 26, 2021

The Kreielsheimers' “Northwest Passage” to Prosperity


Immigrants from Germany, the Kreielsheimer brothers — Simon, Jacob and Max — early saw the American Northwest as fertile grounds for selling whiskey and cultivated a customer base that encompassed the State of Washington, Idaho and even north to Alaska.  Cited as equal to any found in the largest cities in America, through their pioneering liquor house the brothers achieved a remarkable run of 27 prosperous years.

Born into a Lutheran family in Offenburg, Baden-Wurtemberg, Germany, the brothers were the only offspring of Hannah and Lazarus Kreielsheimer.  The eldest was Simon, shown here, born in 1859, followed by Jacob in 1863 and Max in 1869.  In 1875, Simon, at 16 nearing draft age for the Prussian army, left his home for the United States, bringing with him his 12 year old brother, Jacob.  My assumption is that initially the pair lodged with relatives living in the vicinity of New York City.

By 1880, Simon, possibly drawn to California by gold strikes, was living in San Francisco and employed as a clerk for the E. Goslinsky Company, a tobacco importer and cigar manufacturer.  Meanwhile Jacob, having learned the upholstery trade, was working in and around New York.  Sometime in the mid decade, Goslinsky sent Simon to Seattle, then still part of the Territory of Washington — not yet admitted to the Union.

In Seattle the oldest Kreielsheimer saw an excellent opportunity for a quality liquor qnd wine wholesaler serving the Northeast and beyond.  Simon summoned his brothers to join him.  Chucking his  upholstery work, Jacob answered the call.  Just 18 and still in Germany, Max boarded the SS Imperator and headed for America.   Both arrived in 1887, the same year that the liquor house of Kreielsheimer Bros. was born.  At the outset Simon and Jacob were the executives.  Shown here in maturity,  Max initially was listed as a “clerk.”

Their first address was 323 Commercial Street but found their business growing so rapidly that within two years they had moved to larger quarters at 309-311 Commercial.  By 1895 those accommodations had proven too small and the brothers moved a final time to the newly constructed Hotaling Block at 209 First Avenue, occupying a four story building, 30 by 111 feet in size.  A photograph of their venue from around 1900 shows the highly decorated structure with a delivery wagon parked out front and a crowd of well-dressed men.  My assumption is that the Kreielsheimers are among them. 

Those quarters provided ample room for the Kreielsheimers to store an extensive stock of liquor, including nationally known brands.  They also engaged in a “rectifying” operation blending two proprietary whiskeys on site,  “Old Line Whiskey” and their flagship “Crown Diamonds Malt Whiskey.”  For their wholesale customers they were selling whiskey by the barrel as well as in embossed glass bottles, in clear and amber, bearing a company monogram.

The brothers also expanded their operations throughout the State of Washington and beyond to other parts of the Northwest, including Idaho and Alaska.  Below is a photograph of a band lined up in front of the Kreielsheimer Bros. headquarters in Juneau.  Additionally, the company maintained quarters in Room 507 of Spokane’s Fraternal Building,  48-50 First Street in San Francisco, and 912-916 Sycamore Street in Cincinnati.  This last office likely was devoted to purchasing and sending supplies of whiskey to Seattle from the many distillers and brokers in the Ohio city.  “The arrangement of the offices and the whole establishment is fully equal to any found in the largest cities in America,” boasted one Seattle publication.”

Another claim to whiskey fame derives from the unique, and relatively expensive, advertising items with which the brothers gifted their wholesale customers.  Worth attention is a metal tray with individual plates shaped like clam shells.  In the center is a barrel-like object with the inscription “Compliments of the Kreielsheimer Bros…Seattle U.S…1907.”  I believe this tray was meant to carry small bites of free food for the bar crowd.  The barrel held toothpicks used for spearing the delicacies.  The underside of the tray reveals round emblems advertising the brothers’ brands.  Note that one has been lost over time.

Still another Kreielsheimer giveaway item was a ladle dated 1906.  Like the tray this  item would have been given to upscale saloons, restaurants and hotels using the brothers’ brands.  The handle bears images of grapes, wheat and corn, indicating that the punch bowl for which it was intended might hold wine, rum or whiskey.  A monogram of the firm initials is the largest feature as well as the company name spelled vertically down the shaft.  This ladle also would have been a relatively expensive gift to customers.

