Saturday, June 23, 2012

Totally Choice, dude~

Choice Old Cabinet

The name itself instantly conjures up the mental image of a top notch whiskey. And what better way to merchandise a top notch product, than to have a top notch mold made for the bottles that held it. A quick glance at the full face embossing tells you that the bottles were blown in San Francisco thanks to the "funny R". The amber applied top cylinders, what few of them are around, have that characteristic look of a late 70's - early 80's classic western glop top.
Crane Hastings & Co. came into being on July 2nd of 1874 when Byron G. Crane and Everett L. Hastings established their co-partnership. They opened their doors that day at 608-612 Front Street.

Based on the appearance of the cylinder, the molds were commissioned and the order for bottles filled from the get-go.

This arrangement was short lived, thanks to the sudden demise of Hastings in 1875. He was aboard the ill fated steamer "Pacific", that went down on November 10, 1875 near Port Townsend Washington Territory. Hastings had been "up north", participating in legal proceedings against saloon owner S. Benton in Colfax, Washington Territory, caused by a default on a $1200~ payment for goods received from Crane Hastings & Co.. Colfax was located in what is now NE Washington near Moscow Idaho. Hmm, might be a good place to look for Choice Old Cabinets...

Hasting's wife participated in ownership of the company from the time of Everett's death until April 5th, 1876 when Crane legally assumed sole ownership of the firm while remaining at the same location.

Four years later, Crane, on March 10, 1880, went into a partnership with a Charles E. Benjamin. They retained the same company name of Crane Hastings & Co. but made a move over to 121 California Street; still in the heart of the wholesale liquor district. For whatever reason, two years later they relocated once again, only this time to two separate locations. One being at 316 Sacramento Street, the other at 321 Commercial Street. On April 1, 1886, Crane dissolved this co-partnership and again makes a go of it alone. He retains both locations. What I find strange, is that the two addresses are only a half block apart; the first on the corner of Sacramento and Front while the latter address is on the corner of Front and Commercial. He kept the doors open at both locations until closing the doors to the company in 1895.

Now back to the bottle (bottles). Based on the number of Choice Old Cabinet bottles remaining in private collections today, they must not have been highly successful; at least not in comparison to say A. P. Hotaling or Moore Hunt & Co. I could find no evidence of newspaper advertising in either the Daily Alta California or the Call. There are no etched shot glasses known to exist and I've not seen any back bar signs or other media that would indicate extensive advertising. According to Thomas, around twenty of the bottles exist; having been found in California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Although it never made John's top twenty list, the Choice Old Cabinet is one of my favorite glop tops for many reasons. Often quite crude, the full face embossing and sloppy tops coupled with all the attributes of this era of whiskey really make it stand out in a crowd. What many collectors are unaware of is that there are actually two very similar molds in existence. One has the typically crude rounded embossing so typical of the late 1870's 1880's era while another has "chisel point" embossing so sharp that you can cut a steak with it.

This new mold was made at the time of glassblowing technique transition and has a tooled top. At first glance, one might mistakenly think that the old mold was simply re-cut. However, despite the outstanding job of duplication, minute differences exist proving that it is indeed a new mold. Oddly, the R's retain the characteristic curved leg of the older molds; an anomaly not present on most of the bottles blown during the 1890's transition era. As is so often the case, the tool tops "don't get no respect" despite the fact that they are infinitely rarer than the glop tops. Personally, I value both equally and am fortunate to have one of each in my collection.

For those in the market for one, I might suggest checking out ebay. There is one currently available from a well known and respected western collector.

It's totally choice, dude~

Friday, June 8, 2012

Neat Stuff - New era / old world skills~

JERSEY CITY — As he wielded a hand torch in a cluttered two-car garage one recent night, Kiva Ford admitted, “I really don’t have time for a relationship because I love glass too much.”

By day, Mr. Ford is a scientific glass blower for a large pharmaceutical company, creating and repairing medical apparatus — full-jacketed two-neck flasks, custom-jacketed reactors, reflux condensers, hydrolysis tubes — vital to researchers combating diseases like cancer. By night and on weekends, Mr. Ford is usually in his garage, working on his own personal creations — glass goblets, Champagne flutes, flower vases — to sell at art shows or online.

“I must admit, I’ve become a bit of a glass hermit,” Mr. Ford said.

Mr. Ford, who grew up in Milford, N.J., “dreaming of something fun to do with my life,” found it at Salem Community College in Carneys Point, N.J., where he earned an associate’s degree in scientific glass technology through the only degree program of its kind in the country.

Historically, glass blowers have been drawn to South Jersey — considered the birthplace of American glassmaking — because the area’s pure sand and abundant forests provided natural resources vital to the glassmaking industry. In 1739, a man named Caspar Wistar immigrated from Germany and founded the country’s first successful glass factory in Salem County. Many scientific glassmakers still remain in the region.

