Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Bears - OH MY!

Back in the 19th century, a pretty good percentage of the miners, loggers, railroad men and other components of the working class couldn't read well, if at all. Brand recognition then, as now, was ever so important if one was going to get his slice of the pie. Let's face it, everyone in the West Coast liquor business needed an edge to survive in business.

Around 1870 two competing companies decided to have bottle molds made that would allow pictures to appear on the glass, instead of just on the label.
Shea, Bocqueraz and McKee were slugging it out with John Van Bergen for their share of the market. Shea, Bocqueraz and McKee was marketing the Tea Kettle brand, which was distilled at a distillery in Trimble County Kentucky, casked in wooden "hogsheads" (oak barrels), shipped west on the transcontinental railroad and then bottled in San Francisco.
Tea Kettle was a nationally recognized brand of good affordable whiskey and sales were phenomenal in California and Nevada.
Van Bergen's "Gold Dust" brand was named after a famous race horse that was known and loved from coast to coast and they figured, rightfully so, that they too could grab a big chunk of the market share by selling good affordable whiskey with a recognized name and picture embossed on the bottle.
Next in the line of picture whiskies was the Pioneer brand sold by Fenkhausen & Braunschweiger. This is called the "two name bear" and first came on the market around 1878. In 1881 Braunscheiger left the business to go it alone and the mold was reworked to reflect Fenkhausen's sole ownership.

But Braunschweiger, not to be left in the dust, came back in 1883 with his Bear Grass brand, again depicting a bear on the bottle.
The mold was carefully designed to look entirely different from the bear on the Pioneer, but it was a bear nonetheless, and I'm sure this created more than a little friction between the two companies. Regardless, both prospered for a number of years with Fenkhausen remaining a presence through 1893 and Braunschweiger making a go of it through 1913.

Again a number of different molds were employed over the years with the bear remaining a constant fixture despite the passage of time.

This is the tip of the proverbial picture iceberg. Come see the "rest of the story" at the Jefferson State Antique Bottle, Insulator and Collectibles Show & Sale located at the Seven Feathers Casino Resort (I5 exit 99) in Canyonville Oregon, Saturday October 16th. There will be well over two dozen of some the West's most prized tooled and glop top picture whiskies on display!

See you there!

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