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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

FOHBC - National Expo - Sacramento Ca.

"This is going to be a large event with four days of antique bottle related activities. The next time such a large gathering could occur in the West will be in the year 2020. I highly encourage all bottle diggers, collectors, dealers to get involved with this show! Enter the bottle shoot-out, participate in the FOHBC bottle auction, put on a bottle display, give a seminar on your favorite bottle related topic. 

We in California are fortunate to live in a state with so many antique bottle enthusiasts with great bottles to be found in the ground, through old time collections, in antique stores and flea markets and yard sales. 

Next year everyone in the West will have the opportunity to be a part of the largest gathering of antique bottle enthusiasts to four fun filled days of buying, selling, trading of antique bottles, jars, insulators, and related antique glassware. This will be a history setting event in California!"

 Warren Friedrich

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The dating game

Sometimes it's tough to date a bottle. There's been a lot of misinformation handed down, and taken for gospel, over the years. The early San Francisco directories are an invaluable asset for sorting out facts from fiction and they help to paint a true picture of the who's and what's of pre-prohibition western whiskeyana.

Not long ago a bottle arrived here that I'd never run across before. It's a tooled cylinder fifth, clear with a very slight hint of amethyst, has a great strike and quite a bit in the way of character.

OK, so it's not a California Clubhouse but it is, never-the less, a rare one. It's embossed Bibo, Newman & Ikenberger / Inc'd. / Teas & Wines / Cor. / Polk & Cal'a Sts. / San Francisco.  


Wilson mentioned it, with a dating of ca. 1893 - 1900. Barnett also has it listed, #46, with the same dates. If it was made for so many years, I wondered, why is it that there aren't more of them around?

It took a little "digging" but the reason for the rarity of the bottle seems obvious once the pieces of the puzzle were put together. It would appear, despite some apparently conflicting evidence contained in the directory listings, that the bottle was probably only in use by Bibo, Newman & Ikenberger for one short year and change; late 1904 through April 18th, 1906.

The first reference to Bibo was found in the 1892 Crocker S.F. directory. 

They were retail grocers who specialized in catering to the upper crust of "The City". Note that they were incorporated, but Ikenberg is not listed in the corporate structure. Rule the bottle out for this time period.

By 1893, they were doing well enough to have a telephone; no small achievement back then.

The name of the firm was changed to Bibo, Newman & Ikenberger in 1894. It appears based on the listing that they were now focusing on volume instead of an elite clientele, as reference to "fine" groceries was amended to just "groceries". And, there was no reference to wines. The listing also states that they were now located at the "SW cor. Polk and California", (the same address as that embossed on the bottle). Note that they are not listed as incorporated. Rule the bottle out for this time period.

It was at this time that Samuel Bibo (Nathan Bibo's brother) entered the picture, although at first glance it appears to be unrelated. He is listed separately in the directory as a solicitor for the firm of Goldberg, Bowen & Lebenbaum, who were both wholesale and retail grocers, and liquor distributors.

1895 was pretty much the same, although a telephone number is now listed in the ad, but with a different number than before.

Starting in 1896, all references to fine wines disappear and they refocus on home made California fruit specialties.They are now incorporated, but no reference to liquor; yet.

For the next several years no changes were noted, although the reference to the telephone disappears.  This was most probably a cost cutting move as the nation was gripped by a severe financial reversal (depression) starting in the mid 90's and continuing on though the very early years of the 20th century.

The 1903 directory listing reveals quite a few changes;

Notice the association with Rathjen Bros. (wholesale liquors)?

In 1904, the emphasis on fine groceries reappears, and we now see the first reference to wines, liquors, (and cigars). The listing is somewhat confusing though, as it shows first Bibo, Newman Co., dealing in "fine groceries, wines, liquors and cigars", (back to the upper crust?)  followed by a second listing for Bibo, Newman & Ikenberg (just groceries), but at the same address. 

The same ad appears in the 1905 directory as well.

Note; we now have the presence of "Incorporated", "Ikenberg", "wines" and liquor. Bingo!

At roughly 5:13 Am on April 18, 1906, San Francisco would change forever. What wasn't destroyed immediately on California Street by the earthquake would succumb to the inferno which followed on it's footsteps.

A few months after the earthquake, a relief business directory was published. Bibo, Newman & Co. are listed in this directory, but Ikenberg is conspicuously absent. And, it looks like Sam Bibo decided to give his brother a run for his money, as he is now a direct competitor located just a couple doors down and across the street.

The financial strain must have been too much for the firm, as they disappear entirely from the scene after 1907. There is no reference to Bibo, Newman & Co., and Nathanial Bibo is listed simply as residing at 3719 Sacramento St. in the 1908 directory.  

Looks like a combination of bad timing, and bad luck (along with Nathanial Bibo) are to thank for a true rarity amongst western whiskies.

