Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Reading the Trade Cards of Charles Rebstock

 For years I have been collecting the images of trade cards that Charles Rebstock,  St. Louis distiller and philanthropist, issued during his lifetime.I first told Rebstock’s story on this website on September 6, 2011, but on a careful perusal of these advertising artifacts, it occurs to me that their themes reflect in additional ways this whiskey man’s personality and life experience.  They also indicate the ability of Rebstock, shown here, to combine both artistic and business sense.

Many of Rebstock’s trade cards feature the forms and faces of young girls, often interacting with birds, butterflies, or flowers.  Never boys.  My thought is that these images in emotional ways relate to his wife, Pauline, a St. Louis-born girl only about 20 years old when they married.  Charles was ten years older. They had no children. After Pauline died at age 36 in 1893, he never remarried.

Possibly in an effort to assuage his grief, not long after Pauline’s death, Rebstock took the first of two long “around-the-world” ocean voyages.   The trade card here may represent the various type of marine craft that he employed in his extensive travels, including a masted schooner, sailboat, steamboat and lighter.

Rebstock is accounted to have visited Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa.  When he found a country he particularly liked, he made his stay a prolonged one.  From his trade cards, Turkey may have been among them.  Two images reflect that interest, one of a horseman in a fez galloping over a landscape and a second entitled “Turkish Ladies Sport.” 

Another of Rebstock’s favored countries may well have been Spain.  At least two of his trade cards featured bullfight scenes.  In one the matador has made a sweep around the bull with his red cape while a picador on horseback prods the doomed animal with his lance.  A second card finds the bull slain and being dragged  out of the stadium.


Those cards that appear purely decorative may also have a meaning.  The one at left of a boater approaching a stone bridge carries the logo of the Cliff House in Deadwood, Dakota Territory.  Three others shown here also carry customer names.  The towns noted —  Perrysville, Missouri, and Fairbault and St. Peter, Minnesota — all are relatively small, indicating that Rebstock was making such communities the objects of his marketing efforts for “Stonewall” whiskey.  The reverse of the hand and flowers trade card contains a long verse in celebration of the brand, ending:

A man’s a fool to live in grief,

When he can get complete relief,

And feel as happy as a clam, 

Drinking “STONEWALL” by the dram.

Rebstock also was providing individualized calling cards for his traveling salesmen when they visited towns around the Middle West. Each carries the likeness of the “drummer.”  At left is Rebstock’s younger brother, Edward; at right,  John C. Hochmuth,  a longtime company sales representative.

The meaning of the final trade card is puzzling without understanding the back story.  It depicts two young women with a magnifying glass examining the head of a man sitting on a shoreline contemplating a beached and presumably wrecked ship.  The image may seem less strange upon learning that Rebstock in 1880 commissioned a Mississippi steamboat to be built in St. Louis.  Carrying his name, the packet was intended to convey his whiskey to customers along Mississippi and its tributaries.  The venture proved unprofitable and three years later Rebstock sold the ship.  It later burned and was junked.  I surmise that the seated figure represents Rebstock himself, comically having his head examined about his venture into steamboats.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Jimmy Purcell’s “Grand Junction” of Saloons

Those who profess to know about such things claim that the motto of the Purcell family inscribed on its Irish coat of arms translates from the Latin as “Success or Perish!”   Likely not aware of that challenge, James “Jimmy” Purcell operated four drinking establishments in and around pre-Prohibition Grand Junction, Colorado.  Purcell, shown here, epitomized the Western saloonkeeper as an astute businessman, successful in an environment where “perishing” was always a possible outcome.

Born in Racine County, Wisconsin, on Christmas Day in 1858 Jimmy was scarcely out of the womb when his family moved further west to Iowa.  The federal census in 1860 found the family there, living in Anamosa, a town reputedly named for a Native American princess.   His father Michael’s given occupation was “laborer.”  While still his late teens, Purcell moved west to Leadville, Colorado, apparently to try his hand at mining.  Subsequently he moved further west to Colorado’s Red Mountains region when he operated a string of pack horses, likely involved with the mines there.

In 1882 Purcell, now about 24, arrived in Grand Junction, Colorado, the year it was incorporated.  Situated at the confluence of the Grand (now Colorado) and Gunnison Rivers, Grand Junction was becoming the center of a major fruit-growing region, including wine grapes, and the largest city in Western Colorado.  Purcell was an early purchaser of Grand Junction real estate and his occupation was listed as “Gambler” in the 1885 Colorado census.    His card playing at the Senate Saloon was documented as early as 1883.  Said not to be a drinker, but an excellent card player, his acquaintance with Grand Junction’s busy saloons seems to have begun by gambling in them.

