Thursday, October 28, 2021

George Thorpe: Whiskey and Death in Virginia


A corn liquor distilled in central Virginia about 1620 has been cited as the first whiskey ever made in North America and hailed as “a predecessor to modern-day bourbon.”  The distiller was George Thorpe, who came to the New World from England with the major objective of converting the indigenous population to Christianity.  It cost him his life. 

From a wealthy and landed family, George was born in 1576 at Wanswell Court, the family estate in Gloustershire, England, the eldest son of Nicholas and Mary Wilkes Thorpe.  He received university training in law and according to some accounts may also have been an ordained priest of the Anglican church. Later Thorpe served as a justice of the peace and was chosen to represent Portsmouth in a short session of the British parliament, known as “The Addled Parliament.”  At the age of 24 in 1600 Thorpe married Margaret Porter, who died childless a decade later.  He soon remarried Margaret Harris who birthed five children, at least two of whom lived to maturity.

A “gentleman of the king’s privy chamber,” success in England seemingly meant little to Thorpe.  Instead he had his mind and heart fixed on events across the Atlantic.  Says one biographer:  “He was related both in blood and marriage with some of the distinguished men of the Jamestown colony….He was a man of strong religious feeling  and became greatly interested in the problem of the savages with which his countrymen were newly coming into contact in the new world.”  Selling his English lands and investing in a Virginia settlement, Thorpe arrived in The New World in March 1620. 


Upon Thorpe’s coming his contacts and reputation earned him immediate recognition at the Berkeley Hundred, a settlement on the north bank of the James River founded in 1619 on land allotted by the king.  He was made a co-leader of the Berkeley Plantation and named to the Governor’s Council of Virginia.  Thorpe also was given another post that would prove problematic.  Enthusiasm ran high in England for bringing advanced learning to the colonies through a “college” and for providing “Christianizing” education for American Indians.  King James had authorized English bishops and clergy to raise significant amounts of money to be used for that purpose.  Given Thorpe’s passion for converting the native population, he was put in charge of the project.


More immediately, however, the newly arrived Englishman put his efforts toward making Berkeley function agriculturally.  Thorpe threw his energies into farming, at one point planting a large vineyard that failed to prosper.  The colonists having been introduced to corn by the Indians, he looked to make that crop potable.  Because safe drinking water was at a premium, the colonists, both adults and children, drank beer, cider and a form of strong drink known as “aqua vitae.”   Fifteen gallons of such spirits that had accompanied Thorpe from England soon was exhausted,  but colonists providently also had brought a copper still.  The Englishman set about to turn corn into alcohol.  In December 1620 Thorpe wrote a friend:  “Wee have found a waie to make soe good drink of Indian corn I have divers times refused to drink good stronge English beare and chose to drinke that.”   Those spirits would have been clear in color and more akin to “moonshine” or “white lightening”  than contemporary whiskey. 


Providing strong drink to his fellow colonists probably was secondary to Thorpe.  He had been charged with creating the educational campus, including an Indian school, adjacent to the settlement.  Highly motivated to befriend Native Americans and convert them to Christianity, Thorpe gave this objective his utmost attention.  In letters he regretted that his fellow colonists had treated the Indians so shabbily “they beinge (espetiallye the better sort of them) of a peaceful and vertuous disposition.”


Thorpe seemed to score an early success when one of the leaders of the Powhatan tribe named Opechancanough (meaning “Soul of White”) agreed to meet with him.  The Indian chief seemed welcoming and open to being converted to Christianity.  Encouraged, Thorpe with his own money arranged to have the colonists build him “a faire house after the English fashion.”  Opechanacough accepted the gift and Thorpe left believing that significant progress had been made in establishing a cooperative relationship.  The chief is shown below as he was depicted then and again more recently.



Opechancanough, far from conversion, was the most rabid tribal leader for expelling white men from Indian territory. He is shown above as imagined by artists in both the 17th and 21st Centuries.  Thorpe may have further exacerbated the situation by explaining his intention to remove Indian children for education and conversion at the proposed school, a plan that may have inflamed the chief’s personal animosity toward the Englishman.  Even as they spoke, Opechancanough was planning to wipe out the colonists at the Berkeley Hundred and elsewhere in Virginia.


