Sunday, May 22, 2011

Justin Liquor Co. - Bad Whiskey or Bad Timing?

No record of the Justin Liquor Company exists prior to 1905. In that year, Justin Taravellier and Louis Cames partnered up and the Justin Liquor Company embarked on it's short career into the wholesale and retail liquor trade. Taravellier had prior experience in the form of retail liquor sales, tending the bar at his hole in the wall saloon located at 23 6th St. in "The City". Cames, on the other hand had been a mail carrier for the post office prior to entering the liquor business. How he and Taravellier came to be partners was at first a mystery. Cames residence was half way across town, too far to become acquainted in the saloon and too far from Taravelliers home to have been neighborly. Regardless, as 1905 dawned, they became co-owners of the upstart Justin Liquor Company and set up shop at 317 O'Farrell at the corner of Mason St.

After what seemed like hours of sleuthing, an obituary in the San Francisco Call dated April 13, 1902 appeared and the mystery was solved; Taravellier and Cames were related; their lineage traced back to France. Other than that nugget, and a delinquency notice filed against Taravellier for $50~ (late payments on shares of stock) by the Kilauea Sugar Plantation Company, both managed for the most part to avoid the press. In fact, the Justin Liquor Company never placed an ad. However, they did have two variants blown of an amber quart cylinder and had one order filled for two different etched shot glasses with the company name emblazoned on the front.

The Justin Liquor cylinders are big gutsy bottles. The turn of the century was an exciting time full of prosperity and more was better. Gone were the days of the cylinder sixth of the 60's and the fifth of the 70's, 80's, and 90's. Full Measure / Full Quart was the order of the day. But the bottles were, frankly, ugly and awkward in appearance. And so, petaled and swirled shoulders were added to the lineup of molds offered by the glass works. A definite improvement in my book, although the cost must have been prohibitive since few wholesalers stepped up to the plate for the fancy molds... However, putting their best foot forward, at least one order for two different Justin fancy shoulder bottles were filled at the glassworks; Both are embossed "The / Justin / Liquor / Co. / S.F. Cal."; within a circular slug plate ; one embossed "Full Quart" above "The", the other embossed "Net Contents 32 oz." at the base on the obverse. Me, I like the Full Quart; it sounds like you've getting more...

The bottles are rare. We've had a total of three over the years, two with net contents (one was damaged) and only one of the Full Quarts. I don't recall seeing more than a couple of others. The glasses are also exceptionally rare. There are two different styles in existence; one is simply lettered, the other is a "picture" glass. I've had one of the less ornate of the two, and have seen one other and one of the picture glass.

The Justin Liquor Company disappeared just as fast as it surfaced. There is no record or mention of the company after 1905. So what happened? 

It appears that the company managed to hang on by a shoestring into 1906. Oddly enough, there is no mention of the Justin Liquor Company in 1906, only reference to a saloon at the 317 O'Farrell address. On April 4, 1906, the bartender in the saloon at that location reported a burglary whereby someone entered the premises and stole the cash register. No cash was taken since it was empty (obviously business was booming..) and the sum total of the loss was the register itself. It was later recovered in a yard at 357 O'Farrell St.; just a few doors down. A couple of weeks later, the Great 1906 Earthquake and Fire sounded their swan song. Both the Taravellier and Cames residence, and the business address for the Justin Liquor Company (actually again just a saloon proper), were smack dab in the middle of the burned district.

San Francisco was dry (no liquor sales permitted) from April 18, 1906 onward into the summer. As normalcy slowly returned to the city, so did the flow of liquor. On August 14, 1906, a saloon license was granted to Taravellier and Cames to be located at 2768 Mission. The post earthquake 1906 Crocker Langley states simply, Taravellier and Cames, liquors, 2778 Mission (I verified both addresses and am guessing that the discrepancy is a typo error). No mention of the Justin Liquor Company at all.

Bad liquor or bad timing? As they say, timing is everything. The Justin Liquor Company's was simply the worst~

Many thanks to Ken S. for the shot photos~

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Thomas Taylor~

Anyone who's ever had a love of antique western bottles, the Comstock Lode, or pre-prohibition San Francisco whiskey is no doubt familiar with the name. We often refer to him and his bottles simply as Tommy Taylor, or Tommy T.

