Sunday, August 29, 2021

The 900th Post — J.J. O’Connor, Model Whiskey Man

 

This is the milestone 900th post of this Pro-Prohibition Whiskey Men blog.  With the exception of the introductory post on April 6, 2011, each has featured men and a few women who prior to 1920 were distillers, merchants, saloonkeepers and others with close association to American whiskey.  


From modest beginnings, this website now has had more than 1,160,000 views from all over the world.  The blog also has received some 2,150 comments, to most of which I have responded.  Many have assisted me in correcting or enhancing an original post.  The site now has 329 “followers,” to whom I am  grateful for their continuing interest.  


When I began in 2011, I projected a post every couple of weeks.  As the stories multiplied I  soon began adding a new vignette every four days, a practice suggested by the continuing flow of good “whiskey men” yarns.  That flow has encouraged me to attempt to aim for 1,000 posts by 2023.


At 86 years old, it is hard to look beyond that goal.  My plan is to will the entire body of material to the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors for the digital library connected to its online FOHBC Virtual Museum of Historical Bottles and Glass (https://www.fohbc.org › virtual-museum).  That way the research represented here can be preserved for the future.


For this 900th post I have chosen the story of Jeremiah Joseph O’Connor of Elmira, New York.  Although his story may lack the drama of other whiskey men’s lives,  O’Connor epitomizes those individuals who immigrated to the United States, found a career in the liquor trade and went on to help build their communities — and by doing so, America.  O’Connor was, in other words, a model whiskey man.

*****

 J.J. “Jerry” O’Connor, shown here, was born in Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland, on Christmas Day, 1844, the son of Denis and Mary Reardon O’Connor.  Born during the Irish Famine and British suppression his early days may have been ones of poverty.  In 1850, at the age of three, his parents emigrated from Ireland to Canada where Jerry grew up and was educated.  At age 19, the youth is recorded moving from Whitby, Ontario, to Elmira, New York.


Intelligent and ambitious, O’Conner’s early career included teaching in a Catholic grade school, eventually being raised to principal.  His reputed talent as a educator brought him to the attention of the upwardly mobile Irish-American community and other residents.  He also found a bride in Elmira, wedding Mary Purcell, a woman of Irish immigrant parents, shown here in middle age.   At the time of their 1871 nuptials, according to census data, Jerry was 27 and Mary was 17.  Over the next 17 years the couple would have eight children, all of whom seem to have lived to maturity.


Perhaps it was the demands of his growing family that spurred O’Connor to leave a career in education and by the early 1870s join an older brother, Dennis, in a liquor business they called O’Connor Brothers, located at 108 Water Street.  As an active and articulate Democrat, Jerry also came to the attention of City Hall.  When the position of “city chamberlain” was created in 1876, O’Connor was the first appointee.  The chamberlain was Elmira’s chief fiscal officer, custodian of all city funds and responsible for general accounting functions.  O’Connor proved an inspired choice.  As the initial holder of the office it fell to him to devise systems for accounts payable, payroll, budget monitoring, investing city funds, financial reporting, and collection of real estate taxes.  Accord to a biographer, O’Connor “put the financial system in shape” and his methods were maintained long after he left the post in 1879.


That move almost certainly was occasioned by the sickness and death of his brother, Dennis in February 1879.  Now Jerry had full responsibility for the liquor house.  In time he changed the name to “Jeremiah J. O’Connor - Wholesale Liquor and Wine.”  To customers like saloons, restaurant and hotels, he was providing whiskey obtained by the barrel, decanted on premises and sold in ceramic jugs.  His early containers, obtained from the W. Farrington pottery of Elmira, were graced by attractive decoration, as below.  In time, he moved to more utilitarian jugs, as shown below.



Like many whiskey wholesalers O’Connor marketed his own proprietary brand of whiskey, called “Walton.”  This liquor would have been supplied to him by a nearby distillery to a recipe he dictated or, more likely, blended on his premises.  A practice in the trade was to reward special customers with items such as shot glasses advertising such house brands.  O’Connor’s giveaway was particularly stylish.  As business flourished he relocated to larger quarters at 414-416 Carroll Street.