On the night of March 22, 1622, the Indians struck in a coordinated attack against English settlements along the James River.  As shown above, they breached stockade fences surrounding the settlements, setting the buildings on fire, or arrived by water in war canoes to surprise a completely unprepared populace.  As the inhabitants ran for safety they were cut down by tribesmen bearing axes and other weapons.  The attacks killed some 347 men, women, and children, including 27 at the Berkeley Hundred.  Among them was George Thorpe, apparently the object of particular fury, his mutilated body parts found strewn widely over the bloody ground.



When word of the massacre was received back in England, it generated a flurry of imagined depictions, as above, stirring hatred against the indigenous population.  In a report to the king, Thorpe’s good intentions toward the Indians were emphasized:   “He thought nothing too deare for them…All was little regarded after by this Viperous brood.”  Thorpe emerged a Christian hero betrayed by a treacherous people.  Unsuccessful in his efforts to drive the English out, Opechancanough was captured in 1846 and shot in the back by a soldier as he was being paraded as a prisoner through Jamestown.


Anointing Thorpe as America’s first distiller seems reasonable, since he apparently was the first to write about it.  Whether his product is to be considered the forerunner of modern day whiskey requires examination.  Author Patrick Evans-Hylton makes the case that Thorpe’s “corn beer” was a predecessor of bourbon.  He cites an 1634 inventory of Thorpe’s estate in which a copper still with three small barrels of liquor were found, opened and drunk.  At that point the contents had aged at least 12 years and likely had achieved some color from the wood.  No longer just “moonshine,” Thorpe’s spirits might have resembled bourbon even if the taste did not.



Notes:  This post was occasioned by an interesting new book by Evans-Hylton, entitled “Virginia Distilled:  Four Hundred Years of Drinking in the Old Dominion,” The History Press, Charleston S.C., 2021.  It spurred me to research a number of Internet and printed sources on Thorpe’s life and death, a story previously unknown to me, despite my being a resident of Virginia since 1964.
























Sunday, October 24, 2021

Thomas Sherley — Distiller with a Heart and a Hand

 

“When you give to the needy do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”  -- Mathew 6:3.


Although today Thomas H. Sherley, shown here, lacks the attention paid to other 19th Century Kentucky “bourbon barons.” his record of public service and most particularly his charitable endeavors eclipsed most if not all of them.  At his death, the Louisville Courier Journal of November 30, 1898, in an extensive obituary related some of the philanthropy Sherley had performed during his lifetime.


The newspaper recounted how Sherley had raised a fund to assist the victims of the Louisville Great Cyclone of 1890 that killed 76 people, injured some 200, and devastated much of the city’s downtown, inflicting the equivalent today of more than $86 million in damages.   Sherley organized a fund for the victims of the calamity that aided hundreds.  The Courier Journal recounted that after the money had been exhausted, a young woman victim repeatedly approached Sherley for help.  He could not turn her away.  She never learned that the amounts he gave her came from his own pocket and not from the fund.



Serving six terms on the Louisville school board, at least one as president, Sherley was passionate about providing education to those at the low end of the economic scale, including leading in the formation of night schools for workers.  He was credited by the newspaper with fostering Black school students and spearheading building schools for them.  He was credited with helping many Louisville young men and women enroll in business college, often paying their tuition, and helping them secure employment upon graduation.


A business associate told the reporter of an incident that draws on the Biblical quote that opens this post.  Without Sherley’s knowledge the associate had begun to keep an account of the distiller’s charitable giving.  When Sherley finally saw it, he inquired and was told, “That’s the charity account.”  He threw aside, quoted saying, “I don’t want to know what is given away.  We don’t need the account.”


This successful Kentucky whiskey man was born in Louisville on New Year's Day 1843, the son of Zachary and Susan Sherley.  His father, shown here, was a riverboat pilot who had prospered to the point of owning a fleet of steamships.  Zachary, originally from Virginia, was firmly on the side of the Union when the Civil War broke out in a state sharply divided over the conflict.  In April 1862 he is credited with moving 25,000 troops and supplies from Louisville to Tennessee for the battle of Shiloh in support of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.  Later Zachary assisted Grant with ships during the battle for Fort Donelson.   Although of eligible age as the war raged on, there is no evidence that Thomas Sherley ever served.


The young Sherley attended local schools, able because of his father’s wealth to graduate with a post-secondary degree in 1863.  Shortly after, at the age of 21 he married Ella Swager, 20, the daughter of Capt. Joseph Swager, a steamboat captain and friend of his father.  The 1870 federal census found the couple living in Louisville with three children, Eva Belle, Zach, Clara, and Ella’s 77-year old father.  His occupation given as “wholesale liquor,”  Sherley clearly was prospering.  His household included three female servants — nurse, cook, and maid.  By the 1880 census, the couple had added two more children, Swager and Minnie.  Sherley was now listed as “distiller.”