Circa 1890, Purcell made his first foray as a saloon proprietor, co-owning the Bank Saloon at the southeast corner of 3rd and Main Streets with a man named Fredericks.  This enterprise apparently was not a success and three years later disappeared from business directories. Undaunted, soon the young man was back in the liquor trade.  With a new partner in about 1895 he took over management of the Senate Saloon, below, a popular Grand Junction drinking establishment where he had played poker.  Three years later the partner died and Purcell became the sole proprietor.  His motto, prominent on his letterhead, was “We look to quality in everything.”

The role of saloonkeeper in the Old West was not an easy one.  The saloon played a multifaceted role in the life of a town that required of the proprietor a particular array of skills.  He had to be a genial soul, eager to greet old-timers and newcomers alike to his place, while always on the alert for the kind of trouble that a mixture of guns and booze could bring.  Grand Junction was not Deadwood or Tombstone, but the local press not infrequently recorded violent events connected with saloons.  Jimmy’s Irish personality quickly made him a popular figure among townsfolk.

A saloonkeeper also had to be known as generous, buying drinks for regular customers when the situation seemed to demand it.  Like other proprietors, he gave out bar tokens from his establishments. Here Purcell appears to have been particularly free-handed  While most saloonkeepers gave out tokens worth a few cents toward drinks, this Irishman gave out tokens worth $1.00 — equivalent to at least $22 in today’s dollar.


The best proprietors, like Purcell, knew that providing customers with comfortable and attractive surroundings was an important element in a successful drinking establishment.  The photo below of the interior of the Senate Saloon shows it to be a substantial cut above the average ramshackle cowboy/miner watering hole. The bar itself was an expensive item, made in the East and shipped by rail to Grand Junction. When Purcell opened the fourth of his saloons, the Brown Palace, he took those furnishings with him, redecorating the Senate Saloon with new bar fixtures.

Finally, a successful saloonkeeper had to be a good manager, able to insure the smooth running of his business.  A key issue for Western saloons was insuring sufficient flow of supplies, particularly of liquor and food.  Although Grand Junction, with regular railroad service, did not face the kind of isolation of some Mountain West saloons, the owner faced daily challenges in assuring sufficient food and drink.  Purcell seems to have been up to the task, capable of operating multiple sites simultaneously.

Shown here, for example, is an ad for his Senate Saloon and Annex Bar, opened in 1904, promising “fine wines and liquors,” including standard brands of bourbon and rye—“shipped from bond.”

The Brown Palace was the fourth and last of Purcell’s saloons.  Shown below, it was located in Palisade, Colorado, about 12 miles northeast of Grand Junction. Boasting vineyards and fruit trees, Palisade was known as the “Peach-Growing Capital of Colorado.” This prosperous community appealed to Purcell as a place to open a third saloon.  

As he had for The Senate, he issued embossed glass whiskey flasks in pint and half-pint sizes that advertised the drinking establishment. Those can be dated to a narrow time frame.  The Brown Palace was open only between 1905 and 1908 when Palisade, despite its wine-making industry, opted to go “dry.”  Purcell was left running his Senate Saloon at 413 Main Street and the Annex Bar at 209-211 Colorado Avenue.  But not for long.

Just a year later the Anti-Saloon League, grown strong in Colorado, helped force an election on banning alcohol in Grand Junction.  The result of the vote was 1,480 to 1,009 in favor of prohibition.  Saloonkeepers were given only ten days to unload their stocks of alcohol.  Those days proved to be extremely busy ones for Purcell and other saloonkeepers of Grand Junction as residents rushed to buy provisions for a potentially arid future.

A final attribute of a successful Western saloonkeeper was the ability to take setbacks in stride.  Here again, Jimmy Purcell met the test.  While prohibition left other Grand Junction former saloonkeepers with no occupation, Purcell was able to sustain a “dry” Senate as a cigar, tobacco and billiards hall during ensuing years of local and National Prohibition.  As an agent for the Adolph Coors Company, his survival was assisted by owning the franchise for Coors malted milk products.  His pre-prohibition saloon success also allowed him to acquire and lease out Main Street properties to others.

Prohibition also likely gave Jimmy more time to enjoy family life.  On January 7,1896, at the age of 37, he had married Mary Louise (called “Louise”) Stoeckle, 29, in Doniphan, Kansas.  Their first child, Margaret Mary, was born about two years later to be followed in 1902 by a son, Carl James.  The 1920 census found the family living at 754 Chipeta Avenue in Grand Junction.  With them was Louise’s older sister, Margaret Stoeckle. 

