Thursday, December 19, 2013

The German Connection

Thanks for the emails in support of the website change with regards to the addition of glop tops. Let's start off with one of my favorites; The red whittled glop tops~ 


"The German Connection"

Several years ago, Tom Quinn coined this phrase and wrote an in depth article that was included in John Thomas's posthumous work entitled "Whiskey Bottles of the Old West". The name stuck and the blood red and heavily whittled glop top western whiskies are now commonly referred to as "German Connection" glops.

A brief background on the "German Connection";

Prior to the 1890's, all San Francisco & Pacific Glass Works (SF&PGW) glassblowers had been paid by the piece (individual bottles blown). In an attempt to keep pace with the ever growing demand for bottles, SF&PGW "imported" seasoned glass blowers from the Pennsylvania glass factories during this era. These were skilled craftsmen who had been accustomed to being paid based on piece work as well. They produced a quality product in large volumes. SF&PGW opted to transition from "piece work" to hourly and or shift pay schedules during the early years of the "Gay 90's". Many of the "old timers" refused to accept the new method of payment and quit, leaving inexperienced labor to fill the void. A sudden drop in both quality and production ensued, and something needed to be done to satisfy the demand for glass.

People and Companies

A large percentage of the liquor dealers in pre 1900 S.F. were of German descent. Names like Taussig, Braunschweiger, Kolb, Fenkhausen, VanBergen, Hildebrandt, Rothenberg, etc, etc, filled the S.F. liquor directory. A company by the name of Abramson Heunisch also appeared in the directory. But they weren't liquor dealers. Instead they supplied corks, labels and other items required to merchandise liquor. They were located at 26 & 28 Main St. (coincidentally the same address as Louis Taussig).

They also had an office (not so coincidentally) at Chauses Strasse 113 in Berlin Germany. Gerresheimer Glasshuttenwerk was located in Gerresheimer Germany and claimed to be the largest producer of glass bottles in Germany. Opportunity knocked and soon  Abramson Heunisch was appointed the US Pacific Coast sole agency for Gerresheimer Glasshuttenwerk. New molds for San Francisco liquor wholesalers were immediately cut and shipped to Gerresheimer Glasshuttenwerk and the flow of German bottles soon filled the vacuum left by the loss of skilled labor in San Francisco.

At first glance, these bottles closely resembled those still being produced by San Francisco & Pacific Glass Works. But put side by side, the difference is immediately evident.



The early 1890's era saw the introduction of the hand pump, and advanced air venting techniques which replaced mouth blown bottles and eliminated much of the crudity seen previously. It also saw the gradual phase in of semi automated finishing techniques which resulted in the older applied top whiskey being phased out in favor of the tooled top. This resulted in more uniform bottles that could be produced faster, and therefore more economically. And so, domestically produced bottles were neater and had tooled tops, as opposed to the German bottles which were crudely made and had applied tops.



Domestic vs. German - The Difference

The German glass factories produced both clear and amber whiskies for the San Francisco market. The clear variants are almost always heavily whittled and have a distinctive style of applied top that is heavily stippled in texture. The glass has a "steel or even light yellow cast to it. The glass was de-colorized (made clear) by adding selenium dioxide to the cullet, instead of the manganese dioxide used on the west coast. Apparently, flint was also used, as noted on their advertisements. Unlike their American counterparts, these bottles will not turn purple when left in the sun. They are highly prized for their unique character and crudity. Unfortunately, the clear German bottles had a penchant for annealing damage and are more often than not, cracked. Damage free examples are few and far between and are highly prized.

The "amber" German bottles were formulated with a type of sand that produced a color generally called ox or pigeon blood red. Some are extremely dense in color, others have barber pole swirls of different colors, and yet others are a bright light shade of red / orange. Here's a few examples.
A significant difference from the somewhat mundane brown hues seen in the domestic counterparts.  On rare occasions, the glass blower would dip from the wrong tank and a "straw" colored variant would slip through the cracks. These were normally tossed back in the cullet to be re-melted, and the correct colored bottle would be blown from the proper glass batch. A straw colored German "western" whiskey is one in a million! 

