Saturday, September 30, 2023

Risqué Whiskey: North and South Exposure

Noting that a prior post on risqué whiskey advertising has proved popular (May 25, 2023) I am emboldened to present a second post that presents the kind of “naughty” pictures meant to entice pre-Prohibition men to purchase a specific brand of whiskey.  As the title here suggests, such images were produced all over America.

This first is from Richmond, Virginia, the capitol of the Confederacy.  The very young lady shown lifting her skirt advertises “Deep Run Hunt Club Pure Rye” on a deck of playing cards.  This was a brand from E. A. Saunders & Son Company, who provided the Southland with wholesale liquor, tobacco, and grocery items via the elaborate railroad network that linked Richmond to southern states.  Rectifiers of at least four brands of whiskey, the Saunders family sold their liquor interests to Richmond’s Phil G. Kelly in 1905 after 20 years in business and opened a local grocery store.

The second skirt-lifting girl is one of several trade card images from an outfit that featured “Old Maryland Dutch Whiskies.”  My efforts to track down the company behind the brand have proved fruitless.  Particularly intriguing about this advertising were the slogans for Old Maryland Dutch:  “The Purest Stimulant in Existence” and “When not taken immoderately, there will be an entire absence of Nervous Prostration.”   This brand also was “Emphatically ‘The Whiskies of Our Daddies.”  One imagines daddies might well be prone to “nervous prostration” if their daughters ran around like the one shown here.

Dreyfus & Weil, Paducah, Kentucky, distillers provided a somewhat more suggestive trade card of young women, in this case dancers, raising up their skirts while three bonafide “dirty old men” take a long look.  Sam H. Dreyfuss and his partner regularly were excoriated in the press for the sexual images they presented in their merchandising.  Their “Devil’s Island Endurance Gin,” sold with suggestive advertising was accused by critics of having been instrumental in rapes and even one murder.


From lifted skirts to bared bosoms, we head west to San Francisco where Roth & Company had trademarked “Capitol O.K. Whiskey” in 1906.  Its saloon sign depicted an underwater topless beauty.  Joseph Roth founded this firm in 1859, initially located in the old U.S. Courthouse near Oregon Street.   After working with several partners over the years, Roth died in 1891 and the firm in 1906 was bought by Edwin Scheeling and his wife.  The earthquake and fire that year destroyed the premises but the Scheelings rebuilt and the business survived until the arrival of National Prohibition. 

Other popular advertising gimmicks were calendars.  They might be hung up in a drinking establishment or more cautiously in a customer’s “man cave.”  This beauty graced a calendar issued by the Brolinski Saloon of Niagara Falls, New York, likely given out to the boys along the bar.  Brolinski likely bought this image from a catalogue and personalized it by having his name and address attached.  The lady involved was clearly a Middle Eastern harem dweller, a popular exotic image of the pre-Pro era.

Also popular were representations of Greek goddesses in various states of undress.  They are found on a number of whiskey advertising items, including signs, trade cards, celluloid pocket mirrors and, as in this case, paperweights.  The weight above shows Diana, the goddess of the hunt, in a forest setting with her bow in hand and half-clothed in something filmy.  She has just fired an arrow, likely into a deer offstage.  The item was issued by the Fleischmann Company, famous for yeast, but also a major producer of whiskey under a number of brand names. 

Another lass clothed only in gauze is somewhat inexplicably holding onto a horse in this trade card.  She may, however, be what one Milwaukee liquor dealer thought Lady Godiva might look like.  He was A. M. Bloch who founded his enterprise in 1877. Over the thirty years of its existence Bloch’s firm was located at several addresses on the city’s Water Street, where many of its liquor emporiums were located.  Although not mentioned on this ad, Bloch’s flagship brand was “Joker Club.”  

Even staid Boston could spawn a risqué image, this one from Felton & Son, founded by F. L. Felton and located in South Boston.  The company house brands were “Felton Rye,” “Old Felton Rye,” and “Felton’s New England Rum,” the latter the excuse for this tantalizing saloon reverse glass sign.  The Feltons were distillers and known most particularly for their rum, advertised as“…Unsurpassed by any in the market, is warranted copper distilled, perfectly pure….   Would the Feltons, I wonder, have vouched for the “perfect purity” of the nude on their sign?