Purcell died in 1935 at the age of 77, living long enough to see National Prohibition repealed.  Louise would follow 15 years later.  Their joint gravestone is shown here.  With Purcell’s death his son-in-law,Tom Golden, operated The Senate, resuming alcohol sales and adding poker tables.  In that mode, the establishment operated into the 1950s.  The building, now much renovated, is owned by his descendants and operates as a fly fishing shop.

Note:  I was drawn to the story of Jimmy Purcell upon learning that he once had operated three Western saloons at the same time, a number almost unheard of.  This led me to an informative article on Purcell by Rob Goodson in the Winter 2004 issue of Bottles & Extras, the journal of the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors.  Rob’s wife is a great granddaughter of the saloonkeeper.  Rob graciously has allowed me to use some of his photos here, for which I am most grateful.  He also has provided editorial assistance and added comments about Purcell that deserve inclusion here:

“When the stock market crashed in 1929 and the banks closed, Jimmy continue to cash people's checks and otherwise give them credit.  There was likely a business angle to this, but he was in a position to help others out and didn't hesitate despite the significant uncertainties. 

“Throughout his life, Irishmen were mostly considered minorities and many faced discrimination. Jimmy bridged that gap among ethnicities and was respected by all.  Many of his tenants were minorities, including of Japanese descent, and he employed people of many backgrounds.”  

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

J. M. Davis Found a Pilfering Hand in the “Silver Pitcher”


In 1902, Minneapolis liquor dealer Joseph M. Davis, proprietor of the popular “Silver Pitcher” brand of whiskey, could sense that profits were declining.  When he investigated he found an unexpected drain on his revenues.  It turned out to be his trusted bookkeeper and company cashier, Fred Pratt.  The incident highlights a persistent problem faced by whiskey men — employees tapping the till.

Born in 1856 in St. Petersburg, Joseph, shown here, embarked from Hamburg , Germany, with his father Abraham and other family members to arrive in the United States in 1864, according to passport records.   His father changed the family name to “Davis” upon landing and settled immediately in Minneapolis where Joseph would spend the rest of his life.

Joseph Davis’ initial years largely have gone unrecorded.  Still a youngster on arrival, he would have been educated in local schools.  His early employment  may have been in the liquor trade.  In 1887 at the age of 31, he married Rose, who also had been born in Russia.  She is shown here from a 1924 passport photo.  The couple would go on to have a family of three children.

In 1890, the 34-year-old Davis opened a saloon and wholesale/retail liquor house at 107 Washington Avenue North.  He featured a variety of whiskey brands including “Sheridan Rye” (shown here),  “Bon Bon Rye,” “Gateway,” “Georgie,” "J. M. D.” (his initials), “Josephine,” "Knight's Pride,” "Mount Curve Rye,” "Old 89 May Dew,” "Old Union, "Queen Quality,” "Rocker Rye,” and "United States Reserve.” 

“Silver Pitcher” was his flagship label and the only brand Davis bothered to trademark.  He advertised the whiskey heavily through giveaway items provided to wholesale customers such as saloons, restaurants and hotels.  His gifts included back-of-the-bar-bottles.  As shown below, they featured a variety of shapes but all advertised Silver Pitcher Rye.  Davis could also provide a silver plated pitcher for bar use.  It was used to hold tea or water for the bartender to supply to customers upon request. 

As a result of Davis’ merchandising strategies, his business grew rapidly.  Deciding he needed accounting help in the heavily regulated and taxed liquor trade, he hired a bookkeeper.   Enter Frederick “Fred” Pratt.  Born in New York City in September 1870, Pratt apparently arrived in Minneapolis early in the 1890s.  Although he was only 22, Davis hired him.  Apparently Pratt’s work performance was exemplary and by 1894 he also had been made the liquor house cashier. 

Single and living in rooming houses during his first years in Minneapolis, Fred met a local woman, Clara Maire.  They fell in love, and married in November 1896.  Their first child, Helen, was born in 1898 and a second, Frederick Jr., two years later.  This growing family increased Pratt’s financial needs, including the cost of renting a comfortable home at East 33rd Street and South Fifth Avenue, believed to be the house shown here. 

With the onset of the Twentieth Century, Davis began to notice that returns from his liquor business had dwindled.  Suspicion fell on the bookkeeper/cashier.  Unwilling to confront directly an employee whose record heretofore had been unblemished, the owner hired a private investigator who subsequently presented solid evidence that Pratt had been “tapping the till.”