The next time that you pick up a J. A. Gilka, or a Warners "Frankfurt" Safe Cure, compare these bottles next to a blood red, hammer whittled, glop top "western" whiskey. "The German Connection" will be obvious~

Just a quick PS;
Apologies for the pictures. It's dark and gloomy here; these are tough to get good photos of in this type of lighting, all but void of sunlight.

I received a question about the new comment posting procedure.

I got a warning that someone or something had tried to hijack the site. I had to create a new comment tool. It allows anyone to write a comment, which is then forwarded to me for manual submission. It's just one more pain in the butt for me, but it will keep the site clean and spam / virus / malware free.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A reinvention, of sorts~

The other day I was reading about a new type of tire (and wheel) that Michelin has invented. It replaces the pneumatic rubber tire and steel (or aluminum) combination that has been around since it's invention by John Dunlop in 1887. 1887-2013; over a century and a quarter. That's a long haul by anyone's standards.

According to the website "stats" page, the Western Whiskey Tool Top Gazette was "invented" in January 2010, a paltry thee years ago. In the ensuing 36 months, we've posted 137 articles (about one every week and a half) on subjects ranging from western whiskey bottles, to the wholesalers that sold them, and from western pre-pro shot glasses to cork screws; not to mention poor packaging by ebay sellers...

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a fellow collector asking me why I don't write about glop tops. Occasionally, I've included reference to the earlier whiskies, but since the site is named the Western Whiskey Tool Top Gazette, I've tried to focus almost exclusively on them.

Last night, it dawned on me that the site could use a little freshening. Maybe not a reinvention, but certainly a change. And so, I introduce to you, the "Western Whiskey Gazette". And for those of you who are retired firefighters (like myself), PD, or military (active or retired), and like acronyms, "WWG".

The change will give us the latitude to include every subject and collectible within our range of interests. As in the past we will remain, "Dedicated to the research and sharing of knowledge of Western Whiskeyana spanning the pre-prohibition era." And so you will notice that "We've undergone a bit of a reinvention. Initially the website was dedicated strictly to tool tops. Thanks to the positive input we've received from you, our fellow collectors, we've expanded our focus to encompass all western whiskies, both tooled and glop tops. We welcome feedback and positive participation via "comments".
Feel free to touch base. Our email is"

We'd love to post your digging stories, your flea market finds, and anything else that you think relevant to the hobby, that others may be interested in.

Here's to 2014 and beyond~

Monday, December 16, 2013

Today's Math Question;

What do four whiskies, wrapped in one layer of paper each, placed into one large unpadded box, plus 750 miles of travel via USPS equal?

Friggin recycling material; That's What!
C'mon people! This aint brain suregery! If you are a novice selling antique bottles to a collector, use a little common sense. Scrounge around for some free bubble pack, peanuts (yes - people give them away too) and padding to protect the bottles, and make sure that they arrive safely.
The dollars may be replaceable, but the history is not...
"Fleabay" strikes again.

Monday, December 9, 2013

What Hot?
What's Not?


What's Hot? In terms of weather, I haven't a clue. What I can tell you, is what's not. Jacksonville, Oregon, where it was 2* Below Zero yesterday not counting the wind chill. But, it did finally warm up to a balmy 15* above for the high...

I recently had an opportunity to exchange thoughts with friend David B., Sole Proprietor of "The Bottle Vault". He runs successful eBay bottle auctions that are agressively bid in by many. I think the secret to his success is a combination of conservative descriptions, variety and a hard earned, stellar reputation.

Recently, "The Bottle Vault" offered several dozen antique bottles running the full spectrum of collecting. When the dust settled, and the hammer was put away, I quizzed David on where he felt the strengths and weaknesses of the auction lay. He replied;

"I think that colored pharmacy bottles, Idaho and Montana clear pharmacy bottles, and to some degree, WA druggist bottles are pretty strong right now. I was also surprised at the price realized on some of the NY early amber strap sided flasks, and the teal green Harrisburg PA squat sodas, not pontiled, the highest priced example sold for almost $800.

The more common Western whiskies are kinda hit and miss right now, I had some good prices for some with damage, but some of my mint bottles sold for less than $20. (a small badge glop top Lilienthal, with a good strike and a decent top, sold for a paltry $125~; a smokin' deal for the buyer, in my opinion).

