Sunday, June 6, 2010

Days of 49

The mental image conjured by this term is almost universal. A great westward migration complete with wagon trains and Indians. And then there's the scouts on their trusty steeds protecting the wagon trains; each outfitted with their Colts and Spencer repeating rifles.

Every time I hear "Days of Forty Nine" I can almost hear the bullwackers cussing the stubborn oxen, hear the snap of bull whips and taste the choking alkali dust in my throat. Those were the days!

Just before the turn of the century, Meyerfeld Mitchell and Company must have had the same vision. The firm supposedly dates to 1888, and was marginally successful through 1905. The evolution of the firm is as follows; Meyerfield & Mitchell (1888), Meyerfield, Mitchell & Siebenhauer (1889-1893), Meyerfield, Mitchell & Co. (1894-1905). However, I found an article in the Daily Alta California, dated October 6, 1886 stating that the firm had been formed on October 1, 1886 in San Francisco; earlier than first thought.

For being in business for so long, not much in the way of advertising exists. Although they marketed a myriad of products including, "Army & Navy Whiskey", "Army and Navy Club", "Barrister Old Tom gin", "Canada Rye", "Canada White Rye", "Cy Hooper Bourbon", "Cy Hooper Rye", "Days of "49"", "Dexter Special", "Dugan's Malt", "Mt. Pleasant Rye", "Old Harvest Home Whiskey", "Pipeline", and "Shasta.", the only brand that they pushed hard was Days of 49  (well not even hard - more like a whisper). Two tooled bottles exist; a clear fifth cylinder with a ring lip was blown exclusively for the Days of 49 brand, (there's actually a couple of very similar variants of this example).
An amber embossed conventional cylinder was also blown. The amber cylinder was a generic bottle that was paper labeled to accomodate whatever need arose.

I've got one with a Cognac label...

Back to advertising; four different etched glasses were produced.
Three were made to advertise Days of 49, one is a generic. The scarcest one is a logo glass emblazoned with the familiar design that we see on the clear bottle.

Less known is the exceptionally rare back bar sign. An exemplary piece of western art, commissioned by M/M & Co. through H.S. Crocker of San Francisco, this one has it all!
Let's segway to good ol' J'ville ca. 1895. Located on the corner of Oregon and California Sts. is a quaint brick building that currently houses Scheffels Toys. Back in the day though, it housed the Cronemiller & Love Saloon.
And Cronemiller & Love were purveyors, for a little while, of Days of 49 whiskey. According to the descendent of one of the original owners, his uncle had been a mule skinner in the 1880's, and 90's, hauling freight to the mines out in the Applegate region south of here. Nearly 20 years of being soaked to the bone and freezing cold in the winter, and being choked by thick clouds of dust in near 100* heat in the summer had gotten old. The years and the miles had taken their toll and a more genteel lifestyle was in order. And so Stan's uncle and his new partner plopped their $1500~ in gold down on the back bar and became joint owners of the saloon. Not long after, a whiskey drummer rambled into town. A new brand that he was an agent for was a sure fire thing. "Days of 49 - buy ten cases and I'll give you this handsome back bar sign! You can't miss!"

The whiskey arrived on his next trip through town, along with the sign, which was proudly hung on the wall next to the back bar. Apparently the brand wasn't a sure thing after all (since we've never even dug so much as a shard here in town - back when it wasn't illegal to dig...) but the old man loved the sign just the same. He could sit in the comfort of his own saloon, roll his Prince Albert cigarettes, and gaze at the sign while reminiscing about the old days without being punished by the elements.

As the song goes, "all things must pass". The writing was on the wall in 1912. Oregon was going dry before the rest of the country and with prohibition looming, the decision was made. The saloon was sold, but with one condition, the sign went with Stan's uncle. It hung in the blacksmith shop on the ranch out by the Table Rock, quite a ways north of here, from then until around 1960, a reminder of better times. By the time that Stan's uncle died the blacksmith shop was all but falling in. The roof had failed years ago and the walls were skewed at crazy angles. But the sign remained intact; just a little water damage here and there. Every relative was allowed to take one item home as a memento of the old man who had been part of the mortar that had cemented Southern Oregon so many years ago. Making his way into the derelict building, the first thing that grabbed Stan's eye was the sign. Away it went to it's new home in northern eastern Oregon.

Unfortunately, Stan's wife was a politically correct sort and would have nothing to do with Indians sitting in the dirt, guzzling Days of 49 whiskey. Not sure what the problem was; heck I've sat in the dirt doing the same thing many a time and no one's ever called me on it...

Into the attic it went, to be forgotten for another few decades. In 1995, I got a call. They'd sold the place and found the sign in the attic while packing things. The opportunity to acquire the sign had arisen and I jumped at the chance. I was accused of spending a stupid amount on it but with only five known to exist in any condition at the time, (a sixth one has since surfaced), who's to say what's too much. Here on my wall it sits, valued as much by me as it was by Stan's uncle, and only a few blocks away from where it once hung on the saloon wall, where it's story began~

Days of 49, the mental images keep running through my mind like an endless picture loop.

Just a quick PS to add today, March 27, 2012.

In researching for another article I've determined that the firm of Meyerfeld, Mitchell and Siebenhauer dating has been stated incorrectly in the past. Siebenhauer remained with the company only through 1893. Starting in 1894, the company is listed as Meyerfeld, Mitchell & Co..

And so; Meyerfeld, Mitchell and Siebenhauer 1890 - 1893

Meyerfeld, Mitchell & Co..1894 - 1905


robgarb said...

K.G...great writeup,thanks for posting...robgarb

Mike Dolcini said...

A nice narrative and the provenance of your sign makes it that much better. Like you, I appreciate advertising that actually was used in an establishment far more than an unused NOS piece. I have seen a few of those "Days Of '49" signs over the years, and lately at the Old West Advertising and Collectible's show in Grass Valley.

Rick Simi said...

Very interesting and well written.

Dr.Barnes said...

Bruce, You should write a book or 2. You have so much knowledge, items, and a Great Writing Style. Keep em coming. DB

Trey said...

Hello, I found a bottle exactly like the clear one above (Meyerfeld Mitchell & Co "Days of 49" Cincinnati & San Francisco) in a creek in French Gulch, CA. It is in good condition without any cracks or chips. Is a rare and/or unique bottle, or just another one of the old bottles we find around here?

Unknown said...

I just bought one today 9/11/2021 from an estate sale here in Stockton California mint condition hung in an old hotel

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