One of the most treasured applied top whiskies is embossed, "Thos. Taylor & Co. / Importers / Virginia, N.". Drive up through the Sacramento Canyon on I5, north of Redding California, and you'll see an off ramp sign in the middle of no-where. It reads simply, Vollmers - no services. But do a little studying, and you'll find that Vollmers was originally a railroad construction camp in the 1880's named because of the abundance of Thos. Taylors / P. Vollmer's Old Bourbon consumed at that "hell on wheels" camp. That bottle is embossed Thos. Taylor & Co. / Sole Agents For / P. Vollmers / Old Bourbon / Louisville, Ky.". The bottles and shards that have been recovered in that vicinity have all been applied top variants. However, that mold was used during the period of transition and tool tops also exist.

The bottles have always been a favorite of mine and I've had a number in my collection over the years. However, the history of the man behind the whiskey has always lurked in the shadows. That was until now. Friend, Fred Holabird, has completed the draft for a new Nevada Bottle book. At 600 pages, replete with 3000 illustrations, it has been five years in the works and will become the definitive "go -to" for lovers of Nevada History, Nevada bottles, and the people behind those bottles. And with that, I offer, the history of Thomas Taylor, by Fred Holabird.

Thomas Taylor

San Francisco 1858-1869

Taylor 1858-1861

Frisch & Co. (Taylor) 1861-1863

Frisch, Taylor & Reichel 1863-c1865

Taylor & Co. 1865-1866

Taylor & Bendel (liquor) 1866-1869

J. (and N.) Van Bergen 1869-on

Taylor & Bendel (groceries) 1869-1874

Taylor’s Death 1874

Virginia City, Taylor & Co. 1863-1883

Taylor & Co. (Frisch) 1863-1874

San Francisco (Taylor & Co.) c1883-c1912

The "Thomas Taylor, Virginia, N." whiskey bottles remain as some of the most prized western whiskey bottles by collectors. Taylor was a major liquor supplier to the saloons of the Comstock Lode though only a few embossed bottles carry his name. These bottles stand as one of the few permanent remnants to the saloon days of Virginia City during the 19th century bonanza era.

Taylor’s wholesale liquor business became the exclusive or sole agents for many of the main-stream brands of liquor of the day. In addition, Taylor brought in special whiskies that became tremendously popular. The Company withstood the death of the founder at a young age and prospered in the post-Comstock era by using the same business model that Taylor created.

The Taylor Company sold its San Francisco liquor business to John Van Bergen in 1869. Taylor continued to run the Virginia City liquor business from San Francisco. Years after Taylor’s death, the Company re-emerged in San Francisco, regaining their once prominent market share.

Tom Taylor’s company created a flavor of whiskey during the Comstock bonanza period which became so popular that it withstood the test of time as it was passed on through his successors. It became a national name brand product known as “Tom Taylor Whiskey” today.

Taylor In San Francisco

Thomas Taylor began his liquor career in San Francisco during the 1850’s amid the California Gold rush. Taylor was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1831. He came to California, first working in Sacramento , then in San Francisco to mine the gold of pocketbooks, which poured open as the whiskey flowed. By 1858 he had started his own wine and liquor business at 109 Clay Street. In 1861 he became a partner with John G. Frisch at 413 and 415 Clay Street in San Francisco, living at 716 Union Street. The business was known as Frisch & Co.

The Comstock Discoveries Cause a Rush To Washoe

Discoveries of massive amounts of silver and gold in the mountains east of the Sierra Nevada made the news in western newspapers in 1859. George Hearst and others built several mighty mining companies that reaped precious metals from the ground. The Gould & Curry and Ophir mines were among the first of the very rich mines that produced millions right away, easily rendering Virginia City the largest and richest ore deposit yet discovered in America.

Taylor and Frisch came under the Washoe spell, and took the tough, rugged trip to Virginia City in the early 1860's, possibly as early as 1862. Frisch and Taylor undoubtedly recognized the need for a wholesale liquor business in burgeoning Virginia City, and the potential success if he could keep the merchants supplied. This was not an easy task for a whiskey merchant, since importing barrels and kegs of whiskey meant long, difficult hauls over the Placerville-Genoa wagon road. By 1863, Virginia City was rivaling San Francisco as the financial center of the west. It was certainly the western mining center, and much of the business transacted in western mining camps went through Virginia City one way or another, including whiskey. Taylor and Frisch were keenly aware of the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad, and its planned completion into western Nevada in 1868. The rail line would greatly facilitate the shipping of whiskey, and those that had their business in place when the railroad was completed stood to profit the most. Taylor and Frisch made sure they were ready.