On April 4, 1903, Sergeant Ginsburg from the Minneapolis “Bunco Squad” arrived at the liquor house and arrested Pratt on a charge of embezzlement.  The amount he was accused of stealing was not disclosed.   Brought into court Pratt was found guilty and sentenced to three and one-half years in the penitentiary.  That venue almost certainly was the Minnesota State Prison at Stillwater, about 25 miles east of Minneapolis, shown below as it looked then.

The prison was close enough for Clara and their children to visit Pratt during his incarceration, apparently standing by him as he served time.  Upon his release, the family reunited and the couple later had a third child, a son.  As an ex-convict, Pratt apparently had difficulty re-establishing himself in Minneapolis.  City directories gave his occupation as a house painter in 1908, grocer in 1910, real estate agent in 1911 and contractor in 1916.

Meanwhile, Joseph Davis found his business challenges increasingly coming from prohibitionary movements.  By 1915, when some Minnesota localities had banned alcohol under local option laws, he changed the name of his establishment to the “J. M. Davis Mercantile Company” and was emphasizing mail order sales to surrounding “dry” states.  A shot glass advertised the existence of a free catalogue of mail order offerings.

It has been suggested that by adding “mercantile” to his company name, Davis was planning to continue in business with merchandise other than liquor after the imposition of National Prohibition in 1920.  Now 64 years old, however, after 30 years in business Davis retired.  He would live to see “The  Great Experiment” repealed, the Great Depression and World War Two, dying in April 1946 in Florida at the age of 89.  Joseph Davis was buried in Temple Israel Memorial Park in Minneapolis next to Rose who had died 28 years earlier.

Fred Pratt preceded Davis in death, passing in 1943.  He was buried in Lakewood Cemetery of Minneapolis, Section 3, Lot 6, Grave 9.   Whether he and Davis ever met again after Pratt’s incarceration is unknown.  Common to many aspects of American business, their entwined story of trust betrayed suggests why many “whiskey men” chose to put close relatives in positions dealing with company finances.

Note:   This post owes a great deal to a 1987 book entitled “The Bottles, Breweriana and Advertising Jugs of Minnesota, 1850-1920, Volume 2: Whiskey, Druggist, Medicine,” co-authored and edited by Ron Feldhaus. From that volume come some of the information and pictures used here.  The more recent existence of genealogical sites allowed the identification of Fred Pratt as the errant bookkeeper and helped tell his story.



Friday, June 17, 2022

Candor from Whiskey Men


Foreword:   Anyone who delves into its history soon comes to realize how much — shall we call it “blarney” — has always been involved in selling whiskey.  Whether it was linking a brand to an ancient recipe, ascribing it to some historical figure, or claiming it cured serious diseases, distillers, liquor dealers and saloon keepers were notable for stretching the truth, sometimes ruthlessly.  Thus when a pre-Prohibition whiskey man was being candid about his whiskey, it deserves attention.  Following are three examples of “telling how it was,” each with its own perspective.

It has always been a mystery to me how Western saloons, often located in isolated mining camps or other communities with no easy access to the outside world, managed to get the liquor needed to satisfy their thirsty clientele.  For many “Old West” locations, railroads were distant, stage coaches sporadic, and mule trains infrequent.  The answer may lie with Sam Jaggers, a saloonkeeper and liquor dealer in the mining town of Bannack, Montana, during the 1860s.

Bannack Montana


In 1903, Jaggers gave an extensive interview to reporters for the Dillon (Montana) Examiner in which he described the life of a frontier saloonkeeper and confided:  “I now want to tell you boys about how we made our liquors…,” adding humorously I suspect, “…and I am sure you will not give it away.”

According to Jaggers, all the liquors coming to Bannack saloons originated from Los Angeles in a form he called “high wines,” in effect, “white lightening.”  “Once the high wines had been safely landed in our cellars, us saloon keepers set about making various liquors demanded by the horny-handed miners….If a man wanted any kind of liquor, he got it, and it did not make any difference whether he asked for whiskey, brandy, rum, gin or some brand of wine, he got it, and it all came originally from the same barrel.”  The taste could be altered, Jaggers said, by the amount of fusel oil the proprietor added, a mixture of alcohols extracted from the fermentation process.