Sherley proved to be an energetic entrepreneur.  With business partner E.L. Miles he ran two distilleries at New Hope, Kentucky, 55 miles south of Louisville.  Built side by side, the first was called The New Hope Distilling Company (RD#101, 5th District) and founded by Miles’ father.  It had a small mashing capacity of 20 bushels a day.  As both a distiller and commission merchant, Sherley handled the output of the plant and about 1875 teamed with Miles to build the E. Miles Distillery (RD#146, 5th District) next door. This was a much larger plant, one originally processing 200 bushels daily.  By 1885 the partners had expanded the capacity to 1,000 bushels.  Sherley was also involved with the Crystal Springs Distillery (RD #3, 5th District) in Jefferson County with partner T. J. Batman. [See post on Batman,  July 24, 2021.]  A photo of that facility apparently shows Sherley (long black beard) among the workers.



Among other enterprises, Sherley was a founding investor in Louisville’s Kentucky Public Elevator Co., shown left.  He also co-owned the Southern Glass Works, a factory that manufactured a wide variety of medicinal glassware, fruit jars and flasks.  Below is an example of a bottle with the glassworks signature mark.  


In addition to his enterprises and philanthropic work, Sherley also left his mark in the civic and political life of Louisville.  Among his accomplishments Sherley was the first president of the Board of Parks Commissioners, serving for eight years.  He served six terms as a member and president of the Louisville School Board, and twice was elected as a director of the Board of Trade.  He was chairman of the citizens’ committee for Louisville’s hosting of the Grand Army of the Republic national convention. 


 


In politics Sherley served from 1892 to 1896 as a representative to the Democratic National Committee from Kentucky, frequently called East to confer with Democratic leaders.  He chaired the Kentucky delegation to the 1896 Democratic Convention in Chicago that nominated William Jennings Bryan and was considered the same year as a Democratic congressional candidate, but declined.  Shown here, his son, Swager, later would be elected to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.  


Perhaps the pinnacle of Sherley’s career as Kentucky distiller came in March 1891 when most of Kentucky’s leading distillers, the largest gathering ever of the state’s “bourbon barons,” gathered at Louisville’s Galt House hotel, shown here.  Their purpose was to consider whether to organize a Kentucky Distillers’ Association with the purpose of promoting legislation helpful to the industry and, with an eye on the prohibitionary forces, “guarding the common interest against unjust legislations, state or national.”  The man called upon to chair this august group was Thomas Sherley.  Subsequently elected its president, he proved his value by being a skillful advocate for the Bottled-in-Bond bill, traveling frequently to Washington to testify before Congress and confer with political leaders.


The many responsibilities Sherley carried on his shoulders mght have crushed a lesser man years earlier.  At age 55, he would not prove immune.  In November 1898, according to the Courier Journal, the distiller began to feel ill.  His doctor diagnosed him as suffering from indigestion and lung congestion but said the conditions were not serious.  Sherley resumed his heavy schedule, dictating letters, meeting with associates from his business activities, and planning a national meeting of his Masonic order.  On the morning of November 28, 1898, he arose from his bed to sit in a chair.  He later was found there unconscious and died shortly thereafter.  The verdict:  Heart failure.  His funeral, held at Louisville’s Episcopal Cathedral, and burial was a major event with large attendance and considerable ceremony.  As many of Louisville’s distilling gentry, Sherley was buried in Cave Hill Cemetery, Section  P, Lot 235, Grave 5.  The inscription on his headstone reads: “He did his work and held his peace and had no fear to die.”  Ella would join him in the grave 25 years later.



Of the many qualities that Thomas Sherley exhibited in his truly extraordinary life,    I most admire his gift for giving, said to have practiced his philanthropy without distinction of “creed or color” and disdaining to keep track of his charity.  This great hearted whiskey man had heeded the Biblical injunction.  His right hand unconditionally was held out to the needy.


Notes:   Although I had mentioned Thomas Sherley in my earlier post on Thomas Batman of Louisville, the distiller was brought fully to my attention by a recently published book by Bryan S. Bush entitled “Bluegrass Bourbon Barons,” American Palate, a Division of The History Press, Charleston, S.C., 2021.  Author Bush covers the history of Kentucky and particularly Louisville-based whiskey-making through short biographies of the distillers.  The obituary of Sherley in the Louisville Courier Journal provided a wealth of information, supplemented by other sources.


































