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Friday, February 7, 2020


Note:  This is research by a joint effort between Eric McGuire and myself. We both realized we were doing concurrent research and decided to collaborate in a single article. Great fun, and we welcome any comments or further information on this subject.

"El fantasma". Translated into English, means "the ghost".
And that's exactly what the Mexican Tonic fifth has been. One example was dug down in Southern California years ago. Since then, no more have surfaced. The bottle is a
beautiful example of a clear picture "whiskey". Embossed MEXICAN TONIC / large picture of an eagle but with no serpent in its beak, and talons holding a branch with a flower / JOSE GARCIA, MEX.

Bob Barnett first documented it's existence in 1997, in Western Whiskey Bottles 4th edition as #549, with a footnote that only one damaged example existed. He'd guessed that it dated ca. 1895 - 1905. At the time Bob saw the bottle it was in a collection in
Carson City Nevada. Since then, the bottle had disappeared from the radar. Oh well, it's Mexican anyway so of no real interest to collectors of western American pre-pro whiskies; or so we thought...

This rather rare bottle is not known to many collectors. The name implies some connection to Mexico even though the words MEXICAN TONIC are decidedly English. The proprietor appears to be Jose Garcia from, or in, Mexico. I couldn’t imagine the difficulty in attempting to document this man in Mexico. It would be even more difficult than finding a certain John Smith in the United States. Fortunately, the implied proprietor of this MEXICAN TONIC  is only fictitious. The bottle was actually a product of two California men who are not impossible to document but still a challenge – Alphonso Moncton Peache and Myndert LaRue Starin.

A search of available online digital newspapers turned up this small advertisement. It ran from January 6, 1890 through June 1890. Lowenthal & Myers, wholesale liquor dealers of Albuquerque, New Mexico, secured the wholesale agency for that state in January 1890 and ran a few ads in the Albuquerque Morning Democrat  until April 1890. The only wholesale agent located who advertised the product in California was Brassy & Co. in San Jose, who continued a similar ad from July 1890 to September 1890. Brassy & Co. was primarily a wholesale liquor agent, which lends credence to the conjecture that the Mexican Tonic was an alcoholic beverage.

The partners, Starin and Peache, residents of Los Angeles, created a medicinal product, as phony as the ‘best’ of them, claiming it was good for dyspepsia, constipation and loss of appetite. Packaged in a whiskey style bottle it probably carried a healthy dose of alcohol. Understanding the basics of marketing, the bottles were nicely embossed with a Mexican eagle and the artwork of the labels were first class. The name and graphics were trademarked with the California Secretary of State to help deter imposters who were expected to copy the product if it were to become wildly successful, as they hoped. It received trademark No. 1665 on October 24, 1888, which was undoubtedly about the time that Mexican Tonic was first marketed. 
The beautiful front label for Mexican Tonic
The secondary bottle labels for Mexican Tonic
The son of  England born William E. and Mary J. Thompson Peache, Alphonso Moncton Peache was born in Michigan in 1868. His father was a boiler maker in Port Huron, but Alphonso apparently had no interest in that trade. He first appears in the registration record of the Seventh Infantry Regiment of the California National Guard (Los Angeles) as a Hospital Steward on October 10, 1888.

Of course, there was no bona fide Major George LaRue. Starin had created a fictional person using his middle name for this Major who so loved the Mexican Tonic. This was the earliest ‘advertisement’ located, running on January 1,2 and 3 of 1890.

The 1890 Los Angles Business Directory lists both Peache and Starin as being associated with the Mexican Tonic Co., and both residing at 210 Boyd St. In 1891 Peache is listed as a druggist at the same address, along with Starin, but the latter is listed as a salesman with the Germain Fruit Co.