ACL / painted label sodas are pretty dead, souvenir china, calendar plates, custard glass souvenir stuff from that 1910-1920 are very dead.

Territorial bottles marked from WA and Montana are solid. Stenciled whiskey jugs etc are weak unless a known Red Wing product.

OWL DRUG stuff is still strong, esp poisons, they seem to bring $100-200 no matter how many are up on ebay!"

Well; that pretty well sums up things on the eBay front.
What about the big auction houses? Recently Glassworks held their "Christmas Comes Early" auction, which closed on Dec. 2nd.


'Christmas Comes Early' Auction'
It featured the first installment of the Curt Paget collection. I was, at first, impressed with the variety and rarity of many of the items up for bid. But lot number 1, the Castle flask, seemed to be representative of many of the lots. As Rick stated in his post on the auction; "When my auction catalog arrived I poured over the first 54 lots (the items from the Paget collection) hoping to find something to add to my collection of early western distributed bottles. To my surprise every time I saw something of interest it has some sort of problem."
I couldn't agree more. Some of the descriptions were, to say the least, creative.  "Christmas Comes Early" was definitely not hot.

Something else that was NOT HOT, (actually very Un-Cool!) was the way the auction was handled, or more specifically, mishandled. The first paragraph of the auction stated;

ATTENTION - ATTENTION - ATTENTION! Tonight is the last night for bidding on the December, 2nd 'Christmas Comes Early' Auction. PLEASE NOTE our new closing time is now 10 PM E.S.T., not 11 PM as in our previous auctions. Can't stay up late but want to bid? Why not use our convenient 'snipper bidding' site. It's easy, just follow the instructions and get in that winning bid! This is a callback auction. If you want a callback on any item that you have a bid on of $500.00 or over, make sure that you have activated the callback square to the right of the bid field. All items that do not reach the $500.00 level by 10 PM tonight will automatically be awarded to the highest bidder!

OK, let me get this straight;
"Use our convenient 'snipper bidding' site." (just what the heck is a snipper anyway? I know what a sniper bid is, but a snipper?) Bidding ends at 10PM EST sharp. No callbacks on lots closing under $500~."
Straightforward enough. Too bad it wasn't adhered to.
One bidder did all of the above on Lot #14, a Simonds Nabob. A snipe bid was placed for $425~. The top bid held tight at $400~, and with 10 seconds to go, was still top. The auction closed and the high bid amount was posted as being $425~. Several west coast collectors (not just the bidder) spotted this. A few minutes later, the website crashed. The following morning, the high bid was reposted as $450~, and the $425~ bid, previously listed as the winner, was kicked to the curb. Let's review; (use the snipe program, place your bid, website shows the snipe bid amount as top at close of auction, 10PM EST auction close, under $500~, no callbacks).
Seems pretty simple to me. NOT! When questioned, the explanation for the inconsistency received from Glass Works had more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese.

That being said, Western Bitters News noticed another trend in this auction.

Here are the facts; -------------------------------------------------

 The posted descriptions appeared to take a lot of literary license;

"about perfect (in the right light a very faint ‘rainbow’ type flash can be seen in the applied mouth."

"about perfect (a very tiny bruise is on the side of the lip)."

"Some minor wear and ground lines exists but no damage, otherwise in perfect condition"

The overall count of the condition of auction items 1 through 54 included:
9- damaged bottles
13- with some kind of stain or haze
5- with wear, ground wear or "the usual tiny ground imperfections"
1- repaired bottle and 6 bottles that did not receive bids.

A little math concluded that of the 54 lots for auction a whopping 52% of the items had some sort of issue with condition.


OK; so these days, damaged bottles being puffed at auction are definitely "Not Hot", at least not at the premium opening bid amounts listed on the website.


What's Hot in terms of Western glop and tooled whiskies accurately described on the open market and or at shows?

Surprisingly, the entry level continues to poke and plod along. They never have, and never, will command premium prices. Still, we've all got to start somewhere and the entry level fifths are what most all of us started our collections with. The first whiskey I ever bought was a clear tooled pint Hall Luhrs cylinder. I paid $6~ for it close to 50 years ago. I just sold two examples of the same bottle; for just about $6~ apiece. Hot? NOT!