For most of their company life the batchelor brothers not only worked together but lived together.  They also seemed to move frequently.  The 1890 Seattle  directory lists them rooming one year at Eureka House Hotel.  One author lists that residence among Seattle’s hotels that harbored brothels accommodating as many as twenty Japanese women.  After one year the Kreielsheimers had moved to other, possibly less lively, quarters.  The three found a permanent home in 1908 when the Arctic Club opened in Seattle’s posh Morrison Hotel.  This was a fraternal men’s club for businessmen with Klondike Gold Rush or other Alaska experience.  With their pioneering work to sell liquor in Juneau the Kreielsheimers were welcomed as members. They reciprocated by selling liquor in specially designed bottles for the club.

The year 1915 proved pivotal for the brothers.  In March 1915, Jacob died at the age of 51.   He was buried at the Hills of Eternity section of Seattle’s Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.  When Washington voters passed statewide prohibition, the majority of voters in Seattle had voted against it. The law went into effect in 1915;  Seattle was obliged to comply.  After 27 years of successful operation the two remaining Kreielsheimers were forced to shut down their wholesale liquor house. 

While continuing to maintain the name of their company as an investment firm, Simon and Max branched out into new enterprises.  Simon became president of the Kodiak Fisheries Co. and the Northeast Leather Company.  Max was secretary-treasurer of the latter.  In 1926 they both still lived at the Arctic Club.  In a surprise move, at the age of 57 Max got married.  His bride was Olivia Agnes Thornton, 45, a Seattle milliner, shown here.  She apparently had a previous marriage and a young son.  They exchanged vows in Nanaimo, British Columbia, just over the border from Washington State.

In December 1926, Simon, still a bachelor at 67, died and was interred next to Jacob. Max followed eleven years later and was buried adjacent to his brothers A monument marks the spot where the trio lay.  As they had bonded together in life they are join in their final resting place.  

Note:  This post was drawn from a number of sources.  Key among them were John Thomas’s 1998 “Whiskey Bottles and Liquor Containers from The State of Washington,”  Alfred D. Bowen’s 1900 “Seattle and the Orient” souvenir pamphlet, and genealogy sites.


Monday, November 22, 2021

Whiskey Men Targeted by Prohibitionists II


Foreword:  For most whiskey purveyors, Prohibition was a disembodied force attempting to wrest their livelihood from them.  A few, however, were made specific targets of “dry” adherents.  On November 14, 2017 this blog contained the story of four such whiskey men.  This post adds another three to the list of those for whom prohibitionist zealotry became “up close and personal.”

Henry Wheeler Gillett is recorded as a Kansas man of “firsts” in several accounts.  According to the Leavenworth Daily Commercial of Dec. 31, 1871:  “Mr. Gillett rectified the first barrel of whiskey ever taken through that process in Kansas….”  Later he was reported to be the very first liquor merchant in the state to be hauled into court in 1875 as a result of Prohibition pressures.

Kansas Temperance Meeting


A highly successful Leavenworth liquor dealer, Gillett was riding high in the wake of the Civil War, reputedly with annual sales in excess of $6 million in today’s dollar.  Even then the storm clouds of Prohibition were gathering over Kansas.  Shown here is one of dozens of “dry” town meetings, in a state that rapidly became a national center of attention for the Temperance Movement.  Angered by his prosperity, prohibitionist made Gillett their first target.

In 1875 after a Topeka resident named Haug placed an order for whiskey with him in Leavenworth, Henry was arrested under a law that forbid anyone from selling liquor “without taking out and having a license as grocer, dram shopkeeper, or tavern keeper.”  Gillett had no license in Topeka.  The Kansas Supreme Court reasoned, however, that the sale had taken place in Leavenworth and Gillett had a license there and ruled in his favor.  It was said to be the first instance of “drys” intruding into Kansas liquor affairs through the courts. 