 














Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Three Engaged in Whiskey Fraud

 

                                                 


Foreword:  Buying certificates on whiskey stocks still aging in a warehouse for future use by a liquor dealer seeking an assured supply or by an investor seeking a large profit “at the end of the day” has been a tempting prospect since the mid-1800s. It also has provided ample opportunity for fraud.  Below is a discussion of pre-Prohibition warehouse receipt sales and brief accounts of three pre-Prohibition whiskey men who cheated, the first two relatively obscure figures but the third among America’s most celebrated “Bourbon Barons.”


Will Headley was from a respected Kentucky distilling family. His father, John, in collaboration with Robert Crigler, created a bourbon called “Woodland Straight Kentucky Whiskey.”  After John’s death, Will at the age of about 34 succeed to his father’s share in the company.  He was named treasurer, apparently a particularly good choice.  Will was trained as a bookkeeper and had a reputation for integrity.  He was also known as a good family man and people sympathized when his wife died in 1893 leaving him with a young family.


Then things began to unravel.  As treasurer, Headley was the only officer at the Woodland Distillery authorized to issue warehouse receipts and he was cheating.  In February 1894, a wind storm damaged roofs of the company’s bonded warehouses, leaving many barrels inside uncovered.  Apparently fearing discovery of his misdeeds, Headley shortly after told his family he was leaving on a business trip.  Before departing he visited a local bank and withdrew $900 in company funds.  Several days later his oldest daughter received a letter from her father indicating he had fled to Mexico and admitting having sold fraudulent warehouse receipts and kept the money.


The ensuing investigation discovered that Headley had issued receipts for 1,800 barrels of bourbon, allegedly produced in 1892 and stored in the warehouses.  Woodland Distillery, however, had produced only 600 barrels that year.  The losses from just one year of fraudulent receipts totaled more than $30,000, equivalent today to some $660,000.  In total, Headley ultimately was discovered to have stolen more than the equivalent today of $1.1 million.


What could have caused Will Headley to have executed such a massive theft?  He was not known as a gambler or heavy drinker, character flaws that might have made his behavior more understandable.  My judgment that it was love, likely an adulterous affair, that had led to Headley's crime.  The fraud had begun more than a year before his wife’s death, to my mind an indication of Will’s earlier need for funds to bankroll a “back street” love affair.  When located in Mexico years later he was married to an American woman, likely his former paramour, and had a small child.  He died south of the border in 1913 at the age of 59.  No evidence exists that Headley ever returned to the U.S., initiated contact with the children he had abandoned, or made any restitution.



In October 1903 Fred Hipsh wrote the editor of the Wine & Spirits Bulletin announcing that he had bought the “Old York Distillery” in Louisville, Kentucky and “will conduct the business as heretofore under the same name and style.”  Shown here a label for “Elkridge Special Whiskey” which is purported to be a blend of old straight whiskies from the Old York Distillery.  My research, however, has failed to find any such distillery in Louisville or anywhere else in America.


The appearance of owning a Kentucky distillery had its benefits.  As was common in those days of loose security regulations, it allowed the sale of bond certificates for whiskey supposed to be stored in the Old York warehouse in Louisville.  In 1904 a Los Angeles saloonkeeper bought certificates for twenty barrels of that whiskey, paying $101 (more than $2,200 today) to a man who said he represented Hipsh.  When the certificates were found to be fraudulent, the salesman was arrested.  Living in New York, Hipsh somehow escaped being implicated.


Fast forward to 1908.  Despite the situation had that occurred on the West Coast, Hipsh continued to peddle certificates related to whiskey reputedly in his Kentucky warehouse.  He hired an agent named Alexander Ruberti to hawk them.  Ruberti sold some to a fellow Italian, Joseph Fiorello, who paid for them with promissory notes that Ruberti sent on to Hipsh.  It later was indicated that Fiorello was could neither read nor write English.  He was not, however,stupid. When he learned that the certificates apparently were fraudulent, he contacted Hipsh, canceling his contract and demanding his notes back.  


By that time, however, Hipsh had passed the promissory notes on to a third party who sued — not Hipsh or Ruberti — but Fiorello.  Hipsh was summoned into a New York Circuit Court before a judge and jury, not as a defendant, but to testify to whether Ruberti, indeed, was his agent.  The jury declared that Fiorello “had the undoubted right to rescind the contract for fraud.”  Yet the same panel found Hipsh “innocent in the transaction.” Ruberti was blamed but somehow not found liable.  The State Supreme Court later confirmed the verdict.  The individual holding Fiorello’s notes was left out in the cold. 