Taylor became one of the first of the San Francisco whiskey merchants to recognize this golden opportunity. Others would follow - E. Martin, Chielovich and others took advantage of the Nevada mining camp booms to put their own saloons in remote mining camps such as Virginia City, Hamilton and Eureka. Elia Chielovich was perhaps the most prolific, acting as a partner in saloons in nearly every major Nevada mining camp of the late 1860’s to 1870’s, insuring the widespread distribution of the whiskey brands his wholesale house controlled.

Frisch buys Virginia City Property

John Frisch bought a lot and building in Virginia City from Adam Gerheuser for $2500 in April, 1863. The lot was centrally located in town between B and C Streets, thirty feet wide and 125 feet deep. A two story brick building was later built on the property to house their liquor business.

Frisch began the setup of the Virginia City business while Taylor and a third partner, William Reichel, ran the San Francisco wholesale liquor business at the same locality, 413 and 415 Clay Street.

Taylor Acquires Virginia City Property in March, 1865

The business was underway by late 1863, possibly known as Taylor & Co. Frisch formally transferred title to the property to Taylor in March, 1865. Meanwhile, in 1864, Taylor had purchased another parcel and leased it for three years to Rice & Livermore for their drug store on the corner of Taylor and C Streets.

Taylor began to take control of the burgeoning liquor business in Virginia City. His firm acquired control of important brand names, and in 1866 Taylor acquired the Virginia City building (64 S. C St.) and stock of a major competitor, Robert Mitchell. Mitchell ran one of the wholesale San Francisco liquor businesses, known as Mitchell & Co. or Mitchell & Adams. The Mitchell & Adams building remained the focus of Taylor’s Virginia City wholesale distribution business. Taylor and Frisch’s other building acted as the pair’s warehouse facility.

Taylor Sells San Francisco Business to Van Bergen

While Taylor and Co. had set up a substantial business in Virginia City, the San Francisco business also flourished. John Frisch retired, and Taylor’s name took the masthead. In 1866, Hermann Bendel became his partner, and remained so in San Francisco until Taylor died in 1874. The partnership was known as Taylor & Co. at first, and later as Taylor & Bendel. Bendel may have purchased Reichel’s share of the Company.

Taylor and Bendel sold their prestigious San Francisco liquor business to John Van Bergen in 1869, and Van Bergen took over Taylor’s warehouse at 413-415 Clay Street. The Van Bergen family also took over the many brand name products that Taylor had acquired, including Dr. Hufeland’s Bitters.

John Van Bergen had started in San Francisco in the late 1850’s on Washington Street. His firm went on to last nearly fifty years.

San Francisco Remained Taylor’s Home

While Taylor kept a busy business in Virginia City, he and his family continued to keep their home in San Francisco at the Union Street house, and stayed there until he died. Taylor hired two managers in Virginia City in late 1867, Ed Finch and George White. The managers operated the wholesale business in Virginia City while Taylor continued to manage the liquor and later grocery business in San Francisco.

Julia Bulette & Taylor’s Whiskey

Taylor’s third year of business in Virginia City in 1866 provided some interesting customers. The Comstock’s most famous prostitute, Julia Bulette, bought her wine and whiskey from Taylor. The day after she was murdered on January 20, 1867, the entire fire department escorted the funeral carriage to the cemetery. The murderer was caught and hanged fifteen months later. Papers filed in the estate included an unpaid bill of Thomas Taylor on one of his custom printed billheads. Wine, brandy and a bottle of bourbon whiskey were part of the $41.50 bill.

Business seemed to do well for Taylor in Virginia City and San Francisco. During the early 1870's, the economy in both places flourished. The Comstock saw the first of the truly big bonanza ore bodies discovered that would make millionaires out of men like John Mackay, James Fair, John Jones, William Stewart, Alvinsa Hayward, and others. Merchants like Tom Taylor were not far behind. Taylor continued to purchase property in Virginia City. He bought three different city lots in 1872 alone. In 1873, he leased one of his properties to Livingston & Co. of San Francisco, liquor wholesalers that may not have represented a threat to Taylor’s business.

Taylor Dies Unexpectedly

Tragedy struck on March 16, 1874, when Taylor suddenly died in San Francisco at the young age of 43. The obituaries were short:

Thomas Taylor, of Taylor and Bendel grocers at 407 and 409 Clay Street died 3:16 am after a brief illness. The deceased was an old and respected resident of this city.

Unfortunately, none of the other obituaries carried any information about this man, and part of his life is lost to history. There was no indication of children, or of family plans.

