Friday, June 10, 2011

For Whom the Bell Tolls

According to Hemingway, in his now famous novel of the aforementioned title, it tolled for a guy named Robert Jordan .

But not according to Morris Newman. Seems that for Newman the bell tolled for something more useful than a book. Like Whiskey. And Newman's claim to fame was the Liberty Bell brand of whiskey.

Newman arrived late on the scene; setting up shop in 1902 at 256 3rd St. A look at a map of San Francisco shows the address to be 2 1/2 blocks off of Market and just a few blocks off the waterfront and the Ferry Building; a can't fail location. He must have had a few nickels to rub together because he had a phone installed in his saloon right off the bat (Green 464 was the number). He stayed there until 1904. The phone number changed that year to Black 4632 (although the reason escapes me). I'm guessing that Liberty Bell may have been the name of this saloon and the bottle was blown when he was at this address.

The "Liberty Bell" is one rare picture whiskey. I've had one; and only seen one other one~. It's a bit unconventional in shape, being smaller in diameter, but with a taller cylinder than a "normal" fifth. It may be a fifth, but I'd lean more toward a "short fifth".

In 1905, "M. Newman" pulled up stakes, for reasons unknown, and relocated to new digs. Not sure if it was divine providence that convinced him to move, or just dumb luck, but the new location at 3150 "24th" St., out in the Mission District, survived the Great Earthquake and fire in April of the following year. The new location was on the outer fringes of the "burned area" whereas his old location on 3rd Street was reduced to rubble and ashes on April 18th, the first day of the fire...

The new location apparently fared well. Records indicate that the saloon doors remained open on 24th Street until 1908.

Although no embossed bottles are known to exist attributable to that location, three label only cylinders remain. One, the Bohemian Club, is an exceptional piece of artwork. It is also significant because it has the "Pure Food and Drug Act" declaration on the label, thus positively linking it to the new location based on the date.

Another, "Extract of Ginger" is multi colored debossed litho with gilding.

Just plain fancy!

A third contained Brair (sp?) Ridge. It is a pint cylinder with the Riley Patent inside thread closure commonly used in the mid to late teens. The label pictures a distillery. Inquiring minds want to know and I was curious to see where the distillery was located and whether this was a true old Ky. bourbon or a west coast distillery posing as one of the good ol' boys. Hmm, I found no record of a Brair (possibly mis-spelled) or Briar Ridge distillery anywhere in the country. Still, it looks impressive on the label...

After 1908, there is no mention whatsoever of M. Newman's saloon or liquor endeavors at the 24th Street address. However, he is listed on the 1910 census. It states that he was born in 1865, was a native of Hungary, and married to a Charlotte "Lottie" Newman and resided in the 32nd district in San Francisco. The 1915 directory does still list Morris and Lottie; residing at 2424 Howard Street. There is also a reference to M Newman & Co. but no address for the business was listed. The mystery gets cleared up by the 1917 directory which states that the business was being run out of their residence on Howard St. It also lists a new name; "M & A Newman Wholesale Liquors". In 1918 the business name reverted to M. Newman & Co, and the residence address moves to 2835 Howard St. Why the short move? In 1919 Morris and Lottie remain at the 2835 address, although the listing simply states "liquors".

And then, the trail goes cold. Obviously Prohibition forced a career change and Newman, like everyone else in the wholesale liquor scene, was forced to reinvent the wheel when their livelihood was taken away. Still, he made a pretty respectable showing, having been in the wholesale and retail liquor business for 17 years~

Subsequent to 1919, no further record is found of Moris and or Lottie Newman in San Francisco. After grabbing at straws for a couple of days, I ran a search of Mortuary records as a last ditch effort to locate Newman. At last, a hit. Records show that Morris Newman died at his home in Los Gatos, California on October 22, 1932. At that time he was still married to Lottie. His funeral service was held at Halsted Mortuary, located at 1132 Sutter St., in San Francisco. Morris Newman was 67 years old.

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