Although Headley and Hipish apparently got away with their frauds, Col. Edmund L. Taylor, later considered the leading spokesman for the Kentucky bourbon industry, a confidant of Presidents and cabinet secretaries, was not so fortunate.  In 1873 a severe financial downturn in Europe and America cast many previously successful distillers into serious financial trouble, Taylor among them.  In June 1877 The Louisville Courier-Journal reported in June 1877 that he owed $150,000 (equivalent to $3.75 million today) to a liquor dealer named George Stagg and his partner.  “Examination of the books shows that receipts have been given for 7,014 barrels of whiskey, whereas his actual stock does not exceed 4,722 barrels.” the newspaper reported.  With more than a hint of fraud involved, Taylor’s total debt approached  $11 million in current dollars.



Shown here, Stagg saw Taylor’s financial plight as an opportunity.  Up to this time Stagg had been considered a gifted salesman, a pitchman for Kentucky whiskey but not a real player in the industry.  He and a partner forgave Taylor’s debt and paid off the other creditors.  As a result they gained ownership of the colonel’s two distilleries, located adjacent to each other on the Kentucky River at Leestown.  One, shown here, was known as the OFC (Old Fire Copper) Distillery and the other the Carlisle Distillery.


Stagg recognized that keeping Taylor and especially his name associated with the enterprises was important.   He established the E. H. Taylor, Jr. Company in 1879, with himself as president and Taylor as vice president.   Stagg had 3,448 of 5,000 shares in the company;  he gave Taylor, who was overseeing the distilling, just one.  Out of the financial panic that had brought down the icon of Kentucky bourbon,  Stagg had vaulted himself into the forefront of the state’s whiskey industry.  In time Colonel Taylor would recoup his reputation and wealth but no one involved in Kentucky whiskey ever forgot his earlier indiscretion.


Although the U.S. has adopted laws that largely ban the kind of chicanery around liquor futures and warehouse receipts, the practice of such frauds is alive and well in the sale of Scotch whisky “futures.”  Those are being hustled by telephone scammers promising large profits on liquor being held by someone somewhere in Scotland — and finding unwary investors. 


Note:  Longer vignettes on each of the whiskey men treated here may be found elsewhere on this website:  Will Headley, February 18, 2020; Fred Hipsh, April 3, 2019; Col. Edmund Taylor, January 10, 2015; and George Stagg, April 30, 2016.































Saturday, October 16, 2021

Max Stiner and Disaster on Vesey Street

September 8, 1898, was a typical autumn day in New York City.  In downtown Manhattan, Vesey Street, shown here, bustled with carriage and foot traffic.  In the wine and liquor establishment of Max Stiner & Company at 36 Vesey, the staff was working at their usual tasks. The owner was absent, leaving his 19-year-old son Milton Stiner to watch over the activities.  At 5:20 p.m. an explosion, heard for blocks, shook the five story building.  A disaster quickly unfolded at Stiner’s liquor house.


In the cellar where the blast occurred three men and one young woman were working: William Witt, the foreman; Ralph Scheondorff;  a third man known as “Paul Latour,” and 19-year-old Lydia St. Clair. The shock was followed by a burst of fire.  All four were imperiled.  Although the first floor almost immediately was filled with smoke and fire, the rest of Stiner’s employees, choking, were able to make it outside.   Witt managed to reach the top of the front stair before he was overcome and engulfed in flames.  Scheondorff and “Latour” (real name Carl Herlowitski) later were found dead lying side by side in the front section of the cellar, both badly burned.  Both Witt and Scheondorff had families.



Miraculously, Ms. St. Clair, who was pasting labels on bottles, escaped unhurt up a back stairway.  Joseph Fitzgerald, chief bookkeeper, unable himself to reach the front door, rescued the woman. He headed to a rear window, jumped down and fetched a ladder for her exit.  Fitzgerald told authorities:  “She was nearly frightened to death, and I don’t blame her, for she had a pretty close shave.  If she had been a minute later she probably wouldn’t have been alive now.”


