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.


Anonymous said...

Great article for imparting knowledge on this subject of western glass making history. Also this would apply to western beers of the same period whether they be amber or green. They definitely have "The Look". PR49r

Anonymous said...

Good stuff Bruce especially like the bear I got a question for you some of the German inside thread bottles appear to have a applied top I`ve been told they look that was because of a tool they used to make the threads could the tops have been made separately then applied?
Bill Curtiss

Kentucky Gem said...

That's a good question. After pondering it for a while, I came to the following conclusion. I know that the Riley inside thread tool was supposedly the second step in finishing the top. My best guess is that tops were applied first and then the Riley tool was employed after the top was reheated in the glory hole to a plastic constancy, where the internal threads could be "machined". This would be in line with the process we believe was used in western glass factories with tooled tops.

Try as I have, I've been unable to find a picture of the actual Riley threading tool to confirm my suspicions. Anyone else out there got a take on this?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bruce that explains a lot plus why some of the common IT bottles have some glass under the ring that must of oozed out during the process the tops really did not look applied like the German ones do would be nice to see one of the tools. Bill

Golden Plantation said...

It’s my opinion that the red whiskies are underrated and some of the most beautiful Western bottles ever produced. The examples in your collection are stellar!

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