Saturday, January 9, 2010

A New Beginning~

Here we are, 2010 at last! Out with the old and in with the new. Well, maybe not out with all the old, since and, both upstarts in 2009, are soaring along with ever increasing interest and support.

In the spirit of furthering the western collecting fraternity, I'm pleased to introduce the Western Whiskey Tooled Top Gazette. This site has been created with the intent of complimenting the aforementioned blogs. This site will serve to pick up the western whiskey saga where the glop top whiskies left off and to tie in the bitters products produced by the western liquor industry during the tooled top era.

I'd like to reinforce that this will be a fun site. Let's keep it positive and enjoyable to both read and contribute to.

On that note; Let's take a brief tour of where tool top western whiskey collecting began, where it has been and where it may be headed. Most will agree that this segment of the hobby began in the 1950's. Back then, folks didn't dig or buy, they "bottle hunted". Yep, walk though the forest where turn of the century logging camps once stood, poke through the sage brush amongst mining camp ruins in the Nevada dessert, paw through the garbage piles of abandoned homesteads in the Central Valley and pick up whatever struck your fancy. Color was king back then, as well as now. Only then it was a different kind of color; purple. Not nuked purple mind you, we're talking sun colored purple. Yep, those purple whiskies were "rare". It had taken almost a hundred summers to turn that color. Heck those brown ones were everywhere. Back then you had to trade a half dozen brown ones for one purple one. Embossing, who cared, they most all had writing, but not many were purple. The first decade or so was pretty much status quo; "The Age of Innocence".

Purple was still king when I got interested in the mid sixties, although a few folks were beginning to notice a pattern when it came to names on the bottle. You'd pick up one Castle Whiskey to a hundred Cutters. And those pictures
were pretty neat too. Yep, castles,
horses, eagles, bears, and people.
Kinda different~

By 1967 folks were starting to become a little more aware of what was, and what wasn't easily found. A fella named John Howe, came out with the first true western whiskey book that year. It was called Antique Whiskey Bottles, was softbound, had 68 black and white pages - about half with photographs and listed around 250 whiskies. Rarity was scored in terms of common to extremely rare and no prices were listed; it was a start. The hobby had begun to evolve.

In 1968, Bill and Betty Wilson came out with Spirits Bottles of the Old West. Published in both hard and softbound, it contained 180 pages of photos, historical data, dating and information previously unpublished. It was as close to a research text as had been published to date; however it too lacked pricing. The next decade saw the hobby evolve and prices began to become standardized based on what the "market" would support. It also saw the beginning of the decline of easy finds and digging became more of a challenge and less of a sure thing. The supply was beginning to dry up and collectors were now having use a silver pick (wallet) as much as a garden shovel or potatoe rake in order to add to their collections.

Close friend R.E. (Bob) Barnett published the first "handbook" for tooled top collectors in 1979. Entitled Pacific Coast Whiskey Bottles, it had line drawings that approximated the embossing pattern on the bottle, approximate dates of distribution and... a price guide. Collectors finally had something to guide them financially in pursuit of their vice of choice. Bob continued to add to his data base (actually a three ring binder) as new finds surfaced and updated the book a few years later. The new edition, "Western Whiskey Bottles" documented numerous new finds and updated pricing based on actual sales. It also had a numbering system that most collectors continue to utilize when listing, inventorying and communicating about their bottles. Western Whiskey Bottles 4th Edition, currently the last in the series, was published in 1997 and remains the most complete work to date. It is considered
by nearly all collectors of western tool
top whiskies to be the definitive work
to date.

Enter 2010. Wow have we seen some changes. Dedicated amateur historians with access to the internet now spend countless hours researching and updating our knowledge of the history of the distributors of these historical gems. Others continue to research in libraries and archives and our knowledge base continues to grow yet further. More and more blanks are filled in and misinformation, once accepted as gospel, corrected. Rarity is now well documented as is current value. Purple is still neat; especially if it's a Gold Dust, a Columbian, or something equally rare. And yes, a deep sun colored purple Taussig or Wissemann still has more appeal than a dead clear example of same. But, like everything else in the world, western tool top collecting has evolved and now is as much of a science as not. Gone are the days when
an inside thread Castle picture sold for the same
price as a tooled  amber Fenkhausen Bear. Gone
too, are the days of legal digging in many areas of the west, be it on "public" or private property. Demand has far outdistanced the supply of the better tool tops and there's no "cure" in sight.

Common is, and will remain, common. Short of someone cornering the market on say, #202 neatly made Crown Distilleries, and then making a concerted effort to destroy all but a handful, they will remain a $10~ - $15~ bottle; in line with where they were back when greenbacks first began to be exchanged for glass. If not for common tool tops though, I, and many others, could not have afforded to enter the hobby and remain avid collectors as financial circumstances improved. This aspect of collecting has remained unchanged for the past 40 years. I suspect that it will continue to remain unchanged for the next 40. Simply, rarity equals demand and demand equals value. Both common and rare bottles continue to serve a purpose.

Ok, so what about the future of western toolie collecting? I recently responded to just such a question posed by one of our highly respected younger collectors. My response read in part;

I personally see a bright future for tool top western whiskey collecting . It will continue to evolve and change, as everything in life does, and I believe that we will continue to see new collectors enter the hobby and fill the voids left as the older ones pass on. The key to making sure that the hobby continues to thrive and grow is honest, forthright dealing, the willingness to share information, to remember how we felt as newcomers and to treat new collectors with the respect and enthusiasm that we were many years ago.

Rose tinted glasses? Nope just common sense and experience talking.

Here's to 2010~


westernbottles said...

Great New Site . Let me be the first to say so .

rtsiri said...

Good to have a site for the toolies .I know that the glops are colorful and crude but there are more rarities in the toled group.And the way I collect going from the glops to machine made I will enjoy the site .I've been looking for a dead mint tooled teakettle for years .RTS

ravolkerts said...

Hopefully this site will become as popular as the gloppy one!!!!....Andy

Dr.Barnes said...

Awesome Site Bruce, here is a Rare one from San Diego on the border. The F.W. Bradley, I think this and maybe one more exist? Not sure anymore? This was in the Ruric K. collection, made it to the Mike B. collection, then into the Rick H. AKA Dr.Barnes collection and then back to the Mike B. collection. Tough Toolie. Dr. Barnes

Mike Dolcini said...

Thanks, Bruce, for placing a well deserved spotlight on the often maligned tooled top whiskey. I enjoy digging them every bit as much as the older ones. Not every pit has a whiskey in it, let alone a "globby" one. I will be contributing to your Blog from time to time and will be taking a look every day.

soleagent said...

Great job Bruce, your expertise on the subject and your writing style will make this a homerun! This adds another great site for collectors of whiskey bottles and western bottles in general. "Let the fun begin"!!

NorCalBottleHunter said...

I, being a tooled collector am estatic about this site! way to go!

rtsiri said...

Did you know that the Jesse that's pictured # 568 in Barnett's book has 5 different molds in the tooled top version and what about #573 there is 6 different molds of that bottle. I picked up this habit studing Hostetters.

rtsiri said...

Opps that's studying.

Mike Dolcini said...

Sign me up to post from time to time.

Mike Dolcini said...

What happened to the activity here? Don't let this site die from lack of interest.

Bill Curtiss said...

Like reading these old post/comments wish Mike Rich Ken Janet and Kenny were still around seems Mike might of known something

mikethomson said...

This is my first visit to your web journal! We are a group of volunteers and new activities in the same specialty. Website gave us helpful data to work. wine bottles wholesale

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