At this point, all modesty has flown away.  Whatever covering this nude may have had is now held above her head, advertising “Big Spring” whiskey.  This sweetie was brought to the public by the infamous “Whiskey Trust,” an attempt to create a monopoly in the whiskey trade in order to drive up prices.  Located in Louisville, the organization officially was known as the Kentucky Distilleries & Warehouse Company.  More successful than other similar attempts at combining distilleries the Kentucky outfit operated from 1902 to 1919, buying or spawning more than a dozen brands, but it never achieved its profit goals. 

The invention of celluloid made possible a variety of liquor-related advertising items that retain their appeal even a century or more later.  The shapely female shown on this match safe is a excellent example of celluloid art, even though it is difficult to understand why light is shining from the palms of her hands.  This interesting image was brought to the drinking public by Herman Frech, a pre-Prohibition Minneapolis liquor dealer, located at 14-16 North Sixth Street.   His logo, unseen here, appears on the opposite side. It presents his name, a whiskey bottle, two glasses and a box of cigars.

If one nude sells whiskey, hey — why not try three?  That may have motivated B.S. Flersheim to issue a trio of nudes on a saloon sign advertising his mercantile company in Kansas City, Missouri.  The sign, that sold in 2019 for $37,000,  displays the unclad ladies visiting a gent sitting in an easy chair and quaffing a brand of whisky aptly named, “Its Tempting.”  That label was trademarked in 1904.  Another B.S. Flersheim & Company brand was “Old Bondage.”  Its use on this sign would have been really kinky.  Founded in 1879, Flersheim’ liquor business survived until 1918, a 37 year run.

There they are risqué whiskey fans.  A dozen females in various stages of dress and undress.  They were issued all over the country, from reputedly stogy places like Boston and Milwaukee to more exciting locales like San Francisco and Niagara Falls.  These images all had the same purpose:  to sell whiskey.  Moreover, they all faced the same fate:  Banishment to the ranks of collectibles once women begin to frequent drinking establishments.

Note:  Longer vignettes on two of the “whiskey men” noted in this post are to be found elsewhere on this website:  David Sachs, October 25, 2011, and Dreyfuss & Weil, March 1, 2013. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Tom Holland and Denver’s“Knockout” Saloon

Foreword:   Every bottle has a story, so it is said, and behind the flask at right is the account of a Denver saloonkeeper as described in Denver Times stories in July 1901 and  a year later in July 1902, more than a century ago.  Initially unearthed by John Eatwell in 2005  for an article for the pages of Bottles & Extras magazine, the newspaper account deserves being reprised here because of the light it shines on the political clout of a saloonkeeper in early Twentieth Century Denver.

Tom Holland, saloonkeeper was sentenced to the penitentiary for a term of five to ten years at hard labor by Judge Booth Malone this morning:  “The crime of which the jury have found you guilty and for which you now stand convicted before the bar of justice, is one which, while altogether too common in this community, is unmanly and not at all to your credit.  You open your place of business, invite the public to patronize you, and then, taking advantage of your neighbors and patrons, you proceed to drug and rob them, then threw them out in the streets and alleys, perhaps to die.”

Judge Malone delivered his sentence, saying:  “This crime is not only a treacherous one, but full of danger to human life and that brings disrepute to the fair name of your city and community.  It reflects most seriously upon the reputation of the city but upon the administration of the law when a crime like this cannot only occur again and again, but when upon one of the principal thoroughfares of the city, in the very heart of the business center, it is time this “knockout drop” business was stopped.”

“It is extremely fortunate for you that you are not today standing before the court to be sentenced for murder instead of larceny from the person.  I do not understand why you permitted yourself to so mean and dangerous a crime.  You were not hungry, nor were you braving danger and defying the law to feed a starving family.  You were reported to be a man of means and of some influence, not only among men of your own calling, but in certain political and other walks of life.  You may have presumed upon that influence, or you may have been encouraged by the unbridled or unpunished spirit of lawlessness that has already  too long been riding roughshod and rampant in the community.”