Taylor’s estate took two years to settle. Hermann Bendel and W. O. Weissich were executors, though no copy of a will was ever filed in Virginia City. First, in March 1876, the Taylor Co. leased a space in the Tahoe House at 72 South C Street, with E. Frick acting on behalf of the Company. This may have been to facilitate retail sales, perhaps a saloon. Then in April, Bendel and Weissich sold half interest in the main Taylor & Co. building to A. Koch for $200. The Taylor Company leased it back two years later.

Mrs. Taylor sold the Virginia City liquor business back to Frisch after Tom died, but Frisch knew a good thing, and kept the Taylor name intact. Taylor's reputation and whiskey recipes were so good that the company lived on more than 40 years after his death, becoming an important west-coast liquor wholesaler, and later one of America's premier distillers. Tom Taylor Whiskey is the grandchild of Thomas Taylor.

Taylor's business in Virginia City would show three or more different addresses over the years. While he clearly had the central part of the business at 64 South C Street, he also had a separate warehouse in the building that he and Frisch bought in 1863. The town changed street addresses several times, creating a lot of confusion, but three of the addresses are so close, that they were clearly part of the renumbering process. The first address was 64 S. C Street during the 1860's. By 1873 the address had changed to 72 S. C Street. After the great fire of 1875, their address was 68 S. C Street, quite possibly the same location. It is a tribute to Taylor's business, that after his death, in conjunction with a fire that burned most of Virginia City, the business was rebuilt quickly and successfully, resulting in many more years of whiskey sales.

Merchants Scramble For A Piece of the Taylor Pie

The Taylor & Co. San Francisco wholesale liquor business closed shortly after Taylor’s death, reopening after the closure of the Virginia City business several years later. It is clear that the Virginia City business remained "business as usual", even though it also changed hands, and the grocery part of the business was sold to Fred Tillman. There were at least four partnership changes over twenty years, including Gustav C. Vocke, who was a partner as early as 1894 and sold out in 1901.

The ownership in Virginia City also changed after Taylor’s death. Ed Finck and George F. Hill became owners and operating partners sometime after Taylor died. Finck lived at the business location, and Hill lived at 202 1/2 S. C Street. Frisch may have been a silent senior partner, remaining in San Francisco.

The Taylor & Co. liquor business remained mainly wholesale with the possible exception of a saloon in the Tahoe House. By 1878, there were about 110 retail liquor dealers in Virginia City, and about 30 more in Gold Hill. Taylor & Co. were one of the few wholesalers. By comparison, there were only 16 liquor dealers in all of Arizona Territory in 1878, and nearly 1600 in San Francisco alone.

Virginia City Operation Closes

The Virginia City business remained in full operation through 1883, when the owners closed the Virginia City location during a severe depression, and moved back to San Francisco, reopening under the leadership of new partners, B. Frisch and Charles Cellarius at 311 Sacramento Street, using the old name of Thomas Taylor & Co. Taylor's family and business interest probably ceased when Mrs. Taylor sold out to Frisch et al in 1874 and moved back to Munich. In the 1890's, Taylor's liquor business expanded to Cincinnati, Ohio for national distribution. The Taylor & Co. San Francisco business lasted until about 1912 when they were merged into the Taylor Distilling Company. Cellarius moved back to Cincinnati to work for the Taylor Distilling Co., of which he may have been an owner.

The Taylor Products

During the many years the Taylor name adorned whiskey products, Taylor & Co. made numerous name-brand products. Taylor was an astute businessman, and realized that his wholesale liquor business might thrive if he became the exclusive or sole agent for popular brands of liquor. It was a method of market control. If Taylor could pick the right products, he could force strong business since he was the only distributor of that product. In this manner, any saloon that wanted a particular brand of whiskey controlled by Taylor had to come to him.

In the 1860's, Taylor & Co. were the sole proprietors of Dr. Huffeland's Celebrated Swiss Stomach Bitters, which was distributed out of San Francisco and Virginia City. There are no known embossed bottles from this bitters made during Taylor’s lifetime. A tall, amber embossed bottle bearing that name was later made by Taylor’s successor, N. Van Bergen. The Company acquired the rights of sole distribution for Mumm's Champagne and other name brand products that certainly must have been a positive factor in income. Taylor acquired the rights to P. Vollmer’s whiskey, Alpine Herb Bitters, Cyrus Noble and others. Good whiskey was rarely produced on the west coast by any company, and these exclusive ties to the Kentucky distilling industry were essential.

