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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Thursday, April 5, 2018

F. Chevalier & Co. - the other side of the business

Recently, Rick Simi did a nice short article on the Chevalier amber square "bitters" for Western Bottle News. 

It was entitled "F. Chevalier - Spirit, Bitters & Wine Merchant". Here's a link to the article;


An observation that he made regarding the whiskey related products of F. Chevalier & Co. rang true. He stated; "Meanwhile the F. Chevalier & Company was producing some of the most desirable and coveted glass containers ever blown on the west coast. The spiral neck Chevaliers Old Castle Whiskey, F. Chevalier red whittled Whiskey merchants fifth and the Chevalier Castle flask are all considered extremely collectable and high dollar additions to a western bottle collectors shelf." How right he was!

The above mentioned fifths and flask are regarded by most as being some of the "holy grails" of western whiskey collecting, and the prices that these bottles command reflect both the rarity and desirability of each and every one.

Most collectors are familiar with the amber cylinder fifths embossed either "OK / Old Bourbon / Castle / Whiskey / F. Chevalier & CO. / Sole Agents" , or "Old Bourbon / Castle / Whiskey / F. Chevalier & CO. / Sole Agents".





The OK is seen with an applied top in various shades of amber whereas the variant sans "OK" is seen with both applied and tooled tops.
















Another relatively available early bottle is the brandy embossed "Chevaliers" on one flat panel with "Ginger Brandy" on the opposing side (also in a flat panel) and "Trade / Mark" to the side of the "F.C.&Co." logo on the shoulder.





The brandy is shorter and smaller in diameter than the Old Bourbons and are closer to a sixth in capacity. They are also seen in various shades of amber with the most common being a medium orange amber (somewhat akin to a ripe dried apricot). All I've seen have an applied top although, oddly, Chevalier did not trade mark the brand until comparatively late; Feb. 12, 1884. 


The label that the bottle sported was an interesting and attractive design, although not colorful in any way.

There are, however, some rarities produced by F. Chevalier & Co. that are well within the pocketbook range of most western whiskey aficionados'. Instead of thousands of dollars each, we are talking in the lower hundreds. One of these affordable and yet highly desirable bottles is the earliest Castle picture fifth, which is just a day or two past the glop top era.

At first glance, one might be inclined to pass it by on a bottle show table, thinking that "it's just another Castle". A second look though, reveals much more. The embossing is notably different than the later examples. It's boldly cut and the lettering and the castle are both extremely bold. The banners above the castle are so well pronounced that you can almost hear them snap in the wind. The bottle itself is much slimmer than the later examples and the few examples that I've seen of this early cork top variant are generally quite crude, in keeping with early 90's SF glass production. This variant is as scarce as many of the bank breaker glop tops and is highly under rated.

Often overlooked as well, are the labeled only examples.

Once in a great while, something used to slip through the cracks on eBay. Now, not so much... About fifteen years ago I used to follow new listings like a hawk in hopes of getting tossed a bone in the Buy It Now section. Sure enough, a bottle showed up early one morning that caught my attention. It was a labeled only example, but was quite obviously "honest" (not a marriage of a loose label that had been slopped onto an old bottle the previous week). The F.C.&Co. logo on the shoulder of the label is what initially caught my attention. 







Yep, identical to the Ginger Brandy, although the bottle itself was a shape that we don't normally associate with western whiskies. And the label itself is written in a combination of both English and French. From what I could tell, the product was Apricot Brandy, with an aged Cognac base, made in Bordeaux by Chastene Freres. A quick search of 19th Century French liquor makers by the name of Chastenet Freres was met with success. The label on a bottle of Chastene Freres Creme DeMenthe speaks for itself in terms of their target market.


















The Chevalier bottle itself is unusual in that the top was rolled inward, with spillover on the inside of the lip, then tooled out into a square collar to accept a cork. 

The glass is an unusual light yellow orange color and the body of the bottle is hammer whittled. It was a neat, rare, and comparatively affordable addition to my collection.

Another labeled example caught me by surprise a number of years ago. Once again, a non-conventional looking bottle containing an equally unconventional product with a brand I'd never heard of. And yet, there it was in black and white; "The F. Chevalier Co.". 


But Sappho Brand with a Greek Goddess motif? It turns out there was a common thread after all. Sapphos was a female poet who lived on the island of Lesbos in the 7th Century BC, who appealed to the sexuality of budding young Greek maidens. And this bottle contained Creme De Menthe as well; although the label is quite a bit tamer than that displayed on the Chastenet Freres version of the same~ The Chevalier bottle is fairly easy to date since the first reference to "The F. Chevalier Co." appears in the 1902 S.F. Directory. Yet, no reference on the label to the Pure Food & Drug Act so, 1902 - 1906~.

I'm sure that there are a lot more label only Chevalier bottles out there and would love to add your photos to this article. Feel free to send me your photos and I'll post them.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Mott / Powers / Spruance Stanley & Co. (plus a whole lot more)

Back in December 2017, and January of this year, there was some discussion about Mott's Wild Cherry Tonic on Western Bottles News. Both A.H. Powers, and Spruance Stanley & Co. (S.S. & Co.) marketed the brand in embossed amber square bottles. 