Color is king these days. Those collectors that no longer have the disposable income for the "big dogs" are branching out. Bright, light shades of yellow and orange ambers seem to have developed their own loyal following. Color often makes a normally mundane bottle desirable. HOT!

Pictures, mint to near mint - either tooled or glopped? Definitely HOT!

Scarce to rare tool tops? Definitely HOT! Same goes for near mint and better mid line glop tops.

What's Not? The high end glops. All but sale proof, unless at a giveaway price. (Anyone interested in an amber Clubhouse at $40K and change? I can point you in the direction of one...) The current high end glop top phase is sad, but fortunately cyclical. Every dog has it's day. They'll come back around. And once again, they too will be hot.

In the meantime, enjoy collecting for what it is; A chance to form friendships, a chance to visit shows and swap stories, and a chance to learn about, and be a custodian of our past.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

49er HBA - Auburn (uh - I mean Roseville) 2013

This is it; The Weekend!
Hope to see you there.
We've gotten numerous calls regarding the exact location of the show and the best way to access it.
According to the powers that be;
Looking forward to a fun show.

Travel to the show is, at least for me, a crap shoot right now.
10* (at least it's above zero) outside here right now, with forcast of snow (possibly heavy) starting tonight.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll get to attend.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Just quick note to wish one and all a Happy Thanksgiving~

Visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.

Jim Hagenbuch gets two thumbs up in my book for being offered the consignment rights to the legendary
Curt Paget collection!

I still recall pouring through the pages of the December 1977 issue of the "OBX" like it was yesterday. The dig of a lifetime! 1200 bottles in three days of furious digging. The list of killer bottles read like a who's who of stuff to die for. And now, thirty six years later, here they are at auction.

Check out some of the western whiskies!

Good luck to all, with what promises to be some spirited bidding!







Monday, November 18, 2013

You meet the nicest people in this hobby!

I try to keep up on fellow collectors passions. One gentleman that I've followed over the years is Jack Sullivan. He is articulate, well versed and a good writer. And, he shares our passion for western (and eastern as well) whiskies. It is with pleasure that I attach a copy of an article that Jack wrote regarding Wichman, Lutgen & Co. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Thanks Jack. You are a gentleman and a scholar!

John Lutgen of San Francisco: Unshaken by Quaking

John Lutgen and his whiskey company had gone from success to success in San Francisco, moving each time to larger quarters and in 1906 occupied a spacious building at 29-31 Battery Street. A local writer had opined : Their trade has been prosperous from the start, and has since extended not only throughout the State, but also throughout the coast, their establishment being one of the representative liquor houses of the Golden Gate City. At 5:12 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday, April 18, 1906, one of the greatest natural disasters in American history struck San Francisco and all that changed radically.

Before describing its effects on Lutgen, it is important understand where he came from and who he was. John was born in 1847 near Bremen Germany, the eldest son of Henry and Oddeli
Bottger Lutgen. When he was 11 years old his father died and as the oldest, he was left to carry on the family. As soon as he reached 19 he left Germany, braved an often treacherous ocean crossing and went to work in New York City. After two years in the Big Apple, probably clerking in a store, he set out for California, arriving via the Panama Canal. He quickly got a job with San Francisco grocery where he labored for six years, learning the retail trade.

By 1871 Lutgen had saved enough money to think about settling down and taking a wife. He was married that year in San Francisco to Miss Sofia Borman, like himself a native of Germany. They would have four children, two girls and two boys. Tragically both sons, named Henry and John, died during childhood.

In 1877, Lutgen teamed up with another German immigrant from Hanover, two years his senior, named Henry Wichman. Described by contemporaries as “of medium size, fair and rather heavy set and reserved and quiet,” Wichman appears to have been an excellent foil for the more flamboyant and outgoing Lutgen. They called their firm the Wichman, Lutgen & Company, the name it bore until its demise.

With only modest amounts to invest, their first location was a store front at 809 Montgomery Street, described as an “out the way” district of San Francisco. They remained at that address for two years then relocated to 321 Clay Street. Those quarters soon became too small and in 1879 the partners moved across the street to 318-320 Clay, between Front and Bradley, as noted here on a 1891 trade card. The card identifies the firm as importers of wines and liquors and manufacturers of Dr. Forester’s Alpine Stomach Bitters.

