Friday, July 28, 2023

Seeing Whiskey Through a Reverse Glass


Reverse painting on glass consists of applying paint to the back of a piece of glass and then viewing the image by turning the glass over and seeing it through the glass. This art form has been around for centuries. It was used for sacral paintings in the Middle Ages and frequently was employed for gilded images.

“Verre eglomise,” as the French call it, had something of a renaissance during the 1800s and early 1900s, used by both artists and by the fledging advertising community in Europe and the United States. Quick to see its commercial value in merchandising were American whiskey distillers and dealers. An attractive reverse glass sign in a saloon might entice more customers to imbibe their product.

I find these signs among the most attractive artifacts that the pre-Prohibition whiskey-makers have left to posterity. One favorite is the elegant “art nouveau” sign from John A. Dougherty’s Sons of Philadelphia. The elaborate “W” in “whiskey” is particularly decorative. This distillery was founded by John Alexander Dougherty, a native of Ireland who arrived as a youth in Philly in 1814 by way of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Originally a baker, Dougherty eventually moved to making whiskey and in 1849 founded the distillery that bore his name. He had several sons who, upon his death in 1866, continued the business until Prohibition.

Pennsylvania was a state that seems to have fostered elegant glass signage. The second example, also from Philadelphia, is redolent with gold. It advertised a distillery founded in 1874 by Angelo Myers. Framed in gold, the sign also features two medallions that commemorate gold medals the whiskey had won at national expositions. The company, with Myers father and son as presidents, survived 44 years before Prohibition closed its door. Quite unusually, two of four Myers’ corporate officers were women.

A third Philadelphia sign advertised the “Army and Navy Whiskey” from the James Moroney Co. A wholesalers and importer, Moroney founded his firm in 1875. Other brands he featured were “Moroney Pure Rye,” “Old Navy,” and “Round the World Scotch.”  The company survived National Prohibition by selling sacramental wines and was in business as recently as 2022, a record for longevity.

In Pittsburgh, the Joseph S. Finch & Co. was founded in 1873 to great success and made its “Golden Wedding Rye” into one of America’s best known brands of whiskey. It was responsible for an elegant reverse glass signs, one that screamed gold and a second that replicated its Golden Wedding logo. In this case, we know the identity of the creator of at least one of the signs. The back of the first, faint but visible, is written: John Golding Glass Sign, 240 Pearl Street, New York.

Although Hill Side Rye is advertised as being Pennsylvania whiskey, the brand actually was distributed by a New York City based outfit (1880-1918) known as Steinhardt Bros. There were four brothers - Lewis, Henry, Morris and David. Together they forged a highly successful whiskey business. Not distillers, they collected whiskey from a variety of sources, “rectified” (mixed it) and sold it nationally and from outlets in New York under a number of brand names, including “White Lily Pure Rye,” “Emerald,” and “Lafayette Club.” Their sign bears the signature of artist Thomas G. Jones of New York.

Unlike most of the distillers and wholesalers above, Pfieffer Bros. of Louisville , Kentucky, were relative latecomers to the whiskey business, first opening their doors in 1902. Rectifiers and wholesalers, their glass sign features the firm’s flagship brand, “Silas Moore.” Pfieffer Bros. also sold their whiskey under such brands names as “Dixie Belle,” “Old Cornelius,” and “Tom Hudson.”

Pfieffer Bros. and the other whiskey companies cited above successfully were in business from the time of their founding until National Prohibition. This time spread makes it virtually impossible to date exactly any of these signs. Not so with the company that produced the final example shown here. “Royalty Club” was a brand name of the Anton Friedmann company in Cincinnati. City directories first show Friedmann’s organization in 1870. By 1874 it had disappeared.

Although reverse glass advertising signs are still being made, many of them attractive, our legacy from the pre-Prohibition whiskey makers set an artistic standard that will be difficult to match--ever.