Taylor's businesses in both San Francisco and Virginia City were important to the economy of the Comstock. Not only did Taylor's liquor business supply liquor to retailers and saloons, he also supplied liquor, empty barrels, and related hardware to the mines. The Taylor and Bendel wholesale grocery business supplied many of the mines with miners candles and other sundries.

The Taylor Bottles

There are a number of different embossed bottles from Thomas Taylor’s San Francisco and Virginia City operations, as well as successor companies in Cincinnati and elsewhere. These include the Taylor - Virginia N., the Taylor – Vollmer clear flask from Virginia City, several different fifths from San Francisco, and his Alpine Herb Bitters. Many other embossed whiskey bottles bear the Taylor name, such as “Wright & Taylor” and “Old Taylor,” but these are from different Taylor families in Kentucky. Old Taylor is a brand name made for Edmund H. Taylor of Georgetown, Kentucky before 1900. Wright & Taylor were John Wright and Marion Taylor of Louisville (c1893-1915), who trademarked Taylor’s Golden Rye and Kentucky Rye. Neither were apparently related to Thomas Taylor of San Francisco. Old Taylor is now a product of Jim Beam. The Cincinnati Taylor operation produced no known embossed bottles. Brand names shown on an 1897 Tom Taylor letterhead indicated whiskey produced under the Vollmer Old Bourbon and Tom Taylor Old Hand Made Sour Mash Bourbon names. A shot glass is all that remains of the Tom Taylor name about that time. Modern glass signs bearing the Tom Taylor brand name are known and appear to date from the last twenty years. A search through brand name records on the internet failed to disclose the present brand owner and distiller.

Dating the Taylor Bottles

Dating the Taylor bottles is a difficult, but achievable task. John Thomas, in his epic work Whiskey Bottles of the Old West, discussed the manufacture of glass bottles, particularly whiskey bottles, in great detail. His work on the subject is incredibly important, and overlooked or misunderstood by many collectors.

The chapter discusses the evolution of glass blowing and embossing. Thomas studied whiskey bottle mold patent designs. In so doing, he discovered the evolution of the molds themselves, which tells us a lot about dating a bottle. Use of air vents in the mold and molded lettering evolved over time.

Some of the earliest molds made on the west coast were made for the Pacific Glass Works in 1863. Some of these earliest bottles had no air vents in the letters, and little or no air venting in other important areas of the bottles themselves, such as the shoulders. Lack of air venting caused problems. One was an imperfect surface, which in some cases led to a “whittled” appearance. Another feature of the early, non-air vented bottles was imperfect lettering. The letters appear flat, and are not well rounded in three dimensions. This was caused by injection of the glass into the mold and into the letters. Since there were no air vents in the letters, the air pushed or misplaced by the injection of the mouton glass had nowhere to go. It was trapped in the ends or tips of the letters, the part that would have made the letters stick out away from the glass. The air could not escape, and therefore an air pocket was formed at the tip of the letters in the mold, which could not be filled with glass. The resultant appearance was flat lettering, an attribute typical of all early western whiskey bottles.

About the time it was noticed that air vents were necessary in the letters, it became apparent that air venting was necessary in other parts of the molds. Vents were placed in the center of the shoulder on two piece molds and later in the same place with four piece molds. Vents were also placed along the mold seams, thereby not detracting from the original appearance.

As these air vents were developed, the manufacturer had to find a way to incorporate them into the mold process while still allowing uniform cooling. To do so, air chambers were constructed inside the mold itself. These air chambers served as connection points for all the air vents in a specific part of the mold, and allowed air to escape through other vents in the mold’s exterior.

Gradually, through time, air vents changed in size and placement The goal of the glass bottle maker was a bottle with no whittling or visible air vents.


Perhaps the most famous of the Thomas Taylor bottles are the two embossed whiskeys from Virginia City. Taylor had both a fifth and a sixth cylinders made bearing the name of his company, and identified the city as "Virginia, N." There is speculation that the sixth is an earlier bottle, based on research that shows sixths were a common form of bottling during the late 1860's and early 1870's , though the majority of the embossed western sixths are distinctly from the 1870’s. The Thomas Taylor sixths are much rarer, with only about 7 known. Four of these are yellow amber, one is a deep chocolate amber, and two are a beautiful deep grass green. The fifths are more common, but still quite rare, with about 15 mint specimens, and another 5 or so that are not quite mint. These bottles range in color from dark amber in shades of chocolate or red, to yellow amber. Estimating the exact ages of the fifth and sixth bottles is not possible without more research. Certainly the date range of Thomas Taylor himself is a guide, rendering a date of 1863-1874.