“The judgment of the court is that you , Thomas Holland, are guilty of the crime of larceny from the person, as found by the verdict of the jury, and the sentence of the court is that you be confined in the state penitentiary of the state of Colorado, at hard labor, for a period of not less than five, nor more than ten years.”

Colorado State Penitentiary

Holland’s face was pale as he listened to the scathing words of the court.  The sentence of five years of hard labor almost unnerved the man.  As he sat down with the walls of the prison staring at him, a slight moisture gathered about his eyes, but he said nothing.  

A Year Later:  Springing Thomas Holland

One year ago, Judge Booth M. Malone of the district court announced from the bench that it was time for the “knockout business” in Denver to cease operations, and he proceeded to deliver a dose of drops strong enough to put a notorious knockout offender out of commission for ten years.

Judge Malone’s action was taken after a careful examination of the case under consideration, having heard all the testimony and arguments on both sides.  After an ex-parte examination, the state board of pardons has prescribed as an antidote for Judge Malone’s medicine.  The verdict of a jury, the sentence of the district court and the ruling of the supreme court are nullified by the decision of the board of pardons, and the knockout venders may resume business at the old stand.

Governor Orman will probably pardon Thomas Holland who is serving time at Canon City for a despicable crime.  As a member of the board of pardons, James B. Orman has recommended to Governor Orman that Holland be released from the penitentiary.  In his executive capacity the governor cannot consistently ignore the request made by himself to his advisory capacity.  With characteristic evasion of responsibility the governor will say:  “Really I have not had the time to examine the case, but I assume that the board has given it careful consideration, and I suppose I must accept the board’s findings.  Honestly. could you expect me to do otherwise?”

Tom Holland conducted a disreputable saloon in a most respectable portion of the city — in the heart of the business center of Denver.  His place was a rendezvous for well dressed rascals and was headquarters for “repeaters” on election day.  He was a power in ward politics and his pull afforded him protection.  One day he overreached himself and committed a crime so flagrant that it could not be passed without notice.  He was given a fair trial and in spite of all influences and legal ability used in his behalf, he was convicted.  Arguments were submitted for a new trial, which was denied, and the supreme court refused to intrfere.  He was given every opportunity to establish his innocence.  His was not the case of a poor and friendless man rushed to prison because he lacked means for defense.

A Politically Engineered Release

The release of the notorious Thomas Holland, mixer of knockout cocktails and fixer of elections, in general [is] condemned to this community, for his guilt was thoroughly established at his trial and no new evidence had been presented to show his innocence.  Holland’s pardon was due to political influences, and was not an act of justice to an innocent man, or of clemency to a deserving one.  Holland was a power in ward politics before his conviction, and so many politicians were under obligations to him that his pull was not broken when the doors of the state prison closed behind him.  A new campaign is about to open and the governor needs assistance.  Holland had proved himself to be a valuable political worker, but as Convict No. 5204, his services would have been unavailable.

The evil of such pardons is not so much in the release of the individual criminal as in its effect on the wrongdoers.  It is possible Tom Holland will hereinafter be careful not to get tangled up in the meshes of the law.  He will probably confine his bartending to serving drinks, without a dash of knockout bitters in them.  But the object of the law is not simply to punish the individual offenders or to reform him.  It is also to furnish example to others of his class.  When the law is nullified, the exemplary effect is destroyed.

In the Holland pardon, the governor has notified the dive keepers that they have license to resume their disreputable methods, provided they render sufficient political service.  Their freedom depends not upon their good conduct but upon their political efficiency.

Holland Generated Democratic Votes

Thomas Holland was recommended for executive clemency by the board of pardons at the request of numerous democratic politicians.  Holland’s place has for years been one of the most notorious resorts in the city for the repeatees and ballot box stuffers. It was from his place that repeatees were out in droves in the last city election to cast illegal ballots and corrupt the elections.  A large number of ward politicians appeared before the governor to plead for Holland’s pardon.

Judge Booth Malone sent a letter, which, while not declaring it in behalf in the man’s innocence, left it discretionary with the board to judge if Holland ought to be set at liberty.  Another election is approaching and the outlook is not very bright for the party, which always depends on Holland’s saloon to do its share in electing a ticket and his services were again needed, hence the pardon.