“Most people do not know about our profession, but we are in demand,” said Bob Pontoon, a former president of the American Scientific Glassblowers Society — Mr. Ford is one of its 650 members — which was founded in 1952.

On this night in his garage, Mr. Ford was squinting through a pair of Didymium safety glasses, repairing a glass vacuum manifold.

“Chemists use these manifolds as a way to control their chemical reactions in an inert atmosphere,” Mr. Ford said, reaching for a blow hose. “The stopcock is broken off this manifold and needs to be sealed back together.”

Mr. Ford connected one end of the hose to the manifold and placed the other end in his mouth. He ignited a hand torch, placed a large flame to the manifold and began manipulating its shape by puffing slowly into the blow hose.

“Blowing air into the manifold keeps the seal from collapsing while it is being heated with the flame,” Mr. Ford explained between puffs. “In this business, you really have to understand what certain glass pieces want to do, and what they don’t want to do.”

Mr. Ford, 28, works at Roche Pharmaceuticals in Nutley, N.J., where chemists, researchers and scientists rely on his works to extract, distill, store and test chemicals used in laboratory and university experiments.

“To me, the scientists are the real heroes because they can manipulate molecules to create new drugs in a way I would never be able to understand,” Mr. Ford said. “The best part of my job is seeing some of the pieces I have made being used to test a brand new cancer drug or something of equal significance — it’s neat to know that I play a role, albeit a small one, in the whole medical discovery process.”

Mr. Ford removed his Didymium glasses, which he said he needed to “filter out the yellow sodium flame, which is difficult to see through during the heating process,” and carefully laid the vacuum manifold in what looked like a box of cat litter but was actually vermiculite, a clay mineral used for thermal insulation. His work complete, Mr. Ford began tinkering some more, breathing into decorative pieces scattered across a large table; it is a pastime that in recent years has become more of a business than a hobby.

“Every morning is like Christmas for me,” Mr. Ford said. “I really love what I do — it never gets old.”

Before closing up shop for the evening, Mr. Ford, squinting again through his Didymium glasses and reigniting his hand torch, went about the business of attaching a glass base to the stem of a goblet.

“It’s a rite of passage as a glass blower to be able to make a technically well-crafted goblet,” Mr. Ford explained. “To make one that is technically acceptable, you sometimes need to throw out about 1,000 of them.”

Mr. Ford held his goblet up to a light to check for any technical errors. He could not find one.

“Looks like a keeper,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in print on June 9, 2012, on page A15 of the New York edition with the headline: Blowing Glass Is His Day Job, And It’s His Other Job, Too.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Larger than life

Some people, and some places, are larger than life. Famous, bordering on infamous. Such is Bodie. Situated in literally the middle of nowhere southeast of Bridgeport California, at over 8,000 feet in elevation, it is about as far removed from civilization as possible. Bad weather, bad whiskey and bad men all combined to make it one of the wickedest towns in all the “wild west”. No wonder a little girl said, when informed that they were moving the next day for the already notorious burg, “Good bye God, I’m going to Bodie.

The middle of May seemed to me, to be a good time to visit. The snow had melted a couple of weeks prior, Sonora Pass was open and the temperature was supposed to be a balmy fifty some degrees. A long, dusty, pothole riddled road winds through the high dessert sage for mile after mile, until you climb the last rise and Bodie unfolds in front of you; (or at least what’s left of it).

The sky is bluer, the clouds seem closer, and the place has a surrealistic aura about it; a magnetism I can’t explain.

Ore carts, hoist wheels, mining implements; all have a patina polished by over a century of baking in the high desert sun half the year and being buried under ten feet of snow the other half. 

Instead of drab gray, the weathered buildings have a warm sepia tone.

There is a presence one can feel as you stroll amongst the dilapidated hulks that once were hotels, boarding houses, cabins and ornate homes replete with weathered Victorian gingerbread.

The windows stare back as you gaze into them, lonely and forlorn, seemingly framing past, present and future.

Many of the buildings still have contents; left where they were as the last residents packed up what few belongings they valued and headed for greener pastures elsewhere.
There are times when, if you're very, very quiet, you can almost hear the ghosts speak.

Of course, what self respecting western collector can’t help but think of a Pearson Bros. Soda when dreaming about the town.

We spent a mesmerizing day there, wandering through town, amazed at the abundance of rusted tin cans, broken bottles and the pungent smell of high dessert sage.

Sadly, the time came all too quick to retrace our steps, so we bid adieu to Bodie and made our way back to the High Sierra cabin that we called home that week.

Trust me, we’ll be back! I wonder if the old saying actually read "Good, by God, I'm going to Bodie!"

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