In the meantime O’Connor’s ability and accomplishments had advanced him to major roles in the Democratic Party.  Following an appointment to the Elmira Board of Heath for two years, he was put forward as the Democratic candidate for the New York General Assembly in 1883.  He won and served two terms, during which his talent as “a public speaker of no mean ability” brought him notice.  At the 1885 state Democrtic convention, O’Connor was chosen to place the party candidate for governor in nomination, a singular tribute to his eloquence.



Much of this whiskey man’s attention was directed toward the Ireland of his heritage, primarily through his role in the U.S. chapter of the Irish Land League, an organization to protect Irish farmers from capricious evictions by British landlords.  Through peaceful means the League sought to establish “three F’s”: fair rent, fixity of tenure, and free sale of the right of occupancy.  O’Connor was a member of the U.S. Executive Committee, and its treasurer who raised the equivalent in today’s dollar of over $400,000 for the poor in Ireland.



O’Connor’s growing wealth from liquor sales also allowed him to make outside investments.  In 1885 he was among the Elmira businessmen who founded the Elmira Daily Free Press, a newspaper that survived for 22 years before being merged with another publication.  He also was president of the Grand Forks North Dakota Land and Investment Co.  Thousands of settlers had been attracted to the Dakota Territory in the 1870s and 1880s for its cheap land. Companies like O’Connor’s helped settlers established small family farms.


Financial interests increasingly called O’Connor to New York City.  There in 1910, he fell down the steps of a Manhattan subway and was severely injured.  When the damage proved permanently disabling, he directed the 1912 incorporation of the Jeremiah J. O’Connor liquor company.  As directors he appointed his wife Mary and one of his sons, 23-year-old Charles Borromeo O’Connor.   Aware that his injuries might lead to complete incapacity or death, Jerry wisely had looked to the future.  It was not long in coming.  He died on November 23, 1913, at the age of 68 and was buried in Elmira’s St. Peter and Paul Cemetery.  His headstone is shown here.



O’Connor’s death merited front page headlines in the Free Press and other Elmira publications.  Hailed as a “notable Elmiran,” his obituaries celebrated the life of an immigrant who had contributed significantly to the development of the city.  His liquor house continued on after his death with the widowed Mary as vice president and treasurer, Charles as secretary, and a non-family member as manager.  After 1917 the O’Connor liquor house disappeared from Elmira directories.


Note:  The major source of this post were from an internet copy of the book, “A History of the Valley and County of Chemung,” by Ausburn Towner, dated 1892. Brief quoted material is from that history.  That resource was supplemented by Elmira newspaper stories and genealogical websites.


































Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Otto Karstendiek: His Tale from the Tomb

 Fans of the movie version of Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire” will recognize at right the New Orleans above-ground tomb of her blood-sucking hero, Lestat.  When visiting Lafayette Cemetery #1, tourists often seek out the cast-iron crypt and wonder who actually is interred there.  It is Otto Henry Karstendieck, a liquor dealer whose life, like Lestat’s, contained more than sufficient horror, death and deception to make his tale worth telling.  Otto’s story, in contrast to Rice’s, is non-fiction.

Otto was born on April 21, 1823, in Bremen, Germany, the son of Heinrich and Anna Metta Karstendiek.  Of his early life and education the record is blank, as well as is the exact date of his coming to America, apparently around 1850.   What propelled him to New Orleans similarly is obscure.  The first public record I can find is 1856 when he was 33 years old and New Orleans was a booming city, shown below.  In May of that year Otto married Delia Cecelia Salomon, whose claim to fame was being the sister of the first “Rex” of the Mardi Gras parade. Over the next eight years the couple would have five children, two daughters and three sons.



Meanwhile Otto was demonstrating his abilities as a liquor and wine dealer, claiming his liquor house origin as 1850.  From his Tchoupoulas Street headquarters in uptown New Orleans close to the Mississippi River, as early as 1853 he was advertising in a wide area beyond Louisiana.  A Galveston newspaper ad declared Karstendiek & Company an importer of European brandies and wines as well as “Dealers in all kinds of domestic liquors….”  By the end of the decade Otto was doing business from two warehouses, each four stories high, a block long and filled with liquor.


