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?

1 comment:

Mike Dolcini said...

Yes, it is a fantasy piece. Been around for quite a few years and some are being passed as"originals", whatever that means.

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