Note:  More detailed information about many of the “whiskey men” responsible for the reverse glass signs shown here may be found elsewhere on this website.  They are:  Dougherty, January 16, 2012;  Myers, December 2, 2011, Moroney, June 2, 2023;  Finch, January 31, 2015;  Steinhardt Bros., November 29, 2012; and Pfeiffer Bros., October 18, 2011, 

Monday, July 24, 2023

Henry Ramos, Huey Long, and an Iconic Gin Fizz

In 1935 when infamous Louisiana politician, Huey Long, decided to hint his candidacy for President against Franklin Roosevelt, he kicked off his campaign by throwing a cocktail party in Washington, D.C. for the press.  The only libation served, Long’s favorite, had been invented by a New Orleans saloon-keeper named Henry “Carl” Ramos.  He named it the “Ramos Gin Fizz.”  It became a cocktail of which legends are made.

Shown here,  Ramos was born in Vincennes, Indiana, in August 1856.  His father Charles was an immigrant from Prussia, his mother, Barbara, had originated in Bavaria.  When Henry “Carl” was just a child, the family moved to New Orleans to where his father had a job as a watchman at a United States Navy base.  Of Ramos early life and education there is scant information.

He appears early to have been drawn to the liquor trade, believed to have worked in saloons in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Birmingham, Alabama.  By 1887, he had returned to New Orleans and was employed at a beer saloon in Exchange Alley, shown here in an artist’s version..  That same year, age 21, Ramos with his brother Charles opened the Imperial Cabinet Saloon at Gravier and Carondelet Streets in downtown New Orleans.  The Imperial Cabinet was 3,500 square feet of classic New Orleans decor, with an ornate hardwood bar and views of Canal and Magazine Streets. 


There Ramos invented the cocktail that bore his name, the “Ramos Gin Fizz.”  A photo of the interior of the saloon above shows the large staff he employed for his drinking establishment.  This was necessary because as one writer expressed it: “In the city that literally invented the cocktail. Ramos moved things forward  with his invention of the Ramos Gin Fizz. Frothy, citrusy, smooth-as-silk.” His cocktail was an instant hit with the New Orleans drinking public.

Ramos’ libation also was highly labor intensive.  As many as 20 “shaker boys” would be employed behind the Cabinet Saloon bar providing the strenuous shaking the cocktail required to achieve the creamy texture required.  Some recipes suggest the motion go on for from two to ten minutes.  Others put the time even longer.  Evidence is that Ramos’s crew “nearly shook their arms off and still were unable to keep up with the demand.”  During Mardi Gras, the saloonkeeper is said to have employed as many as 35 behind his bar.  A whole lot of shaking was goin' on as the good times rolled.

As unique as the gin fizz was the character of Ramos himself.  One local newspaper characterized him like this: "... his ruddy face and genial blue eyes sparkling behind silver rimmed, ear bowed spectacles, his snowy hair, his pure white shirt with the diamond in its bosom, his short, stout frame…”  Despite the diamond stickpin, virtually standard for successful publicans, Ramos was not a flamboyant character.  A teetotaler, he took seriously the responsibility of peddling booze. 

 Writer Theodora Sutcliffe records:  “He closed his saloon at 8 o'clock every evening, and opened for only two hours on Sundays. He kept a wary eye for signs of drunkenness in his bar, and would stop service at the slightest sign of rowdiness. Apparently, if Ramos heard that a customer was drinking too much outside his premises, he would take him to one side and endeavor to assist him — even, in some cases, helping him out financially.”

Ramos also was a dedicated family man.  In 1883 he had married Marianne Weicker, a widow with two children, Frank and Ida.  The couple would have two children of their own, Carl and Stella. The 1890 census found the combined family living at 728 North Ramparts Street.  Stella unfortunately died while still in her teens, said to be a source of considerable grief to her father.