Although Gillett won his case, the experience may have suggested to him the wisdom
 of an occupational change.  By 1877, he had taken on two partners. The following year his name was erased from the firm entirely, as he sold out to the pair. The company would prove to have a short remaining life span.  By 1880 Kansas voters had approved an amendment to the state constitution prohibiting all manufacture and sale of “intoxicating liquors.” The liquor house Gillett founded was forced to shut down.

When Dr. Wesley Peacock, Sr., left, looked out the front widow of his Peacock Military Academy, above, he could see his male students creeping off campus to destinations in downtown San Antonio, Texas.  The schoolmaster knew that some were headed to saloons like the popular one run by German immigrant August Limburger.   In Dr. Peacock’s mind a plot was forming.

Oblivious of the schoolmaster’s ruminations, Limburger, right, meanwhile was operating one of San Antonio’s more upscale drinking establishments.   His success in the liquor trade was indicated by a move he made in the late 1890s to a higher visibility location just off the city’s Main Plaza. This address also brought him closer to Dr. Peacock’s Academy and put his Metropolitan saloon in the “cross hairs” of the pedagog’s conspiratorial mind.  

The headmaster had noted a Texas law that required liquor dealers selling liquor to post a bond that carried penalties for selling to individuals under 21, habitual drunks, or “students of an institution of learning.”  The penalty for serving a student was a fine of $500, paid to the educational entity filing a complaint.  The $1,000 from two offenses was equal at that time to about $25,000 today.  Dr. Peacock must have cackled and clapped his hands thinking of the largesse.  He dispatched two of his students with cash to Limburger’s Metropolitan Bar.  They had doffed their cadet hats and uniforms and were in civilian clothes. Limburger himself was not on the premises to see his obliging bartenders serve each of the young men a beer.

The cadets returned to Dr. Peacock as expected and related their experience.  Then in modern parlance, the schoolmaster “dropped the dime,” hauling Limburger into Civil Court and demanding that he pay the $1,000 penalty.  The saloonkeeper’s attorneys countered that there was no way the bartender could identify the young men, dressed as they were, as belonging to Dr. Peacock’s institution.  The judge was sympathetic to the defense and instructed the jury to decide liability on the basis of whether Limburger or his employees reasonably could have known that the two young men were cadets.  The jury said “no” and Dr. Peacock went away empty handed. 

Located in York County, Pennsylvania, tiny Delta and its Auditorium Hotel had attracted the attention of the Anti-Saloon League — regrettably for Abe Trattner, liquor dealer and a co-owner of the hotel.  In the Spring of 1914, prohibitionists staged a large rally in Delta and submitted  a petition of 345 names, mostly from women, demanding that the Auditorium Hotel be denied a liquor license.  Subsequently three hundred protesters, abetted by the Anti-Saloon League, chartered a special train and filed into a York City courtroom to hammer home their point.

According to bystanders, Trattner was overheard talking to his attorney about how much the hotel would be worth if the court refused the liquor license.  His response was quoted as a curt, “Not a damn.”  Trattner’s expletive seemingly defined the stakes as the crowded courtroom was called to order in February 1915.

After several days of testimony, the judges rendered their decision, noting:  “If this were a mere question of majorities, we would, of course, be obliged to refuse this license, but the law does not permit the case to be decided on that ground alone.”  On the other side, they ruled, was the need to accommodate travelers by rail who regularly stopped overnight in Delta.  The only other hotel in town was dry, the court noted, and evidence existed that “…a large majority of the strangers and travelers stopping there prefer a licensed hotel, where liquors can be procured, to the temperance house.”  With that justification, the judges awarded the Ambassador Hotel an extension of its liquor license.

The Anti-Saloon League was outraged.  Its national American Issue magazine trashed the Ambassador Hotel as “an old frame shell” without any substantial value if it was denied alcohol sales and suggested that financial interests and political influence had leveraged the decision.  No matter, its effect was relatively short-lived.  Although the Anti-Saloon League had been bested in Delta, five years later it triumphed when National Prohibition was enacted.  Trattner’s Ambassador Hotel went dry. 

Note:  More complete vignettes on each of these targeted whiskey men may be found elsewhere on this blog.  Henry W. Gillett, October 20, 2016;  August Limburger, December 27, 2020; and Abe Trattner, November 13, 2018.