One may begin to wonder if the Mexican Tonic Co. had reached the end of the line by 1890. To even bolster this thought the Mexican Tonic advertisement that can be found nearly every day in the Los Angeles and San Jose, California, newspapers abruptly ended in September 1890. The only other continuing advertisements for Mexican Tonic were from retailers who were offering sale of the tonic at a reduced price. All indications conclude that the tonic was a defunct product by the end of 1890.
 By 1892 Peache is listed as a salesman at 124 Spring St., and residing at 500 Buena Vista, in Los Angeles. Starin is missing from the listings but is noted as a salesman at 210 Boyd in the 1893 listing. Also of interest is a listing for Helen Starin at 224 Boyd. She was Starin’s mother. Starin is listed at the same address in 1894 as a “business manager Trade”, and in 1895 as a salesman and in partnership with Abe Hart as proprietors of the St. Louis Lunch Room at 109 W. Second. (In 1897and 1898, Starin is a clerk and residing at 210 Boyd, and as a salesman in 1899)

In fact, Peache was acting as a salesman for the Cudahy Packing Company of Omaha at least by January 1892. He continued in the employ of Cudahy as a traveling salesman and is documented traveling throughout the west as far as Helena, Montana, in the north and Dallas, Texas, to the south. He eventually became a manager for Cudahy in 1902 and Peache was quickly ensnared in matrimony when he married Clara Fotheringham on May 14, 1903, in her home town of Sutter Creek, California. He and Clara had two children in San Francisco, Dorothy on March 2, 1904, Kathryn on  March 25, 1907. They then moved to Oakland about 1911 and had Alphonso, jr. on February 19, 1912.

Tragedy struck quickly to the Peache family when Clara died December 1, 1913, and Alphonso died a week later on December 7, 1913. Their three children were suddenly orphans which was quickly remedied when Clara’s parents, Fred and Emma Fotheringham, took them in and raised them in San Francisco.
The obituary notice for Alphonso Peache (Oakland Tribune, December 8, 1913)
Myndert LaRue Starin was born April 5, 1857, in Watertown, Wisconsin. He moved from Chicago to Los Angeles in the Spring of 1880. (Los Angeles Herald, 15 Nov 1896)) Starin is first documented in California as a member of the Eagle Corps of the California National Guard in Los Angeles in 1882, and working for Hellman, Haas & Co., wholesale grocers.  He was elected a third sergeant of the California Eagle Corps National Guard, under the supervision of then Major George S. Patton, in 1884. (He was the father of General George S. Patton, Sr.) (Los Angeles Herald, January 17, 1884) By 1886 Starin was instrumental in organizing Company C of the Seventh Regiment, Los Angeles and elected its captain. (San Diego Union and Daily Bee, August 4, 1889)

It is highly likely that Starin and Peache became friends through their National Guard activities, both committed salesmen; probably saw the potential benefits of creating and selling a medicinal product of their own making. Both apparently loved the world of sales and felt they could succeed handsomely with their talents. Starin’s father, Erastus Charles Starin, died June 30, 1891, leaving his estate equally divided to Myndert Starin and to Helen, who was Myndert’s mother. Myndert’s father had worked in the insurance industry and owned a hotel in Los Angeles. It is probable that Myndert received a considerable estate from his father.
Acting as a traveling salesman, Starin sojourned to Manila in the latter part of 1899. Assessing the business conditions he was pessimistic about opportunities. However, he noted,,. . . “that there are good openings in Manila at present for a manufacturing chemist, lawyers, a photo supply house and a manufacturing confectioner”. (Los Angeles Herald, 12 February 1900) . He may have tipped his hand a bit as a reason for traveling there when he further stated, . . . “The coldest weather there is warmer than in Los Angeles at this time and you can see the ‘miasma’ rise out of the ground every morning.  It is like breathing a poisonous gas, and then there are no sewers.  The moist tropical climate produces all kinds of malarial and tropical fevers and I hear the plague is there now.  If that is so, the question of living there is settled.”