On Saturday, October 13, 1860, tragedy struck.  About 8 p.m. a large fire of undetermined origin broke out in one Karstendiek warehouse.  Soon the structure was engulfed in flames from the ground floor to the roof, imperiling the second warehouse.  When the fire reached the top floor where considerable liquor was stored, a tremendous explosion occurred, destroying both warehouses and spreading the fire to adjoining structures. 


The New Orleans Picayune reported:  “No battlefield, no steamboat explosion could  exceed the horror of the scene.  There under the enormous mass of smoking ruins, thirty or forty men lay buried.”  Chief among them were members of New Orleans volunteer fire companies that had responded to the alarm and were pour water on the first warehouse.  The paper listed names and units of men pulled dead, dying or injured in the explosion.  Among those who barely escaped was the New Orleans chief of police.  Rescue efforts were hampered by the intense heat of the fire.  “Many, many more remained buried under the ruins,as we left the scene.  Two had been heard to speak, but could not be reached and, horrible to relate, they stated that the fire was burning the timbers underneath, and gaining upon them,” the newspaper reported.


Otto does not seem to have been on the premises when the fire occurred.  While he sustained the loss of his buildings and some stock, quantities of the whiskey he was storing reputedly were owned by second parties.  Although I can find no information on the total death count or monetary loss the latter would be the equivalent today of millions.



It is likely that among the dead and injured were Karstendiek & Co. employeeswhose deaths Otto would have mourned as he attempted to collect on his insurance and rebuild his business at a new location on Tchoupoulas Street.   He continued to advertise widely as:  “Dealers in Old Bourbon, Rye. Monogahela. Tennessee white, Roblnson county, White Wheat, and common whiskey.” 


The advent of the Civil War proved a boon to Otto.  Although initially revenues in the city fell with Union occupation, a “welfare state” was created by federal authorities to alleviate “the deplorable state of destitution and hunger of the mechanics and working classes of the city.”  It was paid for by a special tax on the wealthy and businesses. Revenues allowed the military government to employ 2,000 men daily to clean up the city.  The levy also generated relief payments to 11,000 families, most of whom were Irish and German. Moreover, Union forces in New Orleans and vicinity grew to 17,800.  The customer base for Otto’s liquor swelled.


The end of the Civil War brought a double setback.  After the birth of their fifth child, the health of Otto’s wife Delia declined and after just nine years of marriage in November 1865 she died at the age of 29.   Her husband was left with the sole care of five children, the oldest nine, the youngest a toddler.  Five years later Otto remarried.  His new spouse was Ella Lavernia Stoddard from Albany, New York.  They would have one son.


The second blow was the reduced revenues Otto was facing in New Orleans during Reconstruction.  Gone were the subsidies for workers and the payroll of a large standing army.  The customer base for Karstendiek & Company dwindled sharply.  Otto decided to “go to the dark side.”  He joined in what came to be known as “The Whiskey Ring,”  a massive scheme to cheat the federal government of millions of dollars in liquor revenues.  Hatched in 1871 by a top Grant Administration revenue official in St. Louis, the conspiracy had its tentacles in Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and stretched south to New Orleans.


There President Grant had appointed his wife’s brother-in -law, Col. James B. Case, as collector of customs for the port.  Casey was quick to see the ease and financial possibilities of skimming off illicit cash from liquor taxes.  He recruited a handful of New Orleans distillers and liquor dealers to assist him in the scheme.  Among them was Otto Karstendiek.


In addition to selling whiskey and other alcoholic products at wholesale and retail, 

Otto was a “rectifier,”  that is, someone blending raw whiskeys on his premises in order to achieve a specific color, smoothness and taste.  Because the blending added value to the product, rectifiers were required to keep detailed records and were taxed on the amount of product blended.  By variety of mean, from corrupt federal “gaugers” who falsified production or the use of fraudulent revenue stamps, the U.S. Treasury was cheated out of millions.


The Whiskey Ring came to abrupt halt on May 10, 1875, when U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Benjamin Bristow, working without the knowledge of President Grant, broke up the tightly connected and politically powerful cabal. He used secret agents from outside the Treasury Department to conduct a series of raids across the country on May 10, 1875.  Among those arrested was Otto Karstendiek.



