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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!

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