Back in Los Angeles, in 1900 Starin invested in the Oak Oil company, becoming a director, and secretary,  at a time when the Los Angeles fields were booming. (Los Angeles Herald, 4 Mar 1900).  He also became a director of the newly incorporated Kismet Oil company a month later (Los Angeles Herald, 5 April 1900)  He then became a director of the newly incorporated Trophy Oil company in May of 1900.  (Los Angeles Herald, 9 May 1900)  With continued trust in the oil business he then subscribed $7,000 to the incorporation of the Arfena Oil company. (Los Angeles Herald, 19 Jul 1900) It appears that he got a little carried away with investments for in 1903 Starin, still defined as a commercial traveler, filed bankruptcy alleging his liabilities to be $2390 and assets, $350.  (Los Angeles Herald, 22 Jul 1903) And, this was at the time when California was the largest oil producing state in the U.S.
 As he had done several years earlier, Starin purchased a liquor license, this time from A. T. Carter for use at 115 Wilmington Street, Los Angeles. ( Los Angeles Herald, 4 May 1904).  In 1907 he then purchased the liquor license of wholesale liquor dealer, C.R. Grand of 422 North Main Street. (Los Angeles Herald, 11 December 1907). The 1910 U.S. census lists Starin as a wholesale liquor salesman.

Starin was active in politics and attended many of the city, county and State Republican conventions for years, as a delegate. His first bid for the Los Angeles City Council came in 1896, but he lost. In 1909 Starin again threw in his hat for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council. (Los Angeles Herald, 14 Sep 1909) He wasn’t elected but tried again in 1913.  Chances were slim, as the San Pedro Daily News exclaimed the “Aspirants for Mayor and Council (are) thick as dots in a telegraph office”. (San Pedro Daily News, 27 Mar 1913). Not gaining a council seat Starin eventually settled into the accounting business. He died February 25, 1945, in Los Angeles County.

Another company by the name of Goldschmidt Bros. also advertised a Mexican Tonic in the Spanish newspaper, Las Dos Republicas, from 1896 until July 1898. Goldschmidt was a large wholesale liquor company in Los Angeles, and it is my guess that it had acquired the remaining stock of Mexican Tonic, and was attempting to sell it to the Mexican population of Los Angeles.
The elusive Mexican Tonic bottle

A close-up view of the embossing

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Aurora Oregon Show

February is here! 

Daffodils are just now starting to sprout from the frozen soil, a sure sign that spring isn't too far off.

And with February comes the annual Aurora Show.

This little show is one of the best kept secrets up north. 

What it lacks in size is more than made up for in the quality of glass that pops up every year.

A fun venue to be sure!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Ken Schwartz Collection - Just the facts~


I've received a ton of emails and phone calls asking just what the heck is going on. Truthfully, I didn't know. Rather than speculating and spreading rumors, I went straight to the horses mouth.

Ralph Hollibaugh and Ken were close friends for as long as I've known both. Ralph is also extremely knowledgeable and honest.

Ralph was selected by the family to facilitate liquidating the collection. And this, is what Ralph had to say.



This whole thing started last Tuesday with a $XXXXX offer on a flask the offer was accepted and two people there are bidding on lots were able to buy what they wanted. Then **** **** called and made an offer on three of the top 10 whiskeys and then it exploded.

I started getting calls for items; getting maybe 50 phone calls a day. Sold a considerable amount to a few people. I couldn’t handle more than a couple to three people at a time and sending a list is an impossibility. There’s things on the list that were priced out 40 years ago and there’s also things that are more recent and it can take an hour or so just to find an item on the list and then it can take up to an hour or two to find it.

There’s no preference who buys.  It is taking the time to process everything.

Thanks for your interest.

Also you can relate this to everyone on the Internet.




If anyone is interested in making arrangements to meet with Ralph, drop me a line and I'll provide you with Ralph's contact info. You can contact me via email at

Good luck, Bruce

Saturday, December 7, 2019

West Coast Shows-2020 will be here before we know it!