Petitioners for Holland’s Release

There is great public interest in the names of the persons wh have been instrumental in setting Holland at liberty.  Among those who petitioned for Holland’s release were five from district court, two assessors, one county clerk and recorder, five county commissioners, one sheriff and a number of businessmen.  Besides these were about 100 signatures of private individuals unknown to the general public.

A second petition came from the democratic office holders at the police station, including the chief of police, captain of detectives, under sheriff, state oil inspector, and many others along with 50 names of persons not well known.

Then there were a large number of men who went to the trouble of writing or signing personal letters to the governor or the board of pardons.  Among them were Holland’s family physician, a manufacturer, a cigar maker, a doctor, a paper dealer, an auctioneer, a bank cashier, a liquor dealer (Ed Lewin), the Zang Brewing Co., the warden of the penitentiary and finally came a communication signed by the ten jurors who could be reached.  Many of the personal letters were identical in contents, showing they had been prepared by one person and signatures applied to them.(END)

Note:  Shown here is an illustration of the Denver Times, a daily newspaper that operated from 1872 to 1926 when it merged with the Rocky Mountain News. The illustration of the Holland flask and the cartoon are from John Eatwell’s original article.  The other images have come from Internet sources.  My vignette on Ed Lewin may be found on this website at May 13, 2018.  A post about another Denver saloonkeeper, Wolfe Londoner, and his controversial election as the city’s mayor ran here on November 26, 2017.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Dr. Seuss Sells the Sauce

I am a fan of the Dr. Seuss books, from “Cat in a Hat” to “Horton Hears a Hoo" and beyond -- books read to my sons when they were tots.  Unknown to me then was that their author, Theodor Seuss Geisel, earlier had created captivating advertisements for whiskey and beer among dozens of artworks for commercial purposes.

Geisel came from a family of brewers. His grandfather owned the Kalmbach and Geisel Brewery in Springfield, Mass. In 1894 it was renamed the Highland Brewery and five years later became part of the Springfield Brewery. In 1919, on the very day his father became president of the company, Prohibition was voted and eventually forced the brewery to close. Geisel never forgot the financial loss and trauma this event caused his family.

Geisel’s 1942 anti-Prohibition cartoon above was occasioned by a bill in Congress to lower the draft age that included a rider that would have outlawed the sale of liquor in areas adjacent to military installations. The opposition position, shared by Geisel, was that many liquor stores in wartime America were near some kind of military site. This threat occasioned the cartoon referencing the long dead Prohibition stalwart, Carrie Nation, riding on a characteristically Dr. Seuss camel.  The measure failed.

The artist’s first foray into alcoholic beverages occurred in 1937 when he was commissioned to do a series of ads for Schaefer Beer. A New York City brewery, the F & M Schaefer Company had been founded in 1842 by brothers from Wetzlar, Germany. The brewery survived Prohibition and at one point in the 1950s Schaefer was reputed to be the largest selling beer in the world. Geisel was hired to give a lively image to Schaefer’s bock beer, a dark malty seasonal beverage that typically is available in March and April.

Because “bock” is also the word for goat in German, the brew often is depicted with that image. In keeping with this tradition, Geisel used a typically Seussian-looking mountain goat for his ad. In one illustration, the goat is a trophy animal who is looking enviously off the wall at two glasses of beer passing by. In another, the goat is a waiter carrying a foaming schooner on a tray.

Noting his distinctive work for Schaefer, in 1942 the Narragansett Brewing Company, located in Cranston, Rhode Island, asked Geisel to undertake an ad campaign for its beer. The president, Rudolph F. Haffenreffer, was a avid collector of Native American artifacts including cigar store Indians. Haffenreffer asked Geisel to weave a wooden Indian theme into his advertising.

Thus was born “Chief Gansett,” a blocky figure wearing beads, carrying a hatchet and boasting a multicolored headdress. Most often this wooden Indian carried a large goblet of beer. The image proved very popular and the Chief appeared on a range of marketing items including trays, bar coasters, and posters as well as in newspaper and magazine ads. In an ad for bock beer, Chief Gansett also was depicted riding on an animal that bore a strong resemblance to the goat Geisel earlier had drawn for Schaefer Beer.