The Taylor sixth whiskey bottles are made from two piece molds with flattened letters and little evidence of air venting. The yellow and amber fifths are also two piece molds with little evidence of air venting, except along the vertical seams. Some fifths have tiny air vents in the shoulder at top center, but bottles that have been professionally polished may have had the air vents removed. The letters of the fifths are much better pronounced, which may indicate that the sixths pre-date the fifths. The Taylor sixths and fifths compare favorably to other very early western whiskies. The Evans & O’Brien whiskey from Stockton also exhibits flattened letters, and at least one example in the Kille collection contains considerable impurities in the glass, typical of the early bottles made by Pacific Glass Works, such as the Wright soda bottles mentioned in this book. These bottles clearly are a product of the 1860’s by comparative analogy.

Since Taylor took over the property in name in 1865, it can be assumed that the Thomas Taylor, Virginia N. bottles date from the 1865-1874 period, and were probably used during that entire period. The sixth may date from the first half of that period, circa 1865-1869, and the fifth may date from the second half, circa 1870-1874.

The usage of the term “Virginia, N.” was different from other Virginia City merchants who always used the term Virginia or Virginia City. John Hittel even picked up on it when he listed Thomas Taylor, “Virginia, N.” as “one of the leading business houses” in his Commerce and Business Industries of the Pacific Coast in 1882. The usage of Virginia, N. has been seen on other rare occasions by the author. It is not exclusive to Taylor, though it is certainly unique embossed on a bottle.


The story of the Tom Taylor Company and Phillip Vollmer partnership parallels the story of the wholesale whiskey business in the west. Taylor, as one of the most important and influential of the western wholesale whiskey merchants, was keenly aware of important brand names. These brands were the business – the best selling brands were what brought in the majority of the business. When Taylor and Frisch sold their San Francisco wholesale liquor business to John Van Bergen, so too went with the business the popular, moneymaking name brands that Taylor had acquired through leases, such as Dr. Huffeland’s Bitters and Mumm’s Champagne.

The Taylor Company’s Virginia City wholesale liquor business needed another important name brand whiskey to help sales. By 1880, the most popular brand Kentucky whiskeys on the west coast were J. H. Cutter and Jesse Moore, among a few others. The Cutter brand was under agreement with Hotaling, and Jesse Moore whiskey was under agreement with Elia Chielovich.

In a slick business trick as old as time, the Taylor Company went after a young clerk who worked for the Jesse Moore Company, Phillip Vollmer. Vollmer had relatives in Virginia City, and as a clerk for the Jesse Moore Company in Louisville, he was in a perfect position to bring a similar recipe to the western marketplace.

While in Virginia City, Tom Taylor became associated with Phillip Vollmer, who was interested in marketing his own brand or recipe of whiskey. Vollmer was part of a whiskey distilling family from Louisville, Kentucky. There he created a flavored whiskey for the Jesse Moore Company that Taylor thought so highly of that he became sole agent in Nevada and probably California. His ads bearing the Vollmer name began showing up in 1877 and lasted until at least 1883. Meanwhile, Vollmer had relatives in San Francisco. John and Henry Vollmer ran a liquor business there from at least 1870 to after 1877. Another Vollmer, M. Vollmer, was the senior partner in a saloon at the William Tell House opposite the Bank of California in Virginia City. Taylor was probably friends with the family since he shared the same business at both western locations. P. Vollmer stayed in Louisville, Kentucky and set up a distillery and wholesale whiskey business. Taylor acquired the right to sell Vollmer's whiskey exclusively sometime in the 1870's, possibly 1876.

The Tom Taylor Company sold Vollmer's whiskey from the Virginia City location in a clear whiskey flask embossed with Taylor's and Vollmer's names about 1877-1883.

There are at least four variants of the San Francisco whiskey fifth: three applied top variants, and a tooled top, amber cylinder. Some of the tooled top bottles are crude, others neatly made. Taylor & Co. sold Vollmer's whiskey from their San Francisco facility after 1883 and well into the 1890's. The older, applied top Vollmer whiskey cylinders were probably distributed both in Virginia City and San Francisco. There are three distinct types of older Vollmer whiskey bottles, one a red whittled indented slug plate, made in a four piece mold; an amber indented slug plate, and the other an amber to yellow-amber "ridge slug plate", though the "ridge slug plate" is not known in red amber. The difference between the two is shown in one of the photographs in this section.