I figured we'd get ahead of the curve and start publishing West Coast Show notifications.
Here's the first five in order of appearance.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

On a mid-summers day in 1969~

On a mid-summers day in 1969~

I lived in the High Sierras above Sonora California. My little cabin was on the site of what had originally been the site of the Cold Springs Mill and Incline Railway, which saw extensive logging activity around the turn of the century. 

Back then I "bottle hunted"; that as opposed to digging. Nearly seventy years of pine and cedar needles had covered the forest floor (and discarded trash) with nearly a foot of "litter". Often I'd walk the area and just feel for bottles beneath my feet. A potato rake was the only tool required for success and hardly a day off went by without adding to my rapidly growing collection. Being both loggers and railroad men they drank, a lot.

The surrounding hillsides were crisscrossed with a labyrinth of skid chutes, abandoned rail beds and steam donkey landings. One afternoon in July of 1969, I was clawing my way up a steep hillside when I suddenly lost my footing and slipped on the pine needles above a donkey landing site. Just before I was about to crash and burn, I caught a glimpse of braided steel steam donkey "wire rope" and grabbed on, catching my balance. At that instant I spotted an amber bottle that had been dislodged by the cable, rolling down the hillside at breakneck speed. It was headed straight for me. With the skill of an NFL wide receiver (more like dumb luck...) I caught it in mid air. 


It was a whiskey. An embossed whiskey at that! P. Claudius & Co. / San Francisco Cal. 

Inside was a wooden plug instead of the inside thread stopper that it originally had. 
Also unusual was the piece of wire rope wrapped around the top of the neck. The free end of it was fashioned into a hook. Aha I thought; it had been repurposed into an oil bottle to lubricate the donkey. The wire hook would have held it in a convenient spot. 19th century recycling at its finest! Later that summer I found a broken P. Claudius with the original embossed Riley patent IT stopper to go with my intact example. 

Back then I was just a long haired hippie living the good life, but without two nickels to rub together. Without any bottle books, I just enjoyed what I found in blissful ignorance. In the early 70's I bought my first whiskey book. Bill & Betty Wilson had written it a couple of years before. My P. Claudius was on page 49, along with a little history of Peter Claudius (never mind that the "facts" both contradicted themselves and were wrong)... And the book said my bottle was "rare". Cool, I thought!

Fast forward fifty years I can't hike the hills or dig like I used to. At least for bottles. My digging abilities have been replaced with research abilities. As much as I often despise the digital age, it does have its good points. One of the main plusses of the internet is the vast amount of information that is available, if you know how and where to "dig" for it.

About a week ago, I was dusting off some of my more common bottles, and strayed across the P. Claudius that I'd found a half century prior. A rush of great memories came back. I wondered just who this P. Claudius was, and how he'd come to own a liquor company around the turn of the century, with his name embossed on a bottle.

The first reference I found to P. (Peter) Claudius surprised me. It dated all the way back to 1882. Huh, he was a "porter" for the massive firm of Lilienthal & Co. in San Francisco. What on earth was a porter, and why did Lilienthal need one? A quick search of the word porter spelled it out; " a person stationed at a door or gate to admit or assist those entering". Hmm, he was (in modern terms) a doorman living in a rooming house called the "Keystone House". 

The following year saw him doing the same job, for the same employer but now living at 34 Tehama. He stayed there through 1884, and then relocated to 703 Stockton. 1886 saw yet another move to 6 Lily Ave. 1887 was status quo. 

1888 saw major changes for Peter. He'd gone into the retail liquor business with Henry Hoffmann, where they established a saloon at 112 Taylor. I also noticed something odd, a listing for a G. Claudius. A typo? Most probably as it shows "G" as the porter for Lilienthal, as had "P"; (or was it really a typo after all)...