Otto and his co-conspirators did not come to trial until almost a full year after the raid.  In the interim the German whiskey man had suffered another heartbreaking loss.  Ella, his wife of just four years, died in September 1875, leaving him with a sixth motherless child.  At his trial in the U.S. Circuit for the District of Louisiana in May 1875,  Otto and five of his co-conspirators were found guilty and sentenced. James Casey was not among them.  The prisoners were fined from $1,000 to $6,000 and sentenced to prison variably from six to sixteen months.  Otto was assessed $1000 and maximum prison time.


  

All six were sent to the State Penitentiary at Moundsville, West Virginia, shown here, more than 1,000 miles from Otto’s New Orleans home. He must have been anguished at serving time so far from his children, now to be looked after by others.  Although his liquor house was shut briefly as the result of his folly, Otto still had resources.  While serving time at Moundsville, he hired a lawyer and thus was born a case before the U.S. Supreme Court at its 1876 October term, entitled “Ex Parte Karstendiek.”


His lawyer argued that the decision to send Otto and the others out of Louisiana was not authorized by law and should be voided.  The U.S. Solicitor General countered that when no suitable prison facilities could be found in the state where the felony occurred, the government was justified in sending prisoners elsewhere.  With Chief Justice Morrison Waite, right, writing the decision, the high court concluded that:  “So long as the State [West Virginia] permits him to remain in its prison as the prisoner of the United States, and does not object to his detention by its officers, he is rightfully detained on custody under a sentence lawfully passed.”  Otto spent his 16 months a long way from his family.


Judge Waite had not seen the last of Otto Karstendiek.  In 1877 the whiskey man, now free, was back before the Supreme Court.  This time he was objecting to the seizure of his liquor stocks and their forfeiture to the federal government. In a case entitled “United States v. Two Hundred Barrels of Whiskey,” Otto demanded that the liquor be returned to him.  His lawyer spun a convoluted argument about conflicting federal rules that required immediate release of the whiskey.  Once again Waite wrote the opinion.  Lower federal courts had upheld such forfeitures. The Supreme Court affirmed them.  Otto went home without his 200 barrels.


Unlike other liquor houses whose owners were implicated in the Whiskey Ring, Otto’s business did not disappear.  While his father was incarcerated, his eldest son, Henry S. Karstendiek, shown here, took over running what remained of his father’s business.  The name was changed to “O.H. Karstendiek Son Company.”   Otto’s brother John also began clerking in the establishment that remained on Tchoupoulas Street.  Henry, along with younger members of the family, continued living with their disgraced father. The last directory entry for the Karstendiek liquor house was 1879.  In the 1880 census Otto gave his occupation as “grocer.” 


Otto died on April 21, 1883, quite unusually exactly 60 years to the day of his birth. His funeral was private, conducted at John’s home with only friends of the family invited to attend.  Then the deceased was taken to the site of the cast iron crypt in Lafayette Cemetery #1, said to have been brought from Germany by Otto after a visit to the Continent. 


 


One of only sixteen iron “houses of the dead,” in all New Orleans and a tourist attraction because of Anne Rice’s vampire novels, the structure in 2016 badly needed repairs estimated at from $50,000 to $70,000.  A fundraiser featured people in costumes and a visit by two of Otto’s descendants from Texas.   They told a reporter they had no idea who actually was buried inside and hoped the restoration would reveal some answers.  When the work began we can assume that, unlike Rice’s Lestat, Otto Karstendiek did not come walking out.


Notes:  This post was prompted from seeing a Karstendiek letterhead on a note written in German to the manager of the Menger Hotel in New Orleans not long after the Civil War. The oddness of the piece, on sale on eBay, caused me to do some research on Otto.  It led me to the tragic fire, the Whiskey Ring, and other events in this whiskey man’s life.  This story emerged.


























Friday, August 20, 2021

Boston’s John Fennell: “Prohibition’s First Victim”

On May 29, 1919, seven months and and one day before the imposition of National Prohibition on America, the Boston Globe informed it readers:  “Prohibition claims its first victim in Boston today when John Fennell will lock up for all time his long famed wine shop.”  The newspaper quoted Fennell opining:   “Prohibition is coming and you can’t stop it.  It’s coming like a great wave headed for the bow of a ship and its going to break soon.  But it’s going to miss me.”   Was there something untold behind Fennell’s bravado?  The Globe hinted as much.