The New York Fire Department quickly arrived on the scene, pouring water on the conflagration.  Major damage was contained to the cellar of the five story building.  Despite the toll in human lives, the structure was not greatly damaged. Stiner’s wine and liquor stored underground was a total loss, estimated at $40,000. Possibly afraid of the wrath of his absent father, Milton was uncooperative with fire officials, claiming not to know how many people were at work that day, or even their names.  Said the New York Journal story:  “It was not without a good deal of difficulty that the firemen could induce young Mr. Stiner to give them any information.”  Where was Max Stiner?  “Somewhere uptown” was Milton’s vague reply. The father did not appear on the scene until hours later.


Like a man accustomed to setbacks, Stiner (sometimes given as “Steiner”) immediately directed the cleanup of the wreckage left by the explosion.  Before long the his wine and liquor enterprise was back in business.  He had not come this far in carving out a career in the “Big Apple” wine and liquor trade to let this setback deter him.


Stiner had begun life 47 years earlier in Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the son of Jacob and Anna Hoffman Steiner.  At 19, an age that made him vulnerable to mandatory service in the Austrian army, he determined to emigrate to America.  He embarked from Bremerhaven, Germany, aboard the SS Deutschland, shown below, a ship regularly carrying immigrants from  Europe to these shores.  Disembarking New York Harbor, Stiner apparently immediately fell in love with “the city that never sleeps” — and never left.




In a 1900 passport application, Stiner was described as five feet, seven inches tall, dark blonde hair, gray eyes and a round face.  Unfortunately I have been unable to locate a photograph.  Nor have I been able to determine his occupation for his first decade in New York but assume he was working in the mercantile trades.  He was recorded in the 1880 federal census as a “retail tea merchant,” and in 1881 city directory as the manager of Steiner & Co. “teas,” located at 226 Columbia Street, not far from the port area.



By 1894, Stiner apparently had decided that his “cup of tea” more likely was a shot of whiskey and had opened the liquor store on Vesey Street.  He was dealing in both retail and wholesale goods, the latter sold to the many saloons, hotels and restaurants that dotted the Manhattan landscape.  He was receiving wines and liquors by the barrel and decanting them into smaller vessels.  Stiner’s jugs were of a quality to draw attention to his establishment.  In sizes up to five gallons, he provided his wares in salt-glazed stoneware containers with his name written in large cobalt script.  Shown throughout this post for their variety, these jugs would have been emptied by his customers into smaller vessels for pouring over the bar.



Max had married several years after his arrival in America.  His bride was Carolyn, called “Carrie.” Munch, a 22-year old woman who had been born in New York of immigrant parents from Bohemia, Cecelia (Lederer) and Benjamin Munch.  Her father ran a Manhattan cigar store.  Max and Carolyn over the next 14 years would have seven children, five sons and two daughters.  As the size of their family grew, the Stiners moved frequently.  In 1894 they were recorded living at 248 East 78th Street.  Three years later they resided at 150 West 130th Street.  By 1899, Max had sufficient wealth to move the Stiners into  fashionable quarters at 149 West 120th Street, shown here.



Max did not have long to enjoy home and family.  Suffering from heart disease he died at home in early June 1904 at the age of 53.  An obituary hailed him as “well known in this vicinity, where he had a large trade.  He was buried at the Linden Hill Jewish Cemetery in the Ridgewood District of Queens.  His grave is not identified.


In the wake of the founder’s passing Max Stiner & Company was carried on — but with changes.  In 1904 the business was incorporated.  Among the incorporators were the widowed Carrie Stiner, vice president, and son Milton, president.   Benjamin Stiner was treasurer and secretary.  The company appears to have put more emphasis on retail sales and issued at least two proprietary brands, “Old Dante Private Stock” sold as “The Connoisseurs Favorite,” and “Old Dinah,” a blended whiskey, trademarked in 1911.  Milton also seems to have scrapped the decorative jugs favored by his father for more utilitarian but cheaper containers.



The last record for the company is a 1916 listing in a New York business directory.  With National Prohibition becoming ever more likely the Stiners may have decided simply to shut the doors on their Vesey Street establishment.  As for the tragic events recounted earlier, I am unable to find any answer to the question of what triggered the fatal explosion and fire.  Several causes were suggested — alcohol from the liquor, an open gas jet, sewer gas — but none, to my knowledge, has ever been ever confirmed. 


Note:  My path to this story of Max Stiner and the horrific disaster at his liquor establishment was triggered by seeing one of his jugs, unusual for the New York City whiskey trade, and deciding to find out more about the man behind it.  Key information came from the account of the blast and fire in a New York Journal front page story of September 9, 1898.  The three line drawings also are from that source.