Saturday, October 23, 2010

Warren Watson

The name rolls off the tongue easily. Actually, his full name was Warren M. Watson. He was a resident of Oakland California and was in the wholesale liquor business supposedly from 1880 - 1915; quite a span of time compared to many. We have him to thank for five different western tooled top whiskies (and one glop top). His brands included "Kentucky Club", "Belle of Lancaster", "Black Crest", "Warren", and "Warren's OK". Based on the number of years he was in business, and the sheer volume of whiskey sold, researching and documenting his history should have been a no brainer. Not...

According to Wilson in Spirits Bottles of the Old West, W. M. Watson was primarily a dealer in brandy and fine wines, started his business in 1880 and continued until 1915, presumably closing the doors due to the looming prospect of prohibition. Wilson documented one bottle embossed Kentucky Club Old Bourbon from 1896 - 1905 in clear (not stating whether tooled or applied), plus a square squat with swirled shoulders in amber ca. 1907 - 1915, an amber round fifth with swirled shoulders ca. 1898 - 1905 (never seen one and doubt it exists) plus an amber round fifth also ca. 1898 - 1905. Where Bill came up with some of this stuff escapes me...

Bob Barnett listed #816 " Kentucky Club Old Bourbon" in clear with both tooled and applied tops, cork closure, ca. 1892 - 1905; #817 "W. M. Watson Co. / logo / Oakland, Ca." amber square tooled cork closure / squat with swirled shoulders ca. 1906 - 1914; #818 "W. M. Watson Co. Inc. / logo / Oakland, Ca." amber tooled bulge neck qt. cylinder / brandy top cork closure/ ca. 1900 - 1905; #819 "W. M. Watson Co. / logo / Oakland, Ca." amber square tooled bulge neck qt. cylinder / brandy top / ca. 1900 - 1908; and #820 "W. M. Watson Co. / logo / Oakland, Ca." amber tooled fifth cylinder / whiskey top cork & IT closure/ ca. 1900 - 1908.

OK, let's sort a couple of things out. The Kentucky Club is probably dated correctly and falls into the German Connection glop top time line nicely. Common sense says that the three variants that are embossed minus the "Inc." would be earlier so I'd plug them in ca. 1900 - 1905 +/-. The last in the lineup would logically be the variant embossed "Inc.".

The Kentucky Club Old Bourbon bottles are extremely scarce, with the glop tops being encountered in a ratio of probably 15 - 1 compared to the toolies (not that there's many of either). Let's face it, The tool tops are just plain rare with fewer than a half dozen known to exist!

And they will turn amethyst, which for us old time purists who still like honest sun colored glass, is a big plus.

Next in scarcity and desirability is the square swirled shoulder.

The shape is distinctive and attractive.

The cylinder fifth is also scarce, and ones with the correct Riley inside thread picture stopper for Black Crest Whiskey are an especially tough score.

The bulge necks are seen slightly more often but are still no slouch in the tool top world.

He also had three etched pre-pro shot glasses produced; one each for Warrens / Whiskies, Warren's Rye and Bourbon, and one for Warren's O.K. / Bourbon W. M. Watson Co. / Oakland Cal. All are scarce.

A note in the 1899 Oakland Social Register reads, "WATSON, Mr. and Mrs. W. M.; 658 Ninth. (Tel. Red 2351.). Thursday." Located in plot 13 of the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland is a simple head stone engraved Warren M. Watson 1845 - 1913. And here's where our plot thickens and the trail goes cold. These two references are the only hard documentation I could find that Warren M. Watson ever existed; no date of birth or death, no birthplace, no business address, no occupation; no nothing! Nothing more in Oakland, nothing in Brooklyn, nothing in Alameda, nothing in Emeryville, nothing across the Bay in San Francisco; simply nothing! Accessing archives of business directories, phone books, and newspaper classified ads invariably pays off with "the rest of the story". Not in this case though.

The bottles remain as mute testimony to Warren M. Watson, but everything else remains shrouded in the mists of time. Talk about disappearing without a trace.

A special thianks to Ken S. for the shot glass photos!


  1. There is also a rare pumpkinseed companion to the Kentucky Club. I was fortunate to dig one about 10 yrs ago.
    As for the glob-top Ky Club 1/5's, you make a good point, as I have dug 4 of them, but not even one of the toolie's over the yrs !


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