Shown above is an 1907 ad for the Cabinet Saloon and its “world renowned” cocktail.  Note that Ramos also had become an agent for the Dr. Brown line of patent medicines, specifically Brown’s “Sarsaparilla for the Blood” — the bottle at right — and his “Celery for the Nerves.” This was not an unusual juxtaposition  of products since many such nostrums were heavily laced with alcohol. 


In 1907, Ramos added a second upscale drinking establishment when he purchased the Stag Saloon near Gravier and St. Charles Streets, shown above in a post card.  The caption on the back reads: “The Stag Saloon… Showing Oyster Counter and Famous Oil Painting ‘Life on the Metairie’ or the Old Metairie Race Course.”   This painting had been created in 1867 by American artist Theodore Moise and his British collaborator Victor Pierson.  It depicted 44 distinguished New Orleanians at the last meet of the Metairie Race Track.  The facility subsequently became the Metairie Cemetery where tombs were arranged around the race track oval.  When he died in September 1928, Ramos was buried there.

With the coming of National Prohibition in 1920, Ramos was forced to close both his drinking establishments and was reported to pledge never to sell another gin fizz.  Twenty years later, however, the Ramos Gin Fizz was again making news.  This time it was at the hands of “Kingfish” Huey Long, the most famous political figure in Louisiana history.   A populist and demagogue, Long was elected governor in 1924, serving one term before running for and winning a U.S. Senate seat in 1932.  With his colorful and outspoken ways, he soon was a national figure, a prominent Democratic antagonist to President Franklin Roosevelt and a likely opponent in the 1936 election. Long also was a devoted fan of the Ramos Gin Fizz.

During his senatorial career, Long spent much of his time in New York City staying at the posh Roosevelt Hotel, a far more exciting venue than sleepy Washington, D.C.  When National Prohibition ended and the hotel bar opened once again, the Louisiana politician balked at the kind of gin fizz being served there.  He got on the phone and ordered the best gin fizz maker in New Orleans to fly up and "teach these New York sophisticates how and what to drink.”  The next day Sam Guarino, head bartender at The Sazerac Bar, arrived and spent  three hours training his counterparts at the Roosevelt on the proper way to make Long's treasured Ramos Gin Fizz.

When that gambit garnered considerable media attention in New York City and beyond, Long decided that a repeat performance in Washington with the local press corps would be a good way to vet his opposition to Roosevelt and hint at his forthcoming bid for the Presidency.  This time he brought the newly trained head bartender from New York to a Washington hotel to make his favorite cocktail.

Surrounded by journalists, ever eager for a free drink, and with newsreel cameras grinding, Long declared  “Now this here chap knows how to mix a Ramos Gin Fizz.”  He went on to extoll the cocktail, rating it superior to Roosevelt’s “New Deal”  calling the President “no good” and a “faker.” He left little doubt about his own Presidential ambitions.  The press obliged with stories. Via newsreels, Long’s gin fizz party was screened in movie theaters throughout America, a stunt seen by millions of Americans.  Below are two frames taken from the film:

Although Long’s publicity gambit had the desired effect, it proved in the end to be inconsequential when the Kingfish was gunned down by a constituent at the Louisiana Statehouse in September 1935.  The Ramos Gin Fizz, however, lived on.  Here is the recipe as said to have been revealed by Henry “Carl” Ramos himself:


    2 ounces gin

    1 ounce simple syrup

    1 ounce heavy cream

    1/2 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed

    1/2 ounce lime juice, freshly squeezed

    3 dashes orange flower water

    1 fresh egg white


 Add the gin, simple syrup, heavy cream, lemon and lime juices, orange flower water and egg white into a shaker and dry-shake (without ice) vigorously for about 10 seconds.  Add ice and shake for at least several minutes, until well-chilled and you can no longer hear the ice cubes.  Pour into a chilled glass and slowly top with club soda to rise the foamy top.

Notes:  There are multiple Internet sources on Henry Ramos, the Ramos Gin Fizz, and Huey Long.  They differ in details  but I have tried to reconstruct the story in a single narrative, choosing the more likely versions.