It is obvious, at first glance, that the same mold was used by both firms, and that Spruance Stanley & Co. simply had the glass-works slug out Powers and insert their name when they assumed control of the brand. Both Eric and Rick did a good job of connecting the dots. One question that remained, however, is when this changeover occurred.

Quite by accident, I've been able to fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle. Plus added a few more~


The following article appeared on May 9th, 1887. 

This nails down the time frame when control of the Dr. Motts Wild Cherry Tonic transitioned from Powers to S.S. & Co. nicely. It also documents that Powers traveling agent, a Mr. R. B. Winslow, opted to represent Spruance Stanly & Co. after the change. No doubt a sound move, as will be noted in the following saga.


Backing up just a bit; the history of Spruance Stanley & Co. is interesting; as is the myriad of liquor based products that they marketed.

Thomas states that the familiar glop top amber cylinder fifths date ca. 1880s and 1890's. Newspaper clippings possibly indicate otherwise. The first reference that I located to the birth of Spruance Stanley & Co. actually dates to Dec. 30th, 1871. A tad earlier than once thought. 

The dissolution of the co-partnership of Sam L. Stanley and Horace Webster took place on this date. News of a new co-partnership appeared directly below this announcement wherein the new firm of Spruance Stanley & Co. comes into being, with C. C. Chapman as silent partner (the "& CO."). 

On May 17, 1872, the following ad was placed. It advertises their sole proprietorship (as opposed to Sole Agency)  for both OFC and Kentucky Favorite brands of whiskey. 

Advertising for both brands was eye catching to say the least. The OFC brand featured Elk, a whiskey wagon  and the high Sierras on a color litho on tin back bar advertising sign.

Kentucky Favorite sported the now synonymous with Spruance Stanley, horseshoe logo. OFC was bottled in paper label only whereas Kentucky Favorite came in an embossed cylinder with a paper label on the reverse. They never trade marked the OFC brand, and it wasn't until August 4, 1885, that they trademarked Kentucky Favorite.

In the early to mid eighties, they commissioned famous San Francisco lithographer Edward Bosqui to create a print for the brand.

On Dec. 6, 1872 Robert Chalmers, of Coloma, trade marked a drawing of "Old Sutter's Mill & picture of it - for vineyard". 


It was apparently at that time, that Spruance Stanley & Co. threw their hat into the western bitters ring and obtained the Sole Proprietorship of Chalmers Catawba Wine Bitters. A mold was commissioned and a bottle was blown in aqua glass. The bottle more resembles a whiskey than it does bitters bottles of this era. It is embossed top to bottom, is virtually identical in appearance to Chalmers trade mark application drawing, and has no fewer than NINE curved "R's" scattered about.

It is, in my opinion, one of the top western bitters in existence and is unique in many respects. The brand must have flopped though, because less than a dozen in any condition can be accounted for, with most known examples having been found in Nevada.

On February 28,1881 they trademarked African stomach Bitters. An incredible label was commissioned that would be affixed to an applied top  amber cylinder. 

The bottles are seen in a wide range of color ranging from shades of amber, into yellow and also in the bright pigeon blood / ox blood red so common to the "German Connection" produced glass of the early 1890's. 

Spruance Stanley & Cos. embossed Kentucky Favorite fifths were extensively distributed throughout the west. They must have had an aggressive traveling salesperson (Mr. R. B. Winslow?) as a large number of the fifths have been found as far away from S.F. as Hawaii, primarily on Oahu and also on the windward side the Big Island of Hawaii proper. They advertised extensively in Honolulu's "Pacific Commercial Advertiser", starting in 1884, with obviously good return on their advertising dollars.


The earliest examples have an applied top, and a smooth base with a shallow kickup. Slightly later, a mold was created which sported the now familiar SF glass multi-rayed base mark.

By the early 1890's, the German Connection had kicked in and red whittled examples blown in 4 piece molds were being brought to market. 

The classic Kentucky Favorite bottle embossed with the horseshoe continue to be made well into the tool top era.

Pint and half pint flasks were also produced. They were embossed, simply, SPRUANCE STANLEY & CO. 410 FRONT ST. S.F.. They are seen with both tooled and applied double collar tops.


In the mid to late 1890's, they had a different mold cut, which was a variation on the horseshoe theme. It is often referred to as the "sunburst" Spruance, and has what appears to be sunrays present beneath "Wholesale". This variant is quite scarce with most having been blown in clear glass which will turn amethyst. One example has been documented to exist in amber.


Later, just after the turn of the century, they introduced Sunflower Rye. A tooled  bulge neck fifth with a brandy finish top was produced for the brand.

By this time, Spruance Stanley and CO. was marketing a vast array of products. They had a large paper litho produced that could proudly be hung in back of the bar, and it advertised no fewer than six different brands; OFC, Our Favorite, Occidental, OPT, Hermitage, and of course, Kentucky Favorite. The last in the lineup of bottles produced was a clear cylinder fifth embossed Spruance Stanley & CO. / San Francisco Cal. It dates ca. 1905 and was no doubt a catch all for the labels of the half dozen whiskies that the company was marketing at that time.

Sadly, just before dawn on April 18, 1906, the Great Earthquake and Fire decimated San Francisco's Front Street. 

The loss sustained was more than Spruance Stanley & Co. could withstand and so the "fire safe" warped and twisted iron shutters, on what was left of 409 Front St., remained sealed for eternity.

Thanks to ABA for the African Bitters and flask photo.