The Wichman, Lutgen Company featured Gilt Edge Whiskey as its flagship label and merchandised it as Kentucky bourbon, My surmise is that the partners were rectifiers, that is, blenders of whiskey and that Gilt Edge was a blend. In 1899
they trademarked the name, one that earlier had been used by an Illinois outfit. They bottled Gilt Edge in clear glass flasks and in amber bottles, both painted and embossed. Lutgen showed a flair for merchandising, featuring fetching women on advertising signs for his whiskey and at least once, shown here, giving advertising space to a local shoe store. Fancy monogramed shot glasses were another giveaway item to customers.

In 1904, the firm incorporated with a value of $250,00, several million dollars by today’s reckoning. Each partner received 3,998 shares, valued at $25 each. About the same time, once again needing more space, the company moved to the Battery Street address. The number of brands emanating from the firm continued to expand. Among them were "Autocrat,” "Foerster's Whiskey Co.,” "Forest Lawn,” "Forester's Malt Whiskey,” "Forrest Lawn Whiskey,” "H & H,” "Identical,” "Marin County Club Bourbon,” "Marin
County Club Special,” "Old Identical,” "Pomona,”"Romona,” "Silver Edge,”"Silver Plover,” and "Silver Plover Gin.”

Increasingly John Lutgen was being recognized as a major figure in the community. He lived in the nearby suburb of Alameda where he owned, as one observer said “a beautiful residence on Santa Clara avenue, a neat cottage of modern architecture surrounded by a beautiful lawn set to shrubbery and flowers.” He was a member of the Board of Library Trustees in Alameda and active in several German benevolent societies and Masonic orders. Although Lutgen and wife Sophia must have mourned the loss of their sons, their daughters grew to maturity and married well. One son-in-law, Frederick Staude, was taken into the firm and listed as its Secretary/Treasurer. Life was being good to the Lutgens.

Then came that fateful morning in 1906. Within 30 hours of the earthquake’s first jolt, a firestorm consumed much of San Francisco as an inferno swept through the city for three days. In all, more than 3,000 people died. Twenty-eight thousand buildings were destroyed over 500 blocks of San Francisco. Property damage has been estimated at $235–500 million in 1906 dollars — equivalent to the entire 1906 Federal budget. Today the amount would be between $4.8 and $10 billion. Among buildings destroyed was the Battery Street structure housing the Wichman, Lutgen Company. Going up in flames as well were thousands of barrels and cases of whiskey, the firm’s records and all its equipment.

if Lutgen was tempted to quit, he gave no indication. Almost immediately he made plans
to relocate the company into temporary quarters at 431-439 Clay Street to carry on the whiskey trade. Meanwhile he planned, designed, and supervised the construction of a new building at 134 Sacramento Street. The company moved there in 1911, its final home. Meanwhile its whiskey trade recovered gradually in the wake of the quake and fire. Wichman retired from the firm and Staude moved up the management ladder. In a January 1913 trade magazine, Lutgen reported that 1912 had been a very good business year compared to 1911. Despite the “drying up” of certain territories, through an aggressive policy the firm had sold more goods than the prior year. He said he looked forward to considerably better business in 1913.

Despite his optimism, Lutgen did not survive the year. In November 1913, at the age of 66, in apparent good health, he was stricken following a luncheon and died a few hours later. At his graveside stood his widow, his two daughters and their families, grieving over his coffin. Among mourners was his son-in-law, Frederick Staude, whom Lutgen had groomed as his successor. Staude would guide the firm for the next six years until it was shut down by Prohibition.

John Lutgen’s obituary, noting that his demise had been “a grievous surprise to everyone,” hailed his heroic post -catastrophe efforts both to
construct a new headquarters and greatly to extend and expand the reputation of his firm. It was reputed to have become one of the leading mercantile houses of the Pacific Coast. The writer added: “In the passing away of Mr. Lutgen San Francisco loses one of her old-time merchants, a man who was respected by all for his integrity and loved for his just character.”
Site Meter