When a small Scotch distillery in 1939 called Hankey Bannister decided to advertise in the U.S. market, it sought a special image that would make its bottles distinctive on the shelves of American bars and liquor stores. Founded in 1757, this wines & spirits company established its premises at Johns Street in London's West End.  Given the distillery assignment, Geisel created the “Hankey Bird,” an absurd looking avian with a large beak and wearing a kilt. With the use of a small spring, the figure snapped onto the neck of a bottle of Hankey Bannister Scotch. It brought instant attention to the whiskey.  Sales soared.

With tongue firmly in cheek, Geisel wrote in 1939:  ”There’s no sense to it."The bird on the bottle is a replica of an actual bird, developed after years of painstaking cross-breeding in the Seuss Laboratories for a lofty purpose, namely, to produce a carrier pigeon for the Scottish army... a bird so distinctive that it would not be mistaken for a grouse and shot down by near-sighted American millionaires. After fifteen generations of wearing kilts, the Hankey Bird has developed sideburns. But most unfortunately his mating call is characterized by a distinct burr. Our only purpose in leasing him to Hankey Bannister is to finance further scientific effort to de-burr that mating call...not, I assure you, to aid in the crass business of selling whiskey."

Throughout his career Ted Geisel as Dr. Seuss had written and drawn for youngsters. In 1957, however, he published two remarkable books that sent his reputation into the stratosphere, “Cat in a Hat” and “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” Thereafter he was able to abandon commercial work entirely to concentrate on children’s literature. While generations forward may be thankful for that, a look back is instructive to the time when Dr. Seuss “sold the sauce” and a whole lot of other things through his art. 

Note:  Those early Geisal drawings lovingly have been gathered by Dr. Charles D. Cohen, a Springfield Mass. dentist, in a marvelous book called “Seuss, the Whole Seuss and Nothing But the Seuss.” It is a must read for any Dr. Seuss aficionado.


Monday, September 18, 2023

Atlanta’s 1st Mayor: “Whiskey Man” Moses Formwalt

As their candidate for the first mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, Moses Formwalt was a natural for a local political party that called itself “Free & Rowdy.”  A tinsmith who fashioned distilling apparatus and owned a highly successful saloon, he was a leading citizen of the newly incorporated city.  Elected in 1848 for a one year term and soon after suffering an untimely death, Formwalt rightly has remained enshrined in Atlanta’s memory.

Format’s origins were hardly propitious.  His father, John Formwalt was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1774, two years before the American Revolution, from a family of sturdy Presbyterian stock.  By the age of 20 John had married a local girl named Margaret Elizabeth Kerr, age 15, and moved west to Knoxville, Tennessee.  Born in 1820 Moses Formwalt was never to know his father.  At 46, while Moses was still “in utero,” John died, leaving Margaret with three children.  His mother died when Moses was 10, relegating him to be raised by older siblings.

When he reached 16, the young Formwalt struck out on his own.  In 1836 he moved to Decatur, Georgia, almost 220 miles directly south of Knoxville.  There he appears to have learned and practiced tin and copper smithing with a specialized talent for crafting distillery equipment.  By 1846 he had moved to nearby, newly named Atlanta that was growing fast as the terminus point of the Western and Atlantic Railroad.  Formwalt found a ready market for his pot stills and in 1847 was able to open a saloon of his own on Decatur Street, perhaps the one shown below.  His establishment proved popular with residents and the proprietor rapidly grew in wealth and prominence. 

By 1850 the city of 2,500 boasted 40 saloons. Unlike the pre-Civil War “Gone with the Wind” view of Atlanta as one of Southern charm and cultivated manners, the town more resembled the Wild West, as suggested in the contemporary cartoon below.  Sections of Atlanta were infamous as hangouts for thieves, gamblers, prostitutes and hoodlums.  Shady characters inhabited areas known as Slab Town and Murrell’s Row — the latter named for a notorious gang leader and murderer.