It was at this time that the firm of P. Claudius & Co. first appears as well. Peter was now calling a residence at the corner of Willard and McAllister "home". In 1889, the listing changes and the location of the saloon on Taylor was now listed as the headquarters for P. CLaudius & Co. Something else popped up that I found interesting that year; a Gotthilf (or Gotthelf depending on the listing) Claudius appears in the city directory as none other than a porter for Lilienthal & Co. 

My guess is that he was a younger brother, and Peter had pulled strings to land him the job.

In 1890, it shows Gotthelf  working as the bookkeeper for P. Claudius & Co. with both men residing at 823 Eddy St..

Gotthelf literally vanished from SF in 1891, and Peter moves back to the McAllister St. address. There are no clues as to what happened~ 1892 listings are the same as '91. 

In 1893, Peter took out a huge directory listing touting ownership of the Granite Creek Distillery with new corporate offices in the heart of the wholesale liquor district at 314 Battery St. They even had a telephone!

There are no listings for a Granite Creek Distillery in SF, so one can assume that it was either located on the east coast or was non-existent as was the Oak Valley Distilling Company of Braunschweiger & Co. fame (or infamy).

And then, 1894 rolls around. Things must not have gone as planned because P. Claudius & Co. vanishes from the listings and Peter is now just a salesman for the newly spun off Crown Distilleries (which was under the corporate umbrella of Lilienthal). 

The nationwide financial panic (depression) of 1893, which plunged the US economy into chaos in 1894,  may well have been a contributing factor.

By 1900, he had relocated to Oakland, but was still with the C.D. Co. 

Although listed simply as salesman in the directory, a society column in the Press Democrat (Santa Rosa) dated July 5, 1904 indicates that he held a much loftier position with Crown Distilleries;

Finally, in 1905, it appears that Peter caught a break and P. Claudius re-emerges on the wholesale liquor scene with headquarters at  300 - 304 Front St., just a couple of blocks down from Wolters Bros. & Co. By then the firm had both a vice-president and secretary (or were they the financial backing Peter needed to get back on his feet?)

He'd also snagged the sole agency for Cook & Bernheimer and was pushing their Mt. Vernon Rye Whiskey, which sold in the distinctive square bottle with the ladies leg neck (which at a glance bears a strong resemblance to the Ferro Quina Bitters of the same era).

April 18, 1906 saw the end of the old liquor district as we knew it, and that part of the city burned to the ground during the afternoon and evening after the earthquake. Undaunted, Peter jumped back in the game in 1907 and relocated to 56-58 Clay St. with Lehners still playing the roll of VP.

The effort was short lived though, and by 1909, Peter was back working for others (Wm. Wolfe & Co.) in the capacity of Asst. Manager. 

He was demoted to salesperson in 1910, and by 1911 completely disappears from all subsequent records.


There were two fairly late tooled top bottles blown for P. Claudius & Co.; the example I found with the monogram, and another one "P. Claudius & Co. Distillers" (without the logo). Neither are what I would call common, and I've only seen a handful of each over the years. Both probably date to the ca. 1905 - 1908 era. 

One can't help wonder though; based on the early years of the firm (ca. late 1880's / early 90's) if there isn't a glop top floating around out there or, even better, a red whittled German Connection "P. Claudius?!

Friday, September 27, 2019

The tale of 33712

John C. Stewart was born in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, on September 17, 1875. Like so many others seeking a better life in the land of milk and honey, he emigrated from his birthplace to the United States of America.