If Fennell was telling the truth, he was considerably more prescient than most of his fellow whiskey dealers around the country.  In most locales going dry, the liquor houses and saloons hung on until the clock chimed midnight on their trade.  Some had “fire sales” at the end, steeply discounting their bottles and jugs.  Others were left with large supplies of whiskey, always in danger of confiscation by authorities and destroyed.  Those stashes might be sent abroad, buried in the cellar or sold under the counter.  


Fennell by his forethought seemingly escaped those problematic consequences.But had he?  He boasted about register sales of $200,000 in the past several weeks, equivalent to $3.16 million in today’s dollar, saying: “Six weeks ago I said to myself l could never unload my stock by this time.  But here I am cleaned out.  Not a bottle in the shop.”    Yet the Globe reporter clearly had doubts.  He noted that some jugs, bottles and “ambrosial liquids” were still visible. “Are the bugs loading up?”  he speculated.  Was this claim just Irish “blarney”?


Fennell was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1853, according to naturalization records, a date that is confirmed on his gravestone.  Arriving in North America in his 20s,  the immigrant’s initial destination appears to have been St. John’s, British Columbia. There he went to work for a wholesale liquor and beer dealer named Thomas Furlong, who also appears to have been his brother-in-law.  Fennell would work for Furlong for a dozen years learning the liquor trade in Canada.  Although I cannot find a photo, a passport described the Irishman standing 5 feet, 6.5 inches tall, with gray eyes, brown hair and tawny skin.


Established in business as early as 1862, Furlong appears to have run a successful enterprise.  His flagship brand was “Furlong’s Irish Malt Whiskey.”  He advertised it as “celebrated Dublin malt whiskey,” claiming that it rivaled the finest cognac brands:  “It has been stored five years in Sherry Casks, and is highly recommended for Medical and other purposes being mellowed with age, PERFECTLY PURE, and free from those heating qualities usually found in other whiskeys.”   Apparently this tipple was not meant for frigid Canadian nights.


Fennell’s familial relationship to Furlong may explain why the Canadian trusted to sent him in March 1879 to open a satellite store in Boston, 1,200 miles from St. John.  The Globe recorded his arrival with this notice:  “MR. THOMAS FURLONG,” the well known wine merchant of St. John, N. B., has opened a branch of his establishment at 161 Devonshire Street and 22 Arch Street, under the management of Mr. John Fennell, who has been with Mr. Furlong for twelve years, and in whom he reposes every confidence….Mr. Furlong has had experience of twenty-five years in the wine trade, and his selections can be relied upon as of the very best.”


Such a warm welcome from Boston’s currently oldest and largest newspaper loses some of its luster when it is understood that in its early years the Globe largely was controlled by Irish Catholic interests.  Moreover, Fennell reciprocated the favor two week later, and often thereafter, with Globe ads for Furlong’s Irish Malt and other alcoholic products.



A quick reading of those ads might leave the impression that the liquor house had two stores.  Fennell listed two addresses, 177 Devonshire and 38 Arch Steet, that actually described one building.  The liquor store encompassed two rooms, one at ground level where sales took place and a cellar used to store liquor and beer with elevator access.  A drawing shows a busy mercantile area with businesses ranging from insurance agents to a telegraph company.  Although the street address changed slightly over time Fennell remained at that location for 33 years.


Upon first arriving in Boston Fennell, still a bachelor, found lodging in an Irish-run boarding house on Oak Street.  Two years later he reached back to British Columbia to find a bride.  She was Mary E. Quinn, at 25 three years younger than John.  She had been born in Canada of Irish immigrant parents.  John and Mary would have only one child, a son, Frederic J., who died at three years old,  a source of heartache in the couple’s lives.


Fennell showed a particular talent for advertising his products in Boston area publications.  Here is an example:  “PURE WHISKIES – that are stored in sherry wine casks have a mellowness not found in other whiskies, and being honestly aged are free from those heating qualities usually found in so called old goods. Buying all whiskies from the distillery direct, I can sell fine goods from $8 a dozen up to the celebrated O.F.R., costing $30, and ordinary and special, in wood from $8 to $10 per gallon.”    Fennell also boasted of his brandies “selected from the leading houses of Cognac” and of personally selecting fine wines during his visits to the wine-producing districts of Europe. He also advertised an imported English ale.



