Tuesday, October 11, 2016


 Baldwin's / Celebrated / Wines & Brandies /  M. Lawrence / Sole Agent / Arcadia Cal.



Elias Jackson "Lucky" Baldwin

April 3, 1828 – March 1, 1909

Lucky Baldwin was "one of the greatest pioneers" of California business, an investor, and real estate speculator during the second half of the 19th century. He earned the nickname "Lucky" Baldwin due to his extraordinary good fortune in a number of business deals. His seemingly unending string of successes was akin to an unstoppable freight train filled with good luck and wealth.


Elias Baldwin moved to California, along with his wife and six year old daughter in 1853. It was there that he earned his nickname, "Lucky". 1853 was the high water mark of the gold rush era and his timing was uncanny.

However, his start was less than lucky. In preparation for the trip, he'd loaded four wagons with supplies; two of which were piled high with large quantities of brandy, tea and tobacco. He'd planned on selling  these "necessities" at a huge profit once he reached California. What he hadn't taken into consideration was the almost constant threat of Indian attacks. Sure enough, just outside of Salt Lake City, the party was nearly "relieved" of their scalps by a band of unfriendly Utes. He escaped by the skin of his teeth and decided to sell the goods then and there, in order to lighten his load and speed up the journey. He sold off the wagons and the goods they contained and used the profit to buy horses, which were in even shorter supply in California than brandy, tea and tobacco.

They arrived in Sacramento, where Lucky promptly sold the recently acquired horses at a tidy 400% profit. Using the profit from the horses he purchased the Temperance Hotel, which he in turn "flipped" in just thirty days, and doubled his money. The die was cast.

When the Comstock Lode was discovered in Virginia City in 1859, he arrived with a load of timber, which he immediately sold. With the profit from that, he bought a livery stable. In VC, he made money on numerous ventures. In payment for one debt, he received 2,000 shares of the Ophir Mine, which was only worth a few cents a share at the time. Using his profits from the livery, he slowly invested in several mines: the Ophir, Crown Point, and Hale & Norcross, at the north end of the Comstock Lode.

As "Luck" would have it, the mining shares were acquired for a pittance during a downturn in the "excitement". This was just prior to the discovery of the " bonanza " in VC. Once the Crown Point Bonanza was located, his shares skyrocketed and his net worth soared to over $2.5 million, seemingly overnight.

With money now no object, he gained a taste for the better things in life. Fine wines and brandies were just two of his recently acquired tastes. Using some of his ongoing increase in wealth, he built the Baldwin Hotel and Theater, starting in 1875 (which was completed in 1876) in San Francisco. 

1875 also saw him divorce his wife,  pack up and move to Southern California, where he eventually amassed land holding totaling 63,000 acres. Fortune again smiled on Lucky, when people began moving in droves to Southern California. One of his many successful financial moves "down south" was to subdivide some of his land and create not one, but two towns; Arcadia and Monrovia.

The rest of Lucky's life was a combination of successes and setbacks, happiness and heartbreak. Let's take a side track now and step off the good luck freight train at Arcadia. Lucky must have never forgotten about the good fortune that the wagon load of brandy started back in 1859. Besides real estate , Lucky also dabbled in vineyards, with the accompanying production of fine wines and Brandies.

Arcadia is located in the San Gabriel Valley, about 15 miles north east of downtown Los Angeles. It's perfect wine grape growing country. In 1885, the main line of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley Railroad, in which Baldwin was a stockholder, was opened through the Baldwin ranch, making subdivision of part of the land into a town site practical. In 1889, on a site just north of the corner of First Avenue and St. Joseph Street, adjacent to the railroad tracks, Baldwin opened the 35 room Hotel Oakwood. It was to be the centerpiece of his new town. Coincidentally, or not, the adjacent town of Pasadena was "dry", and Baldwin seized the opportunity to profit from liquor sales in Arcadia by producing and selling fine wines and brandies produced at his vineyard and winery from the offset. The first formal liquor license issued in Baldwin's town of Arcadia was obtained by none other than Clara Baldwin, his oldest daughter.

Three separate molds were ordered at different times, to merchandise Lucky's goods. They are listed as #26, 27, and 28 in WWB 4th edition. The first (and oldest) is embossed E.J. Baldwin's / Santa Anita / Vineyard / San Gabriel Valley / Los Angeles Co. / California / Brandy. Although listed as ca. 1910 in the book, I believe it to be quite a bit older. The location of the vineyards was adjacent to Lucky's Santa Anita Racetrack, where the elite of the area raced their thoroughbreds. The second (and rarest) variant is embossed Baldwin's / Celebrated / Wines and Brandies /  M. Lawrence / Sole Agent / Arcadia Cal. It capitalized on the location of the new town. It dates ca. mid 1890's. The third variant is embossed Baldwin's / Celebrated / Wines and Brandies / Lawrence & Comstock / Sole Agent / Arcadia Cal. It dates to late 1890's.

Arcadia records for the turn of the century era are spotty at best, and I was unable to locate any specifics to the relationship between Baldwin, Lawrence and Comstock with the following exception;  "On July 27, 1903, Arcadia held its first election for incorporation and for its members of the Board of Trustees. Elected members were: E.J. Baldwin, M. Lawrence, H.A. Unruh, Hull McClaughry and D.L. Unruh."

Sales for his "celebrated wines and brandies" must not have taken off the way Baldwin had hoped though, as distribution seems to have been localized to Southern Cal. and San Francisco (where Baldwin's Hotel and Theater was located prior to burning to the ground in 1898). Few examples of any of the variants exist in collections. Advertising was virtually non-existent in any of the newspapers of the era (with the exception of one ad for Rathjen Bros. in 1901), 


no etched shot glasses were produced, and no giveaways are known that pushed the brand.

The brand may not have been a barn burner, but it's lucky for collectors of Western Whiskeyana that E. J. (Lucky) Baldwin was willing to take yet another shot at success.


Question... Bob's drawings show both #26 & #27  as being embossed without the circular slug plate, and #28 as being embossed within a slug with the lettering following the margin. However, the #27 pictured in this article is a slug plate variant. Since I've only see one other #27 (back in 2005 - and it too was a slug plate), am wondering if Bob's sketch is incorrect. 

 Thoughts, photos of yours?


Anonymous said...

Nice write up on the Baldwin Bruce you never cease to amaze I have the M Lawrence and the Lawrence Comstock both in a circular slug

Rick Simi said...

Well researched article on the Baldwin's. I for one appreciate all the time and effort that goes into putting an article like this together. Keep up the good work Bruce.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the info! While going through late relative's bottle collection, I found a near mint/very good #26 brandy bottle and haven't found much about it till now.

Unknown said...

Any idea of an approx value? No chips, flea bites, etc. Clean bottle. Thanks for any insight you may be able to offer

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