Thursday, July 20, 2023

John Ford’s Cairo Ill: “A Breeding Place of…Death”


“At the junction of the two rivers, on ground so flat and low and marshy, that at certain seasons of the year it is inundated to the house-tops, lies a breeding-place of fever, ague, and death…. A hotbed of disease, an ugly sepulchre, a grave uncheered by any gleam of promise: a place without one single quality, in earth or air or water, to commend it: such is this dismal Cairo" — Charles Dickens, American Notes, 1847.

Fast forward 60 years fro the city Dickens knew to Cairo (pronounced kay-ro) in the early 1900s.  Seventy-six saloons and other drinking establishments flourished.  In addition, local wholesale and mail order liquor houses did a rousing business.  Estimated by the Cairo Bulletin newspaper to ship 200,00 packages a week, the booze traffic was enough that railroads serving Cairo put on extra trains.  Awash in alcohol, prostitution and gambling, Cairo’s reputation for crime and violence made it notorious. According to Author John A. Beadles, the city was “stained with blood and tears.” John Ford, who operated a successful liquor house on the outskirts of Cairo, was well acquainted with both.

Born in Union City, Tennessee in October 1870, the son of William and Mary Valentine Ford, John Ford gravitated fifty miles north to Cairo as a young man recognizing the opportunities that the whiskey trade offered there.  As many saloonkeepers cum retailers did, Ford featured his own brand of liquor.  He called it “Monogram Whiskey,” advertising it as “a blend of straight whiskies” and guaranteed it under the “Food and Drugs Act, June 30, 1806.” As shown below, he even provided the label with a trademark, although there is no record of his having registered the brand with the government.

Ford was not a distiller but a “rectifier,” that is, blending whiskeys from several sources brought to Cairo via the Mobile & Ohio Railroad and other carriers.  His objective was to achieve a specific color, smoothness and flavor likely to draw a customer base.  Like many other dealers, he gave away advertising corkscrews to both wholesale and retail customers for his “Monogram Whiskey.”

This “whiskey man” had married at 25, his bride was Cora, a slightly younger woman of German heritage born “at sea” according to the 1920 Census.  They had no children but kept a lodger named Bam West, who worked as a bartender in Ford’s Ohio Street saloon, located near the riverfront. Ford called it “The Two Johns Saloon.”  Nothing in the proprietor’s past predicted the series of events that ensued.

On a day in late October 1907, Ford — possibly drunk, definitely on a rampage —was being sought by Cairo police for a fracas he had caused in a local billiard parlor by beating man named Brown over the head with a billiard cue during a quarrel.  Brown had sworn out a warrant for his arrest.  Meanwhile Ford was still on the street and entered Lee Beckworth’s Saloon at Fourth and Commercial Avenue where he called for drinks for the crowd.

For an unexplained reason, Ford’s presence triggered a dispute with another patron, John W. Lewis, a well known figure in town who ran a ferry between Cairo and East Cairo, Kentucky.  That ended when Lewis and a friend left Beckwirth’s  and headed to the nearby Riddle’s Saloon at Eighth Street  and Commercial Street.  They were sitting by the stove in a back room talking whenFord burst into the room.  According to press accounts, Ford said, "Aren't you the fellow I had the quarrel with back at Beckwith's?"  Lewis replied, "I think that I am.”

Armed with a 44 Colt pistol, Ford pulled the gun and struck at Lewis three times with the barrel, holding the handle in his hand.  Lewis got up and began to run out of the saloon.  As he did, Ford shot him.  Lewis continued for a few steps to the front of the saloon and fell to the floor.  Ford continued after him, cursing  witnesses said.   Finding that the man was dead, Ford is said to have given over his gun, called the coroner, and waited until a trio of local policemen took him into custody.