Dr. Darwin French led an expedition to an area in the SE desert of California in 1860 and discovered silver at Coso, nine miles from the future site of Darwin. Silver was discovered at Darwin proper in 1874, the same year that the boom to Panamint City occurred nearby in the Panamint range. Darwin quickly mushroomed and by 1876, boasted a thriving population of over 1000 souls. However, Darwin's time in the limelight was short lived as the deposits proved to be shallow, water was scarce, and ore values began to plummet starting in 1877.  Despite its short lived window in the history of the Old West, Darwin proved to be one of the wickedest places on earth. Bodie paled by comparison when one compares the body count racked up during Darwin's short lived history, courtesy of both knife and gun. In its first three years of existence, between 1874 and 1877, there were said to be at least 80 murders, most of them unsolved

Undaunted, John C. Stewart made his way west, determined to make his fortune as a miner. He arrived in Darwin California in 1897, lured by the promise of finding a fortune in silver. Not much of his life as a miner is known in these early years. However, he must have been able to eke out a living as a jackass prospector. Based on facts and some sketchy evidence, he purchased a Smith and Wesson model 1902 pistol, serial number 33712, at the Darwin General Store in early 1904. Chambered in "38 S&W Special / US Service Ctg's", it was a powerful and modern double action handgun that used the newly invented smokeless powder cartridge. It was good for keeping vermin, be they four or two legged, at bay.

The gun left the factory on Tuesday, December 1, 1903, shipped to a dealer in St. Louis. It made its way to the Darwin General Store and was subsequently purchased by John. Not much is known about John's life, his successes and or failures, for the next couple of decades. He obviously lead at least a subsistence existence, but nothing newsworthy occurred.

That was, not until March of 1929. It was at that time that Smith and Wesson received 33712 back at the factory along with a note from John. He listed three requests; fix the loose barrel, refinish it, and install a set of pearl handle grips. John must have finally made a strike.

Johns requests were obliged, (for the most part) and the gun left their repair facility on May 1, 1929 with a "tightened barrel" and new finish. The tab; about $7~. Unfortunately, they were out of Pearl Handle grips, and the gun was returned with the desert worn originals. John, disappointed that he couldn't walk heeled down the street with gussied up grips, took matters into his own hands. He had new wooden grips locally made that served two purposes, they shifted his grip back so that the trigger guard would no longer slam into his middle finger when fired, and they looked "purdy".

John got careless one day, a year or two after he had the gun spruced up, and it ended up being lost by the side of a gravel road outside of Darwin. My wife's grandfather, Herman, worked for the road department, and spotted the gun lying in the  dirt while making his rounds. He asked around town, but no one had heard of a missing pistol, and John and his trusty burro must have been out looking for their next big strike.

Cutter whiskey must have been drink of choice, as there was a myriad of discarded Cutters scattered about Darwins outskirts. And of course, Old Kirk was the popular pre-pro brand that Hotaling pushed in the post TOC gold camps. 
Back to the Smith...

The gun sat in the dresser drawer in Herman's bedroom, wrapped in an oiled rag until they departed Darwin in the early 30's. Herman had a son, Dick, and when Herman died, Dick inherited the gun. It sat in the same oiled rag that had been its home for another forty years, in Dick's bedroom dresser. Several years ago, Dick's health took a turn for the worse. With the writing on the wall, he gifted it to me. I was grateful.

I've always been a stickler for historical authenticity, and the "gussied up grips" bugged me. I made a concerted effort to locate a pair of period correct walnut or gutta percha grips for it. It took a while, but I finally located a pair and replaced the grips, restoring 33712 to its original glory.

Being an historian, I was also curious about, what Paul Harvey used to call the "Rest of the Story". With the help of a new found, and extremely knowledgeable, acquaintance we were able to connect most of the dots. Many of which you've just read. We were also able to determine that this is a model 1902 (pre first change) and that there were only approximately 13000 of this variant that left the factory. Markings on the guns grip frame document that it is original as when it left the factory, with the exception of the metal work, re-seating of the barrel (which is documented by the frame stampings beneath the grips), and the replacement grips.

As for John C. Stewart; he died in Darwin on May 23, 1947 of "heart trouble" His occupation was still listed, simply, as "miner". 

Many thanks John, and Herman, and Dick for allowing me to be the custodian of an incredible piece of the wild west.

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