Fennell sold his products in bottles blown in a three piece mold, both in amber and green glass.  Shown above are two examples of his quart glass containers, both bearing his name and “Boston.”  These bottles also carry “O.G.R.” on the base, a mark that normally denotes the glasshouse that made the bottle.  In this case it does not.  As shown here in an ad, the initials stand for O. Gordon Rankine, a Boston glassware dealer and jobber who was receiving his bottles from factories in Baltimore and Philadelphia.  Rankine apparently insisted on adding his own mark.


Although the original paper labels are missing from the great majority of Fennell's bottles,  a label for his “Medford Rum” recently has come to light.  It is elaborately designed with accents of palm branches and flowers, a trade mark of a black bird rampant on a shield, and most interesting of all, two winged angels.  These cherubs are known by the Italian word, “putto” and more usually identified with beer. 


 


After 14 years of Furlong’s ownership, the Canadian turned over the liquor house to Fennell.  The change was noted in the October 17, 1886, issue of the Globe.  The new owner wrote:  “I have, therefore, the pleasure of announcing that I have opened at the old stand, and that in the future the business will be conducted as heretofore, but in my name solely…. I am in the position to give my customers, as in the past, the same pure and reliable goods at reasonable prices.”



He and Mary also moved into new lodging, renting a house at 33 Monandock Street, an unusual structure divided through the middle into two single-family attached homes and yards, shown here.   The 1900 federal census found the couple living there along with Mary’s sister, Kate Quinn.  That same year Mary died and was buried in St. Joseph Cemetery, West Roxbury.


The 1910 census found Fennell at a new home address.  Living with him and keeping house was his unmarried sister, Mary; a niece Helen, and a female servant. During this period Fennell was traveling frequently to Continental Europe, the British Isles, and Latin America.  A prime destination was Cuba with its rum factories.  One of the ships on which Fennell traveled, the S.S. Banan, a banana boat, is shown here loading cargo in Cuba.  


On a ship bound for England to see relatives in 1828 Fennell became seriously ill, seemed to recover after landing, suffered a relapse and died. He was 75 years old.  His body was returned to Massachusetts where he was buried next to Mary and Frederic.  Despite the Globe reporter’s apparent skepticism about Fennell’s account of his closing, no evidence ever came to light that the Irish whiskey man was fibbing about having sold all his liquor months before the National Prohibition axe fell.  


Note:  This post was occasioned by the recent find of the “Medford Rum” bottle by collector Peter Samuelson of New Hampshire.  It encouraged me to research information on Fennell.  Fortunately an internet blog entitled “Mike’s Glass Bottle Collection and History” (https://baybottles.com)  provided a wealth of material on Fennell, including Boston Globe articles and two Fennell ads. 
































 

























Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Whiskey Men and Their Pig Bottles

Foreword:  Is drinking from the hind end of a pig a particularly enjoyable way of swallowing whiskey?   A good number of pre-Prohibition distillers and liquor dealers must have thought so.  More than a few provided swigs from swine-figured bottles of glass and ceramic.  Featured here are three whiskey outfits that were particularly notable for their porkers.


The Amann Brothers of Cincinnati employed their pig flasks they for their “Berkshire Bitters,” the name of a famous breed of swine.  The Amann family originated in Europe, the exact place variously given as France or Germany.  Daniel was the firstborn in 1822, followed 13 years later by the birth of Anthony.  In 1839 their father uprooted the family to the United States, settling in Cincinnati.  There a third brother, Edmund, was born.  


Educated in local schools, the brothers appear early to have gone to work in the burgeoning local distilling and whiskey merchandising industry.   Advertising themselves as wholesale liquor dealers, the Amanns conducted a major rectifying — whiskey blending — operation.  One of their prime sellers was the highly alcoholic “Berkshire Bitters.”



 According to a relative, the recipe for that elixir came from the wife of a close friend of Edmund Amann. “Grandmother Harriet Conway McRoberts had a recipe for bitters that William [McRoberts] gave to the Amann brothers as he was on the decline.  They put that bitters recipe in little pig bottles.”   Today these porkers avidly are sought by collectors who care little about the swigs of bitters they once contained or granny’s recipe.



