Saturday, February 25, 2012

Herman Braunschweiger - a fresh look

I'd like to take a moment and share a little about the following  article in advance. The ball got rolling thanks to a gentleman by the name of Jeff Lawrence. Jeff was fortunate enough to have come across a salesman's sample kit. The original owner had been employed by the firm of Braunschweiger & Co. back around the turn of the century. Jeff sent me photos and asked me if I'd ever seen or heard of another. I had. We corresponded back and forth and I decided to research Braunschweiger (the man), his business endeavors, his family, and the legacy that he left us in the form of collectibles. I owe a huge debt of gratitude, in addition to Jeff,  to (in alphabetical order) Mike Dolcini, Rich Lucchesi, and Ken Schwartz. Without their help, this article could never have been written. Rather than make this a single, long grind, I've opted to break it up into a few more manageable segments.

The beginnings

Back in late December I received an email from a Jeff Lawrence. He stated, " I recently acquired a pair of whiskey drummer cases from the late 1800's by Braunschweiger. I see you're an expert at San Fran Whiskey goods and I'm wondering if you have any info on these." He'd also contacted the owner of a west coast auction house and that individual quickly posted a short blurb about the find. However, I felt that there might just be more to the story than simply reprinting what could easily be gleaned from the old stand by stories in Thomas and Wilson.

In a followup email, Jeff added some interesting provenance;
"Several weeks ago I acquired one of the cases from a store in Idaho Falls. Upon further research online, I saw that someone had a very similar case in Utah. I contacted them and was able to acquire the second one from them. They told me they purchased the second case at the exact same location as I purchased the first one and that the two cases were from the same owner. I then was able to contact the previous owner that was in Idaho and he told me his grandfather was the original owner and whiskey drummer who traveled all around particularly in Idaho. He also told me about his great-grandfather who started a resort and was a decorated war hero and that the cases resided in that house where his great-grandfather lived. Upon further research, the dates for his grandfather don't match up if he was the original owner (he may have taken the baton and continued on with it perhaps later but he was under 10 years old when the case and bottles were made/dated). However, the great-grandfather is listed in census reports as being a liquor dealer and traveling salesman in multiple states (California, Nevada, Idaho) and the dates of the census reports are more parallel with the age of the bottles/cases so it seems more logical that this was the primary owner. This cannot be confirmed at this time however as the gentleman I spoke to says it was his grandfather who was the salesman. Maybe there was a different owner before him, I don't know. I suppose it's also plausible that Braunschweiger used these at one time or helped put these together for the salesman...but I have no evidence to support this. Another piece of history that the previous owner shared was that they were rescued from a flood that originated near me in Jackson the 20s a giant landslide created a damn of a river and formed a lake called Slide Lake. Everyone thought it was safe as a natural dam and would hold but they were wrong and a year or so later it broke and flooded the Snake River - killing 6 in the town of Kelly. These cases were far downstream in Idaho but located in a house just off of the Snake River so this flood came into the house where these cases were located...but were rescued by one of the family members of the previous owner."

OK, I was hooked. And so, I enlisted Rich's help in obtaining photos of bottles and shots, Kens help with invoices and letterheads and Mike's help with obtaining copies of the original applications for trade mark located in the California State Archives in Sacramento. Me? I've spent the past two months trekking through the archives of time in an effort to fill in the missing pieces of the Braunschweiger saga. Here goes.

Hermann Braunschweiger was born in 1839, in Brunswick Germany. His early years are lost to time. I first picked up his trail in San Francsico in 1871. Contrary to popular belief, his first foray into the world  of Western Whiskey dealing was not with Amandus Fenkhausen! Instead, he and a gentleman by the name of Claus R. Schluter were in partnership together as Braunschweiger & Schluter (retail liquor dealers) located on West 4th, near Berry. Prior to this association, Schluter was listed as far back as 1869 as a retail liquor dealer;  "C.H. Schluter & Co." in partnership with a J. Haser at 115 Post, dealers in wines and liquors.  At that time, Schluter lived at 231 Stevenson. 1871 records state that the W. 4th St. address was both a business and residence ( a common practice with retail down and residence upstairs), and that Braunschweiger shared the home with Schluter. Records from 1872 indicate that they were doing business together at the same address but were now dealers in both groceries and liquors.