When Atlanta incorporated and set its initial mayoral elections. two political parties emerged although voting was non-partisan.  One was the “Free and Rowdy” Party.   The adherents, called Rowdies included the owners of Atlanta’s proliferating distilleries, saloons, and brothels who represented a major voting bloc. They favored keeping Atlanta a “wide open” town. The opposition called itself the “Moral Party.” It ran on a law and order platform aimed at eliminating vice and curbing liquor sales.  For the initial mayoral election the Free and Rowdies chose the popular and prosperous Moses Formwalt;  the Moralists picked Jonathan Norcross, a New Englander who owned a sawmill.

The 1847 election was fiercely contested although only 215 votes were cast—women and people of color not allowed. Artist Wilbur Kurtz painted the scene at one polling place, Thomas Kile’s Grocery, where activity is depicted as brisk.  Sixty election-related fist fights are said to have occurred during the day.  When the votes were counted, Formwalt had won the one year term as Atlanta’s first mayor.

The “whiskey man’s” term in office was well documented in a record kept by James E. Williams, a subsequent mayor.  Formwalt’s term was marked by modest progress.  A board of health was chosen, new streets were opened, and a bridge across a stream on Hunter Street was widened and raised.  On a curious note, in April 1848 Norcross and another man were charged with disorderly conduct of an unspecified nature at a city meeting.  The other man was fined $10; the charges against Norcross were dropped.

The Formwalt’s office apparently included some judicial powers.  According to a May 1906 article in the Atlanta Constitution, the city’s first police officer, German Lester, shown here in a newspaper photo, was: “A good marshal, brave man, faithfully performed his duties as circumstances would permit.  Often he would arrest violators of the law and carry them before the mayor, who would discharge them, when really they should have been heavily punished.”

Two years before his election the 28-year-old Formwalt had married.  His bride was Elizabeth Ann Bell, 17, born in nearby Elbert County, Georgia.  No record exist of her reaction to becoming the “first lady” of Atlanta as a teenager.  Elizabeth may have had religious or other objections to her husband running a saloon because after his year as “hizzoner,” Formwalt abruptly changed occupations and became a Dekalb County deputy sheriff.  

It turned out to be a fatal decision.  On May 1, 1852, Formwalt was escorting a prisoner to the courthouse from the county jail when the man pulled a knife from

under his jacket and fatally stabbed the former mayor, killing him.  In addition to being Atlanta’s first mayor, Moses now became the first Dekalb County deputy sheriff killed in the line of duty.   His death helped to spark a citizen push for greater law and order in Atlanta.  After two other Free and Rowdy mayors, Jonathan Norcross was elected on the Moral Party ticket and promptly cracked down hard on Atlanta’s disorderly residents, changing the character of the city virtually overnight.

Even in death, Formwalt continued to hold public attention.  Following a well attended funeral, he was interred in a burial plot he owned in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery.  Several years later, however, his widow Elizabeth, by now remarried, 

sold the plot to another local family.   Although a downtown street was named in Formwalt’s honor, the prospect was that Atlanta’s first mayor would lie ignominiously amidst strangers.

A protest arose among the populace.  A committee was appointed to find a more suitable resting place.  After considerable delay a site was found that later was discovered to lay within a section of the cemetery reserved for pauper graves.  Again public protest erupted.  Not until 1916, 64 years after his death, was Foremost awarded a suitable burial site.  His body was disinterred and moved.

Atlanta’s first mayor now lies in a place of honor in Oakland Cemetery, a prominent location marked by a striking granite monument.  It contains a plaque that reads:  Erected by the City of Atlanta to the memory of Atlanta’s first mayor, Moses W. Formwalt, 1848.”  Nearby is a fountain featuring two children under an umbrella.  They seem to be looking toward Formwalt’s grave.  For me it is a sad reminder that this distillery craftsman and saloonkeeper did not live long enough to father a family of his own.

Notes:  Although information on Moses Formwalt is not easily accessible, sufficient material exists online to craft the story of how this “whiskey man” rose to become Atlanta’s first mayor and about his unfortunate death.  Details about Formwalt, his father and wife may be found on