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Saturday, May 11, 2013

W. J. Van Schuyver & Co. / San Francisco

I know, you think "he's finally lost it".

Everyone knows that W. J. Van Schuyver & Co. was located in Portland, Or. William J. was one of the "old timers" in the Portland liquor scene, having entered the "trade" with Levi Millard in 1866.
They initially located on First St., near Oak. Later, they relocated to Second St. Levi died in 1877 and William became the sole owner, changing the name to Van Schuyver & Co. They maintained the offices and warehouse at the same Second Street address for the balance of the firms tenure. It's also common knowledge that Van Schuyver entered into a partnership with Lilienthal & Co. of San Francisco. I've seen more than one embossed Van Schuyver with the neck foil for Cyrus Noble (a flagship brand of Lilienthal / Crown Distilleries). William J. continued to be a powerhouse in the Portland wholesale liquor trade right up until his death on January 7, 1909. Subsequent to Williams death, his son, William O. took over the reigns as manager.

Getting back to the San Francisco connection... No, I haven't lost it. I got a call a few days ago from a friend who occasionally comes across some off the wall whiskey items. He lives up north and has a nose for the good stuff, and the abstract. He asked if I knew that Van Schuyver had an office in San Francisco. The obvious answer was "no, they were a Portland firm". The package arrived in the mail today. So much for Portland...
(again, click on the images and they will open in a separate window as as high resolution full sized jpeg)

The question begs, why San Francisco? I found the answer in the Pacific Wine, Brewing and Spirits Review of 1916. Not an advertisement though; it was a narrative of a speech that William O. Van Schuyver  had given. The speech provided details of the disastrous effects that prohibition had effected on Portland during the first two weeks since it's enactment. Yes, Oregon had been forced to "go dry" on January 1, 1916. Immediately, all stores of liquor were subject to confiscation and destruction at the hands of police. And so, William O. Van Schuyver, under the guise of presenting an anti prohibition speech, arrived in San Francisco by train on January 18th "to attend to some personal business". He returned to Portland Oregon the first week of February after giving his speech.

I dug through any and all records I could come up with for San Francisco in 1916, that would link wholesale liquor interests in "The City" to Van Schuyver and came up empty. It appears that William covered his track well in terms of his "personal business". And so, I'll try and fill in the blanks with a little conjecture.

Rather than allow the wholesale looting of his warehouse by police, and suffer complete and total financial ruin, William made a trip to San Francisco, met with the principals of Lilienthal and or Crown Distilleries. He probably made arrangements to have his entire inventory transported by rail car / cars to their warehouses. He then secured a post office box and made the transition from a brick and mortar Portland liquor dealer to a mail order dealer based out of a P.O. Box in San Francisco. The idea wasn't new since several counties in Oregon had been dry as early as 1914. The Southern Pacific gladly transported "plain brown wrapper" cases of whiskey to thirsty Oregonians by rail and no one was the wiser. Starting in 1915, Fleckenstein & Mayer (later Mayers), also a Portland concern, maintained a huge liquor warehouse in Hornbrook Ca., just over the border from Oregon, for just such a purpose.

And so, the whiskey that had been distilled and casked in Portland, Oregon in 1911 was given a second chance at life, reborn as "Old Bailey Straight Whiskey 1916", and welcomed with open arms by the thirsty citizens of the Beaver State. All this despite the best efforts of the prohibitionists.

You just gotta love paper labels!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Well OK!

Henry Campe was a true survivor, lasting through at least three failed partnerships. In addition to stints with Wolters and Siebe (at different times), I found reference to a short lived partnership with a Henry Decker in 1880. It didn't last long though (a matter of mere months) and Decker died in September of that year. Campe also must have had a pretty pliable temperament considering the different personalities of two of his partners at various times; George Siebe and Henry Wolters. If one can believe newspaper accounts of the era, those two were as different as night and day. Maybe that's why Henry Campe decided to go it alone in either 1887 or 1888 (the first business directory listing for the firm was in Langley's 1888 edition). They located in the heart of the wholesale liquor district at 301 Front St. By the turn of the century, "& Co." included son Harry & George Harms, and the company was "on a roll".
(if you click on the following photos, they will open in a separate window as full sized high resolution images.


The paper graphics on his flagship product, Americus Club, are both ornate and colorful. The red, white and blue theme is patriotic, while the "OPS" at the top of the label let the buyer know immediately that this whiskey was something special at first glance. One of the labeled examples that I have on the shelf, a swirled shoulder square, states that the product is from an 1889 distilling.

Another, a half pint flask, states that the whiskey in this bottle was from an 1899 distilling. It appears that the Americus Club brand goes back further than previous authors and researchers thought, as most books state the age of the brand as being well post 1900.
Not only were the bottles a work of art but so too, were the go-withs produced to promote the brand. These go-withs included shot glasses, tip and serving trays and even a pewter ashtray / match safe combination.

Rick just reminded me about one more go-with item that relates to the Americus Club brand; the miniature bottle. It's a "mini me" of the square squat fifth, right down to the swirled shoulders. They are rare.
Another Campe brand was "OK Extra". Although one text lists it as being ca. 1885, it could not date prior to 1887, which is when Campe established the firm of Henry Campe & Co.. Regardless, this was the earliest embossed mold made for the company. Embossed "Henry Campe & Co. / Old Kentucky / OK Extra / Bourbon Whiskey / San Francisco, Cal." it is the epitome of the western full faced fifth.
It was blown in clear glass and has a stippled glop top; another of the so called German Connection fifths. The embossing is rounded and chunky and the three examples that I've seen over the years have all been exceptionally crude and whittled. The clear glass is of a flint base, has an off caste (faint grey or straw) and will not turn purple. Thomas stated that he believed that there were a couple of dozen in collections when the 2002 edition of "Whiskey Bottles of the Old West" was published. If correct, this places the bottles rarity on a par with the SHM, John Van B / Gold Dust, and the J. Gundlach. Pretty heady company if you ask me...

What few collectors realize, is that there is a very similar bottle in existence which was blown here on the west coast at roughly the same time. Although the embossing pattern was cut to duplicate the glop top, (or visa versa), the actual lettering is crisp and extremely well defined, and the top is tooled instead of applied.

It is heavily air vented and neatly made when compared side by side with the glop.

Another anomaly is the presence of a distinct circle on the rear.

At first glance one might think that it was a half mold with the embossing slug plate removed and a blank installed. My thought is that it was actually a raised border for a paper label. The glass contains manganese dioxide and will turn purple if exposed to UV radiation (ie: sunlight). I would estimate that there are fewer than one dozen of the tooled tops in collections today; making it even rarer than the glop.
It took me thirty years to acquire the glop top that sits on my shelf, and another seven to add the tooled variant.

But alas, "it's just a tooled top". Such is life, It's still OK with me~

 Shot glass and tray photos courtesy of Robin Preston from the collection of the late great Ken Schwartz.
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