For reasons unknown, Braunschweiger disappears from the radar completely in 1873. No reference to his and Schluter's partnership, no record of him doing anything or even residing in San Francisco; although Schluter still remains listed as a retail liquor dealer at the same address. However, in 1874, Hermann resurfaces; only now he's listed simply as a clerk employed by Schluter. Interesting too, is that he has shortened the spelling of his name and eliminated the second "N" in Herman.

1875 saw something interesting; the location on West 4th, near Berry is now listed as being owned by H. Braunschweiger, and is strictly a residence. And, Schluter disappears completely from any and all records. Also significant is that Herman now lists his employer as A. Fenkhausen & Co.. A closer look reveals that the "& Co." was indeed H. Braunschweiger, and that they were importers and jobbers of wines and liquors, located at the NW corner of Sacramento and Front; smack dab in the middle of the liquor district. 1876 and 77 continued on status quo with A. Fenkhausen & Co. churning out whiskey. In 1878, at 414 Front (the corner of Clay & Front - location change or error in the directories?) the firm of "Fenkhausen and Braunschweiger" becomes public record. A mold was commissioned for "Wm. H. Spears / Old Pioneer Whiskey / Fenkhausen & Braunschweiger / Sole Agents, S.F." and the "two name bear" was introduced to the public at that time. This positively dates the 2 namer to 1878.

During the tenure of their partnership the Old Pioneer brand was their flagship. The labels and the embossed bottles that contained the product pictured a side view of a California grizzly bear. It rapidly became exceptionally popular. Business continued on, status quo, until May 11th,1881.

In 1881 Braunschweiger left this partnership to establish one by the name of Braunshweiger and Bumstead (ca. 1881 - 1884). When the split-up occurred, Fenkhausen retained rights to the Old Pioneer brand, as well as the "walking bear" design. Braunschweiger apparently had a soft spot for the bear and as such, introduced his own "bear" brand ca. 1881 while in partnership with Bumstead. It was named Bear Grass Bourbon. In order to avoid patent infringement he had a mold cut picturing the bust of a grizzly bear (as opposed to a side body view). It too became wildly popular.

Up to this point in time, it has been generally accepted that no known embossed bottles existed for the partnership of Fenkhausen & Braunschweiger prior to the appearance of the two name bear. Evidence suggests though, that the two name bear was not the first mold for the Old Pioneer brand.

An applied top mold exists, embossed "Wm. H. Spears / Old Pioneer Whiskey / Fenkhausen & Co.  / Sole Agents, S.F." that does not have the slugged out portion where Braunschweigers name was later inserted (and then removed) and does not bear, (no pun intended - OK maybe just a little),evidence of a repair to the reverse of the body in the form of the vertical patch. It is virtually identical in all regards to the two name near. As such, this could actually pre-date the two namer and in fact be the original mold blown for Fenkhausen & Co, when Braunschweiger was the silent partner (& Co.).  The firm of A. Fenhausen &Co. continued to push the Old Pioneer brand hard until 1893, when the firm dissolved due to the death of Fenkhausen. Subsequent to Braunschweiger embarking on his own, the Old Pioneer mold was reworked into the "repaired" variant that we are familiar with.

Braunschweiger & Co. - the business end
The firm of Braunschweiger & Co. came to be in 1884, (after the partnership dissolution of Braunschweiger and Bumstead on August 9th of that year).

Bumstead leaving for, perhaps, what he saw as greener pastures signed on with Wolters Bros. & Co. as the "& Co."  on August 13, 1884.