Friday, October 16, 2015

A half a bits worth~

A half a bits worth~

My grand dad was born before 1900. He worked for the SP Railroad his entire life and, like most railroad men, enjoyed the insides of a saloon on occasion.

One of his expressions that as a kid I recall him saying was "about two bits worth". When asked what that meant, he went on to explain that two bits was a quarter, and one bit was 12 1/2 cents. 

One bit would get you a drink of decent whiskey in most saloons during the teens. In fact, a lot of saloon tokens have "Good for 12 1/2 cents" stamped on the reverse. 

Back then, most shots of whiskey were served in thin walled shot glasses; many etched with the brand name of the stuff you were drinkin'. They are what we've come to know as pre-pro shots.

About ten years ago I had a shot glass cross my path that we'd never seen before. It came back to roost here yesterday and it got me to thinking...

It is etched, "Cyrus Noble / Whiskey".  I jokingly called it "Mini Me", as it was half the size of the standard glass, the base is notably smaller in diameter, and it measured only 1 1/2" tall. And before someone calls fowl, no - it's not a ground down standard glass. The etching pattern is correct in proportions and placement, and there are tooling lines in the lip. Simply, it was made that way. 

The Cyrus Noble brand really took off after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, when Crown Distilleries began to push the brand hard in order to grab market share while most of their competitors were flat on their backs trying to avoid bankruptcy.

Cyrus Noble was good, reasonably priced whiskey; distilled, blended and rectified in San Francisco. It was sold in hogsheads to saloons with the brand burned into the barrel end, embossed fifths with a label and neck foil identifying the product, labeled only slick fifths, as well as embossed miniatures. The embossed minis were sold on the SP lines passenger trains, much like the airline cocktail single serving bottles of the 21st century.

Back in the late 1960's, my grand dad and I pawed through a railroad siding dump in the Santa Cruz mountains where his section gang bunk cars had been parked during a winter in the late teens. There had been a saloon near the depot and amongst the broken Jesse Moore's, J.F. Cutters, and others, were Crown Distilleries fifths with lead neck foil identifying their previous contents as Cyrus Noble. He found it amusing that we were digging through piles of garbage that he had, no doubt, been partially responsible for creating; albeit fifty years prior.

"Gramps" mentioned that times were lean and they had to make every penny count back then. Still, when a man needed a drink to warm the inner self~

One can't help but wonder - maybe a half bits worth of whiskey (in the "Mini Me" glass) would loosen a man up enough to spring for a "bit" more.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

California Gold Discovered in Washington state.

California Gold Discovered in Washington!

Tom Bostwick (Sept 2015)

Every so often a rare and beautiful bottle surfaces, and causes ripples in the hobby. It happened to a friend of mine recently, and the story bears repeating.

It seems that "Ted" got a call recently from a lady who said "I read your ad in the newspaper about wanting old bottles. "I have some... are you interested?" After tracking down so many dead end leads, Ted's enthusiasm for following up had cooled considerably, but hesitantly he asked her to describe them. As soon as he heard her say "Catawba Wine Bitters, with a picture of a cabin", he knew the bottle immediately. By the next afternoon he had the bottle sitting at home, on his shelf. The owner said that she'd found the bottle years in some mine tailings near Eureka Nv. She and here husband used to live in the area, and she'd fished the bottle out of the dirt, and taken it home with her, "cause it was so pretty". The bottle that Ted had purchased was a rare 1872 Chalmers Catawba Wine Bitters / Spruance Stanley & CO. that pictures a log cabin with Old Sutter's Mill below.

These aqua cylinders are a true historical commemorative bottle for the West, and celebrates the California Gold Rush, which began at Coloma at Sutter's Mill in 1848, and is clearly depicted on the embossing. 

Blown in 1872/73, the majority of these were shipped to Nevada, and supposedly to Utah. From written and "word of mouth" information, 3 have been dug in Belmont. One well known example was unearthed behind the Cosmopolitan Saloon on Easter Sunday, 1980, and is reportedly the best of the three dug in Belmont between 1977 and 1984. No examples have been reported being dug in Utah, but a written history of the vineyard where Catawba Wine Bitters was produced, clearly shows the majority of this product was shipped to Nevada and Utah. Spruance Stanley & Co. were the proprietors of this bitters between 1872/73 when the vineyard discontinued growing Catawba grapes.

The bottles that held the Chalmers Catawba Wine Bitters are not only beautiful, but have brought record prices at auction over the past few years. There are 12 to15 known examples in any condition. 2 changed hands in Feb. 2010, one through the American Bottle Auction #49, and the second, privately for and undisclosed amount.

Since then, others have been to auction, and as recent as Sept. 2015, another was listed on eBay for $22,000~ by a New York collector.

Obviously. Ted's recent find will cause ripples with Western Bitters collectors, and proves to all in the hobby, that good bottles are "still out there" just waiting to be discovered.

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