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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Two Bottles of Liquor

Got an email the other day from a resident of "The City by the Bay". S.F. to be precise. 

He said "Attached are photos of the two bottles of liquor. Both bottles were discovered in the wall while I was remodeling my home in San Francisco. They were behind the lathe and plaster. Of course no one knows why someone left them there because there was no access to them."

At first glance, I had a hard time getting excited about them. Neat, but just not "up my alley"~

The first bottle was absinthe. 



 I'd recently read an article over on Peachridge about it and passed on what I could that may be of help

"As you probably know, absinthe was a beverage of choice by many during the same era as the other bottle found entombed in your wall. Absinthe arose to great popularity as an alcoholic drink in late 19th- and early 20th-century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers. It was named the green genie, and was made out of wormwood distillate." 

I even found an advertisement which pictured his exact bottle.

Your bottle appears to have been manufactured using the spin mold process, produced by blowing the bottle into a closed mold that had lubricant applied. The glass blower would, once the initial gather of molten glass had been blown into the mold, spin the blow pipe, while continuing to blow the bottle. This created an extremely smooth finish, which also erased the mold lines. Subsequent to the bottle being removed from the mold, an applied seal of molten glass was applied to the shoulder, and imprinted with embossing using the same technique as a monogrammed wax sealed envelope of the same era. I'm unable to make out the details on the seal, since the photo is out of focus, but am assuming that it repeats the information regarding the manufacturer which is present on the label."

The first couple of photos of the next bottle pictured your basic turn of the century acid etched spin mold imported liqueur. I've always been a sucker for labeled with contents bottles, although European imports have never been all that intriguing. But, the tax stamp on this piece hit me right between the eyes. 

I recalled having handled a couple of Rathjen Mercantile amber cylinders over the years, but Rathjen Bros. Inc. didn't strike a familiar chord. Were they one in the same, or different entity's with owners sharing a common last name?

And so, off to a couple of my go-to sites I marched. One site that I rely heavily on when researching is an archive of San Francisco Business Directory's. The other provides access to early newspapers. Both have proved invaluable.

A couple of days later, here's what I ended up gleaning;


The Chartreaux bottle is a fascinating piece of history, and tells quite a tale. As stated on the label, it is / was a product of France. The contents were a regional French liqueur popular in the Alps and Haut Savoie, Génépi It was made with a maceration and the distillation of various wild Alpine flowers.

Schenley Import Corporation of NY was a large conglomerate. They acquired numerous domestic brand names during prohibition, but the firm dates well pre 1900.

Schenley imported large volumes of product from Europe. They were responsible for the initial landing of this product in the US. Subsequent to that, Rathjen Bros. bought the product in bulk from them, had it transported by rail to the west coast and retailed it in San Francisco. 

I was able to track the Rathjen Bros. firm back as far as 1890 in the S. F. City Directory. 

They advertised as grocers but, as was often the case, sold wines, liquors and other wet goods in addition to food and household items. This the first advertising of record that I could find. It dates to 1892. Note the specialized liquers;  

Here's an ad from 1893 which appeared in the S. F. Call;

An ad from 1894, which also appeared in the S. F. Call, shows them now pushing whiskey;

 (Note; Carroll and Carroll of S. F. had the Sole Agency for the Jas. E. Pepper brand In S. F. at that time. However, their product was sold in fifths, whereas the eastern distributors sold theirs in quarts. So much for "Sole Agency".)

Here's a Rathjen Bros. advertising booklet dated 1895.

By 1896, they had reinvented themselves, probably due in no small part to the world wide depression.

The last ad appearing in the S.F. Call is dated July 27,1899. It listed a second location.

On 4/28/1906, ten days after the '06 Earthquake and Fire, they posted this in the S. F. Call. Note that they show INC.

 (this matches the Inc. present on the tax stamp and helps to date the bottle to ca. late 1906 when they relocated to Stockton St. and 1908 when they made the move over to O'Farrell)

The Rathjen Bros. S.F. directory listing in 1907 notes a change of address.

The firms locations were;

Rathjen Bros
21 Stockton St. S.F. 1890 - 1906, 

39-41 Stockton (1907-1908), 
272 O'Farrell (1909-1917)

Barnett lists a bottle, #657, which is a clear square fifth, with a standard whiskey top, embossed: Rathjen Bros. / Wine Merchants / Stockton St. S.F.. Imagine my surprise when I located this bottle;

It has an address embossed on it as well as just "Stockton St.."; only problem is, it's wrong (49 not 39)...

The owner inevitably then asked the big question, "what are they worth".

I suggested that rather than sell them, he display them in his home since they'd patiently awaited rediscovery from their hiding place in his wall for well over a century.

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