Remembering events in 1867 Jaggers continued, “…There was a whiskey famine in the territory and for while it seemed as if a dire calamity was staring the country in the face.”  Hearing that there were two barrels of whiskey for sale at Deer Lodge, Montana, Sam in haste made the 115 mile journey there on horseback and bought the whiskey for $750 in gold dust— equivalent to $16,500 today.  One of the barrels was good stuff, he related, but the other was the worst whiskey he had ever tasted.  While the liquor was being delivered, Jaggers got an idea.  He bought two cases of peaches and returning to Bannack mashed them into pulp and dumped them into the rot-gut, mixing them well.  “…The result was it was converted into a whiskey that miners would walk ten miles after the close of a hard day’s work in order to pay 25 cents for a sample of it.”

In Gardnerville, Nevada,  Chris J. “Big Swede” Jesperson, a saloonkeeper described as always “out of humor and a grouch for fair” was asked by a young Easterner what kind of whiskey he stocked.  Jesperson answered with a response captured by a reporter for the Gardnerville, Nevada, Record Courier of February 18, 1908:

 “Why you rosy cheeked lummox, we’ve got all kinds of whiskey; we’ve got common ordinary, everyday whiskey, the kind that killed father at the age of 95.  We’ve got wisdom whiskey, the kind that makes the absorber think he’s backed Solomon off the map.  Throw some of it under your belt and in ten minutes you’ll be wondering why they didn’t make you president instead of Teddy.  We’ve got whiskerbroom whiskey, the kind that makes you throw a fit on the floor and when you get up you dust your clothes off with a whiskerbroom.

“We’ve got honest whiskey, the kind that causes a man to pay debts when he’s drunk, and to kick him all over the lot when he’s sober.  We’ve got fool whiskey, the kind that causes your dear neighbor to lead you off somewhere in Pine Nut Hills and whisper in your waiting ear a piece of news that was all over town the day before.  Then we’ve got lovin’ whiskey, the kind that makes some lobster crawl up to you, put his arm around your neck and blow a breath into your face that would drive a turkey buzzard away from a dead coyote or stampede the employes of a glue factory.

“We’ve got fightin’ whiskey, the kind that gets action on Tobe Ward [a race horse] or make an Antelope Valley cowboy haul out his sixshooter and plug out the lights.  We’ve got crying whiskey, the kind that makes a tenderfoot shed tears of anguish and sorrow whenever he hears a funny story.  We’ve got sporting whiskey, the kind that makes you want to tackle the wheel or craps.  Why, gol durn it, we’ve got the biggest stock in Nevada.”

The ultimate in candor about whiskey came from Pierre Lacour, a New Orleans entrepreneur.  The secret behind Lacour’s liquor was that it did not require any whiskey at all, just raw alcohol he called “neutral spirits.”  Lacour’s book, “The Manufacture of Liquors, Wines and Cordials without the Aid of Distillation,” first published in 1853, listed dozens of “recipes” for making liquor without the onerous and time consuming process of distilling.  Among them are instructions for making three American whiskeys:

1.  Old Bourbon Whiskey:  Neutral Spirits, four gallons; refined sugar, three pounds;  dissolved in water, three quarts;  decoction of tea, one pint; three drops of oil of wintergreen, dissolved in one ounce of alcohol; color with tincture of cochineal, two ounces;  burnt sugar, three ounces. 

2.  Monogahela Whiskey:  Neutral spirits, four gallons; honey three pints, dissolved in water, one gallon;  rum, half gallon; nitric ether, half an ounce. This is to be colored to suit fancy.  Some customers prefer this whiskey transparent;  while some like it just perceptibly ringed with brown; while others, again, want it rather deep, and partaking of red. [The red would be supplied by crushed, dried cochineal bugs, shown here, an insect that lives on cacti in Mexico and Central America.]

3.  Oronoko Rye:  Neutral spirits, four gallons; refined sugar, three and a half pounds, dissolved in water to dissolve three pints;  decoction of tea, one pint; burnt sugar, four ounces; oil of pear, half an ounce, dissolved in an ounce of alcohol.

Michael Veach of the Filson Historical Society and an expert on whiskey history suggests the important of understanding what Lacour, Jaggers, and perhap even Jesperson, were imparting with their candor.  First, they tell us some of the ingredients being used to concoct knockoff whiskey in the pre-Prohibition era.  Second, they suggest that the validation of a whiskey was not how and of what it was made but the reaction of the customer on the barstool.

Note:  Longer articles on each of the three whiskey men featured here may be found elsewhere on this blog:  Sam Jaggers, December 12, 2019;  Chris “Big Swede” Jesperson, May 1, 2021, and Pierre Lacour, December 20, 2021.