Braunschweiger retained ownership of the Bear Grass brand and it continued to flourish.  Braunschweiger acquired the Old Pioneer brand subsequent to Fenkhausen's demise in 1893. A clear tooled top embossed "Old Pioneer" cylinder (two different molds?) for Braunschweiger & Co. was commissioned.

As his business grew and his fortunes increased, Braunschweiger began to introduce new brands. The brands that they had control over, which we have documented, include; "Bear Grass", "Bear Valley", "California Club", "Extra Pony", "Golden Chief", "Golden Cupid", "Golden Rule", "Golden Rule XXX Sour Mash Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey", "Oak Valley Distilling: Brunswick Extra Pony Pure Bourbon Whiskey", "Old Pioneer", "Tennessee White Rye" and "Silver Wedding."

Mike located paperwork filed by Braunschweiger and Co. as claims of trademark, registering seven brands of whiskey with the State of California dated September 12, 1884. They are, Golden Rule Old XXXX Bourbon, Golden Cupid Old Bourbon, Golden Chief Old Bourbon, Golden Anchor Old Bourbon, Silver Wedding Old Bourbon, and Our Choice Bear Valley Old Bourbon.

Many of these names are present on the labels in the salesman's kit that Jeff sent photos of.
The going must have been a bit rough at first though, since on June 4, 1885 Braunschweiger ran an advertisement in the Daily Alta Calfornia seeking a partner in his wholesale liquor store, which was then located at 223 California.

It also makes one wonder who (if anyone) was the & Co...
Stay tuned for part two~

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Saturday, February 4, 2012

When 2+2 doesn't equal 4

Got an email the other day from a non-collector. He'd spotted the sign next to one of my display cases pictured on the opening page of the website. Said he'd picked one up at the estate sale of an old gold panner down in Northern California. He went on to say, "I am interested in selling it and was wondering if you could recommend a place to do so and perhaps a "ball park figure" to ask as I am not very well versed in vintage whiskies/bourbon memorabilia."

Here's my reply;

First, a bit of history of Fenkhausen. Amandus Fenkahausen and Herman Braunschweiger entered into a "co-partnership" in 1878. Their flagship brand of whiskey was "Old Pioneer". The labels and the embossed bottles that contained the product, pictured a side view of a California grizzly bear. It rapidly became exceptionally popular. Later, Braunschweiger left this partnership to establish one by the name of Braunshweiger and Bumstead (ca. 1881 - 1885). When Fenkahausen and Braunschweiger split up, Fenkhausen retained the rights to the Old Pioneer brand.

Braunshweiger apparently had a soft spot for the bear and as such, introduced his own "bear" brand ca. 1881 while in partnership with Bumstead. It was named "Bear Grass". In order to avoid patent infringement he had a mold cut picturing the bust of a grizzly bear (as opposed to a side body view). It too became wildly popular.

The firm of Braunschweiger and Co. came to be in 1886 after the partnership dissolution of Braunschweiger and Bumstead. Braunschweiger and Co.  retained the Bear Grass brand at that time. Other brands marketed by the firm included "Bear Valley", "California Club", "Extra Pony", "Golden Chief", "Golden Cupid", "Golden Rule", "Golden Rule XXX Sour Mash Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey", "Oak Valley Distilling: Brunswick Extra Pony Pure Bourbon Whiskey", "Silver Wedding" and "Tennessee White Rye".

When Fenkhausen died in 1893, Braunschweiger re-attained the rights to the Old Pioneer brand. This is a documented fact and an embossed bottle exists to prove this out. However, we do not have any evidence (with the exception of the reverse glass sign) that Fenkhausen ever had rights to or marketed "Tennessee White Rye". We are left with two possibilities, either the sign was a mistake (it is known that both firms ordered bottles, labels etc. at the same time from suppliers in S.F.), or the sign is a "fantasy piece". At this time, there are believed to be around a half dozen examples in collections. All appear to be old and the expense of producing a sign this size on a limited scale appears to rule out the possibility of a fake. And yet...?

Something just doesn't add up... And so fellow collectors; what's your take?
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