From the outset, Ford insisted he had acted in self defense, claiming that Lewis had threatened him with a knife.  Indeed, a pocket knife was found not far from where the dead man’s body lay.  Friends of Lewis insisted, however, they had never known him to carry a knife.  They intimated that Ford had planted it to excuse his shooting. Local opinion ran strongly against the assailant.  According to the local newspaper, Lewis:  “…had acquired a reputation that appeared to be entirely in his favor.  He was very accommodating and frequently delivered things in Cairo for the people across the river who could not take the time to come over.”  Moreover Lewis was a widower caring for a 12 year old son, who now was  orphaned.

For the moment at least, Ford evaded arrest and incarceration.  A sheriff’s deputy into whose custody he was given, allowed him to go home for the night.  The following day he returned  to the Cairo courthouse, shown here, to stand before by a coroner’s jury inquiring into Lewis’ homicide.  After a series of witnesses gave conflicting testimony about the circumstances of the shooting, the jury found:  “…The said John R. Ford was not justified in the act and we therefore recommend that he be held until discharged by due process of law.”

The Cairo Evening Citizen newspaper reported: “Ford was lodged in jail last night and put in the steel cage.  When seen by The Citizen representative this morning, he said that he had nothing to say about the tragedy.  In the cell with him were three negroes who were amusing him by dancing and singing.”   While awaiting trial, Ford was allowed to make bail and returned to running his liquor business.

For reasons not supplied in the record, Ford’s murder trial did not occur for almost two years.  In the meantime a key witness, the only one who had seen the earlier encounter of the two men, died.  Over time memories had fogged over and public anger subsided.  On May 24, 1909, probably to no great surprise, a jury of his peers acquitted Ford of killing James Lewis.

Ford long since had settled back into his lucrative liquor trade and had even expanded his Cairo business interests.  According to the 1915 city directory, he now owned and operated a wholesale liquor house at 703 Ohio Street, a saloon at 607 Ohio, a restaurant at 8-10 Sixth St., and a barbershop next door at 12 Sixth.  Apparently the lynchings and other violence during that period in Cairo’s history had overshadowed memories of that fatal day in October 1907 when John Lewis was murdered. 

John Ford lived another 27 years before dying of natural causes in September 1934 in Cairo.  He was buried in Fairview Cemetery in Fulton County, Kentucky, about 50 miles south of Cairo on the shores of the Mississippi River.

Note:  Internet sites record local newspaper reports on the rampant violence that characterized Cairo during the early 1900s. John Beadles’ book on the city’s lawlessness and decline is called “Stained with Blood and Tears:  Lynchings, Murder and Mob Violence in Cairo , Illinois, 1909-1910.”  Although the author treats the Ford-Lewis murder only in passing, the book sets the backdrop of anarchy for the homicide narrated here.


Sunday, July 16, 2023

The Jaffes Went From a Tent to a Liquor Powerhouse

When Louis Jaffe established his Seattle saloon and liquor house in August 1889, he initially operated from a tent because a fire had destroyed much of the central city.  With the help of two sons, only a few years elapsed before Jaffe & Company Inc. was advertising as “The Finest Exclusive Liquor Store in the United States.” and the family controlled multiple outlets.

Louis was born in Gniezno, Poland, in September 1835, a city 31 miles from the border of 19th Century Prussia, an area that changed hands between Poland and Germany with some regularity.  As a result Louis sometimes listed his birthplace as Poland, sometimes Germany.  At the age of 21, he emigrated to the United States in 1857 and headed to the West Coast, settling initially in San Francisco. 

Limited information exists on Louis’ activities over the next three decades although it appears that he was able to prosper as a coal dealer in Oakland, California.  When he died, Louis was extolled in the local press as a “well known resident of Oakland, being the proprietor of  a large coal business in this city.” In 1863 he married, possibly a childhood sweetheart.  She was Johannah Oppenheim (also given as“Koppenheim”), also born in Gniezno.  The couple would have eight children, five girls and three boys.