Like many rectifiers, Amann Bros. needed a consistently available supply of “raw” whiskey for their products in order to thrive.  This was a continuing problem, one exacerbated by the advent of various whiskey “trusts” that hiked prices on spirits available to rectifiers.  The brothers began to look for a distillery they could buy.

In 1890 they found one.  Initially known as the Almond Distillery it was located about 100 miles directly south of Cincinnati in Jessamine County, Kentucky.  They paid $10,000 for the property, a relative bargain likely related to the plant being located on low ground and subject to periodic flooding.  The photo indicates the extent of the facility.



Before the Amann’s bought the distillery it had the mashing capacity 200 bushels a day and capacity to store about 7,700 barrels for aging.  The brothers promptly increased the mashing capacity to 300 bushel per day and over time increased warehouse capacity to 13,500 barrels.  Most of this production was shipped to the Amanns for rectifying and bottling;  the rest was sold to other wholesalers and rectifiers.  From all indications, the Amanns, now assured of a steady supply of product,  were thriving during the 1880s.  By the beginning of the 20th Century, however,  two of the brothers had died and in 1903, Edmund sold the distillery and shut down the company.  The pigs remain as a reminder of the Amanns.


Festooned with patriotic red, white, and blue bunting from top to bottom,  the Star Saloon appeared in a photograph bedecked for the 1911 inauguration in Frankfort of the incoming Governor of Kentucky, James McCray.  Located at 222 St. Clair Street between Main and Broadway, the Star had long since become a favorite “watering hole” for the political and business elites of the state capital. Its amiable proprietor, Joseph Schroff, was a familiar local personality.


The success of a saloon was largely dependent on the personality of the owner.  A genial proprietor with a memory for faces and names, quick with a welcoming word, a keen sense of hospitality, perhaps something of a colorful personality, and above all, a generous spirit, could be assured of attracting a clientele.  On the last point, Schroff excelled.


His tradition of gifting customers across the bar with small ceramic bottles of whiskey was not unusual for the era.  Many publicans were accustomed to handing out mini-jugs and bottles that advertised their drinking establishments, each with several swallows of liquor inside.  Schroff went a step further by giving away bottles of unusual interest, containers shaped like pigs.




Schroff’s hogs were distinctive for their personality.  Note the pig bottle above, one that carries Schroff’s name, Star Saloon, and his address.  Upon further examination the porker exhibits its individuality by its flattened ears, distinctive nose and circular eyes.  Its backside, with curled tail and large drinking hole add to its distinctiveness.


That pig looks quite different from another Schroff giveaway pig, one with the leaner look of an Ozarks hog.  This ceramic bottle has well-defined ears, a long snout and wide nostrils, and most distinctive of all two splashes of cobalt for eyes. Rather than just a hole from which to quaff the contents, its tail forms a clear neck for drinking purposes.




Regrettably, Schroff’s time was limited at the Star Saloon.  He died in August 1896 in Frankfort, only 43 years old.  He left a widow with seven children to raise, the oldest sixteen, the youngest, one.


For more than a half-century one family 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 George Bieler Sons Company.  The family motto was “Pull Together.”


Blenders of whiskey not distillers,  the Bieler boys heavily  merchandised their flagship whiskey, 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.  



Like their Cincinnati competitors,  the Bielers provided an array of giveaway items to saloons and other favored customers.  My favorite Bieler giveaways are their pig bottles.  Among them is 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 item fetched $778 at auction.  Another Bieler hog bears a splotchy brown coat and the brand name on a rear haunch.




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 smaller quarters that same year, probably to maintain their mail order business, but terminated altogether in 1918.


The pig figural bottles displayed here today is over 100 years old and considered antique. They — and those like them — are avidly sought.  A least one collector has created what he calls his “pig pen” to display his fabulous group of ceramic and glass porkers.  Originating as giveaway items by the Amanns, Bielers and Schroff, each of the bottles shown here now fetches from hundreds of dollars to over $1,000.  


Note:  Each of the whiskey men cited here has been the subject of a previous post on this blog:   The Amanns, May 6, 2017;  Joseph Schroff, August 29, 2020, and The Bielers, May 27, 2013.