The “indented” slug plate is distinct from the “ridge” slug plate because the entire area of the slug plate is recessed from the normal curved surface of the bottle, such that the background inside the slug plate is recessed about one quarter inch from the outside surface. The “ridge” slug plate has the identical embossing, but instead of the slug plate area being recessed, it simply has a ridge outlining the slug plate area, such that the background inside the slug plate area is at the same surface level as the rest of the outside of the bottle. The ridge slug plate variant appears to be slightly later in date of manufacture. The red amber fifths are more recent bottles, generally dating from the mid to late 1880’s.

The recessed panel slug plate design was invented in 1874 and patented in 1875 by Gustavue Storm of Philadelphia. The “ridge” slug plate was a design that followed the recessed panel slug plate. The latter pattern is clearly a knock-off or copy of the true slug plate, and are known by at least one author as “pseudo slug plates.”

The connection of Taylor and Vollmer was distinctly Nevada, and both the Vollmer and Taylor bottles bear tribute to Nevada's whiskey and saloon industry.


Sometime in the 1880's, Taylor & Co. created Alpine Herb Bitters. The date of creation is uncertain, though Bill Wilson in his book Western Bitters, claims that Alpine Herb Bitters was only distributed in 1888. We now know that Alpine Herb Bitters was made and distributed at least during the period 1888-1896. A record of a patent for the Alpine Herb Bitters in US Patent records was not found, though it may have been under another man's name, and therefore difficult to locate. Unfortunately, Patent records are not well indexed, adding to the difficulty in research.

There are two distinctly different embossed bottles bearing the Alpine Herb Bitters name. The earliest is a very crude amber, square, applied top bitters, of which at least four specimens are known. One of the applied-top specimens was dug in Virginia City by Vera Bennett, an early bottle digger of the 1960's. This bottle has all the ear-marks of a bottle made well before 1888, but as yet, there is no documentary evidence of Alpine Herb Bitters before that date. One might make the assumption that the applied top Alpine bottle might have been made just after the company re-emerged in San Francisco in late 1883, but more research is needed to study that possibility. The second bottle is a very neatly made tooled top square bitters, with a nearly identical embossed pattern. There may be less than two dozen of the tooled top variety known, though there was no attempt made to inventory these bottles in collections. This bottle could easily date to the late 1880's, but the first bottle certainly seems older based on comparative construction, though applied top bottles are known as late as 1899. Neither bottle carries a town name, indicating the possible distribution of the product in more than one city.

Taylor's letterheads from the 1890's reflect the marketing of Alpine Herb Bitters, and it certainly was distributed from San Francisco as late as 1896. No records were found from Taylor's Virginia City operation that could place distribution of the early applied top Alpine Herb Bitters in Virginia City, though this still remains a possibility. Several other western bitters are also found in both applied and tooled tops, an indication of manufacture throughout the 1880's and 1890's at least. These include: Hibernia, Pipifax, Dr. Thos. Hall's, Jewell, Louis Tausig, Excellsior, Booth, and Dodge & Co.

The Alpine Herb Bitters name and recipe was probably sold or leased to other companies for distribution, particularly after 1901. An amber, round neatly made bottle with an Alpine Herb Bitters label shows the agent as N. Van Bergen, and another neatly made, post-1906 paper labeled bottle shows Wichman-Lutgen as the agents.

Without more information on the recipe, it is difficult to ascertain the contents. Many would like to know which alpine herbs were used, and from what part of the Sierra Nevada they came, the only alpine environment around. More research may solve these mysteries.

There are at least three other embossed bitters bottles bearing similar names. Swiss Alpine Bitters , Swiss Alp Bitters (2 varieties) and Hungerbuehler’s Swiss Alpine Bitters. Any relationship between these and Taylor’s Alpine Herb Bitters is unknown and deserves more research.


The significance of the "Thomas Taylor, Virginia, N." whiskey bottle should not be underestimated. John L. Thomas, in his book Whiskey Bottles of the Old West (1977, Maverick Publications and the 2002 edition) lists about 200 important embossed western whiskey bottles, including variants. R. E. Barnett, in Western Liquor Bottles lists nearly 1,000 different western whiskey bottles, including variants. Among these, only one is from the 1850's (Barry & Patten), and only three could be from the 1860's. These are the Evans & O'Brien; Thomas Taylor, and Weil Brothers. A fourth example, the plain, but colorful grass-green Pacific Glass Works whiskey bottle is certainly 1860's, but was omitted from Thomas’ work because no merchant name is embossed in the face of the glass. Another bottle, the G. O. Blake’s Pond, Reynolds bottle has a company date of 1868-1875, but John Thomas felt strongly in a letter to the author that the bottle must have been made after 1870 because of the style of manufacture.

