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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cock o' the Walk

My wife has chickens; seven to be exact. Filthy, dumb, chickens. I suppose that's why they're called fowl~ But they're laying hens and, as such, they keep us supplied with farm fresh brown eggs in exchange for feed, water and a roof over their heads. A fair trade I suppose...

The folks down the road a ways have both hens and roosters. I drew the line with the roosters. Not only are the filthy and dumb, but they're ornery and noisy to boot; and they don't lay eggs. We had one once for a while. A very short while. After a week or so of tearing up the hens and making a ruckus in general, Wiley, the local coyote, had chicken dinner. And that was that.

So why on earth would not one, but three, San Francisco whiskey dealers feature a rooster on their bottles. Beats me~ I guess because some think that they're purty. I suppose you could argue that on a bottle they are, but given the choice of a chicken or an eagle, the decision is obvious. Still, sometime around 1900, M. Rothenburg and Co. introduced it's Game Cock brand. Two virtually identical variants of an amber picture cylinder, an ornate shot glass, a clear flask, and a recently discovered clear picture square fifth exist. The amber toolie pictured has a PCGW base mark.

Information on M. Rothenburg is sorely lacking in both Thomas and Wilson's books so off to the digital archive vault I marched. Mendle Rothenburg was residing at 2714 Pine St.
and was maintaining a retail liquor outlet at 423 Kearny St. in 1900. Things remained status quo until April 18, 1906. He resurfaced in 1907 at 2714 Pine St. as a wholesale liquor dealer. Oddly, there is no mention of Mendle's Game Cock brand in either the newspapers or in the Crocker Langley directory's of that era. The 1911 directory is the last one that either Mendle or M. Rothernburg & Co. appear. The 1912 directory simply states, Rothernburg, Fanny, widow, 2714 Pine St. So, once again, it would appear that Bob Barnett was spot on with the dating.

Enter rooster number two. This time the bird is sporting his feathers on a crude, early tooled Crown Distilleries cylinder and advertises Kentucky Lily brand whiskey that was bottled expressly for family and medicinal use.

It appears to date to roughly the same era as the Rothernburg, although it lacks the Pure Food and Drug act info, so pre-dates 1906. Thinking that there must have been some famous chicken of the era named Kentucky Lily, I went searching. Nope, chickens weren't like race horses named "Gold Dust", and I came up blank.

The last example is, in my opinion, the fanciest of the bunch. Multi colored litho at it's finest, M. Newman had a mind blowing label printed for his Bohemian Club Whiskey Cocktail (a cordial).

Turns out that there was a Bohemian Club in "The City". Established in 1872, it initially attracted journalists, artists and musicians. In fact, Bret Harte described San Francisco as a sort of Bohemia of the West. The Bohemian Club was first located on Sacramento St., a block below Kearny. It was still going strong after the turn of the century, when this brand appeared on the market. Coincidentally, or not, this location was just around the corner from M. Rothenburgs retail store address...

M. Newman shows up in the same directories as Rothenburg and Crown Distilleries, and can be positively dated to the same era as the previous two brands.

Roosters on the label; coincidence? And then the light went on. These weren't your garden variety fowl; they were the kind of rooster that the sporting man bet on. Cock fighting, like horse racing, was almost a mania back then and a Game Cock on the label was a great way to make sure that your brand of whiskey had a fighting chance.
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