In 1886, now 58 years old, Louis changed direction radically.  He moved to Healdsburg, California, 70 miles north of Oakland, shown above, and purchased the Pridham Vineyards, 264 acres of wine and brandy grapes.  Assisted by two grown sons, Joseph and Herbert  (both of whom had “Louis” as a middle name),  the family plunged full tilt into the wine and liquor trade.

The Seattle Fire of 1889

In  August 1889, the Jaffes moved further north to Seattle, opening just months after a fire had gutted most of the downtown.  Although the conflagration lasted less than a day, it destroyed 25 city blocks, including the entire business district, four of the city's wharves, and its railroad terminals.  Undeterred, the Jaffes set up a 15x70 foot tent at a location on what was then known as Old Mill Street just above Third Avenue South.  They quickly built a three story brick building at 115-117 Second Avenue South and opened a retail and wholesale liquor and wine house called Jaffe & Co. 

The Jaffes featured just a few whiskey brands, all of which mimicked other labels. None were trademarked.  They included “Old Oaken Bucket,” “Louis Hunter 1870,” and “Golden Wedding.”  The family presented them in amber bottles, as shown below.  The Oaken Bucket back-of-the-bar bottle, right, can be identified as a Jaffe product by the script “J” at the top.  The bottle would have been given to saloons, hotels and restaurants doing business with Jaffe & Co.

Within a reasonably short time, the Jaffes’ business mushroomed into a conglomerate.  In addition to opening Seattle’s first commercial winery called the Wine Creek Winery,  the Jaffes owned a saloon and liquor store in Spokane;  Joseph was running a spin-off called the Imperial Liquor Company, and the eldest son, Aaron, managed an enterprise listed as “wine merchants and importers.”  Meanwhile Louis, trumpeting the family’s success, was claiming on his jugs and ads that his Second Avenue headquarters was “The Finest Exclusive Liquor House in the U.S.”

As he aged, Louis’ health faltered.  On February 1, 1905, he died, age 69.  After a funeral service at the Hotel Van Nuys, he was buried in Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland.  Johanna would join him there thirteen years later.  Their joint monument is shown here.  Jaffe &Co. also remained, as a memorial to Louis and his business savvy .  The year after the patriarch’s death, the Seattle directory listed Joseph as  vice president and Herbert, shown above in a passport photo, as secretary-treasurer.  The position of president was left open, likely as a silent tribute to their father, the coal dealer turned wine and whiskey tycoon.  

For the next five years in Seattle, the Jaffe sons battled growing prohibitionary pressures and shrinking markets.  One tactic was issuing advertising shot glasses to be given to the saloons carrying the company brands.  As seen here, the brothers’ shot designs were generally a notch above other merchants as they advertised “Old Oaken Bucket,” “Golden Wedding,” and “Louis Hunter 1870 Rye.”

Recognizing that the days of selling liquor in the State of Washington were growing short, the Jaffes began to move their emphasis from the “Finest Exclusive Liquor House” to becoming less dependent on a Seattle customer base.  The decision resulted in their issuing a new series of shots, one that noted a company shift toward mail order trade.  

The ax fell in 1915 when Washington, following the trend in other states, voted to become “dry.”  Forthwith neither whiskey or wine or beer could be manufactured or sold in the state. Overnight the door closed on the alcohol conglomerate Louis Jaffe had founded 29 years earlier.  Joseph’s Imperial Liquor Co. marked the occasion by a sign that proclaimed:  “This is the end of our sinning:  ice cream and candy for us.”  The public was implored to: “Help us move this high grade stock of wines and liquors.  Price no object.”  In fact, it was not the end of Jaffe “sinning.”  The brothers wasted no time in moving Jaffe & Co. out of Seattle to the more friendly environment of reliably “wet” San Francisco.  The business survived as a retail and mail order house until 1920 when National Prohibition went into effect.  It was not revived with Repeal.

Note:  This post was created from a variety of Internet sources, census data and city directories of Seattle and San Francisco.