The new list of western whiskey bottles from the 1850's and 1860's is:

1. Barry & Patten (1850-1856)

2. Pacific Glass Works (1863-1868)

3. Thomas Taylor, Virginia, N. (1863-1874)

4. Evans & O'Brien (1868-1875)

5. Weil Bros. (1868-1874)

Of additional significance is that four of these first five western whiskey bottles are from the Stockton-San Francisco area, the major merchant wholesale distribution center for the west coast, and only one is from an interior mining region, Virginia City.

Taylor Bottles – Still Found in Nevada

Most of the Taylor Virginia N. cylinders and clear flasks have been found in the Virginia City and Gold Hill areas. Two sixths were found under a house on B Street about 1980. A sixth was found in Unionville, Nevada; a fifth in Silver Hills (north of Fallon), and another in Oroville by Pete Irlati. It should be noted that at least one Thomas Taylor, Virginia, N. bottle was made in the same style as the Hotaling shoulder crown - made with dark glass, large top, and squatty shoulders (Kille collection).

The Great Comstock Lode

The Comstock discovery was an unexpected strike eleven years after gold was found at Sutter's Mill by James Marshall. News of the discovery spread fast, first to Nevada City, Downieville, and Placerville, then to San Francisco. There was such a rush that thousands made their way over the rugged Sierra through Placerville, often taking a month for the trip on foot. The world didn't get a glimpse of Virginia City until April, 1860, when Hutchings' California Magazine published the first view of Virginia City.

“In Washoe almost everybody lives on beans and bacon, and the common drink is water diluted with arsenic, plumbago and copperas , and corrected with "rot-gut whiskey" warranted to kill at forty paces, generally understood to be composed of strychnine, tarantula juice, oil of tobacco, and other effective poisons, including a dash of corrosive supplement."

Taylor certainly must have watched with great interest the excitement of Washoe in the San Francisco papers, and probably even read Browne's articles in Harper's Weekly, including A Peep at Washoe, and others.

With cries of "Gould & Curry" and "Ophir" heard everywhere in San Francisco, the western papers touted the Comstock Lode as the greatest mining discovery since the mother lode. By 1865, the Comstock was producing $16 million per year, mostly from those two rich mines.

Thomas Taylor – A Common Name

Coincidentally, there were several other men by the name of Thomas Taylor active in the Comstock region during this era. In the early 1860's, Thomas G. Taylor was making a name for himself in the mines of Virginia City. This tall, slender man would become one of the best known mine superintendents on the Comstock. He came to Virginia City from New York City in 1862, working as a miner in Gold Hill. Taylor's leadership qualities soon sent him up through the ranks, and he became superintendent of the Yellow Jacket mine in Gold Hill, and was present at the tragic mine fire in 1869 which killed 68 miners. He supported the Sutro Tunnel, and signed a petition in favor of the project. After his many mining successes, Taylor retired to San Francisco and listed himself in Langley's 1882 San Francisco Directory as a "mining expert."

Tom Taylor, the mining engineer, was a popular man on the Comstock. In one colorful story published at the time, Myron Angel related this true story of Taylor: Sheriff Howard of Virginia City had a habit of summoning odd juries, and Taylor, as a tall man, was on his list. "Lawyers went crazy trying to get the attention of the jurors" and Howard summoned squint-eyed men, fat men, thin men, the ugliest, handsomest, and tallest. Taylor was one of the tallest in town, and Governor Blasdel at 6'5" was the tallest.

A third Thomas (J) Taylor had an opera career, and was performing in McGuire's Opera House in Virginia City in 1864. A fourth Thomas Taylor was a miner at Como who moved to Austin in 1864 and became a prominent man there. And yet another Thomas Taylor was a bookkeeper in Virginia City, coming to the Comstock from Pennsylvania. Curiously, the last four Taylors were all about the same age (50 in 1870, about ten years older than our liquor merchant), in fact, within three years of each other. Another four Thomas Taylors are listed in the 1870 Nevada Census, all working elsewhere in the state, and probably unrelated.
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