Monday, June 11, 2018

The Cause or the Cure - Revisited

The Cause or the Cure - Revisited

A bottle that nearly every entry level collector of western whiskies has on the shelf is embossed, "Slaters Premium Bourbon / John Sroufe & Co./ Sole Agents / San Francisco". They're a good looking cylinder with pretty much full face embossing. They're attractive, affordable, and available. The Slaters brand, having been distributed for many years, ranges in character from hammer whittled - very nearly glop top in crudity, to later ones that look like they were blown yesterday. 

The John Sroufe story is an interesting one. I first found reference to him in the 1871 San Francisco Langley  Directory as a commission merchant doing business as Sroufe, Sweeney (Lorenzo H.) & Co. at 406 Front St. John E. Ruggles was a silent partner (the "& Co."). Front St. incidentally, was in the heart of the wholesale liquor district, although there is no evidence that Sroufe dabbled in the "spirits trade" at this time. 

Pipifax (magen bitters) was first trademarked on Nov. 15, 1870 to a Max Walter of S. F. .   

Three years later, it was acquired by a different firm and on Sept. 9, 1873, it was re-registered to J. M. Goewey & Co. More about them in a moment.

In 1876, Sroufe dissolved his commission merchant endeavor and entered into a wholesale liquor partnership with Hugh McCrum; "Sroufe & McCrum", with locations at 208 - 210 Market St. and 9 - 11 Pine St. The Pine St. location was also in the heart of the liquor district. I found reference to their main brand, "Slater's Premium Bourbon". The Sole Agency for this brand was acquired from the firm of J. M. Goewey, & Co., who had been located directly across the street from Sroufe's earlier firm, when they were located on Front St. The Slater's brand had a huge and loyal following, and was imported in hogsheads from the distillery in Ky. The Pipifax brand was also part of the acquisition. All indications are that this product was marketed in a paper label only container by Max Walter, J. M. Goewey, & Co. and Sroufe & McCrum. The Sroufe and McCrum partnership existed and prospered from it's inception in 1876, until 1892.

In 1893 the firm of "John Sroufe & Co." emerged. 

The "& Co." was Charles I. Crowell. Charles had been the company book keeper for Sroufe & McCrum. It is my opinion that it was at this time that Sroufe commissioned an embossed mold for the Pipifax product. It's a very late glop top as is evidenced by the lack of crudity present on most all of the examples that I've had and seen over time.


It was marketed in the square amber fifths that grace the shelves of many western bitters collectors. This partnership did well as is evidenced by the number of Slater's Premium Bourbon bottles in collections. Pipifax (bitters), although not quite as popular as Slater's Bourbon still did well enough to have made the transition from the applied top, to the tooled top, eras. 


The mold must have gotten quite a workout as quite a few examples  have embossing which is all but non-existent due to mold wear.

 On July 16, 1904, John Sroufe died. He'd contracted pneumonia two weeks prior. He was 77 years old. 

Rather than toss in the towel, his widow enlisted the assistance of Charles I. Crowell (the & Co.) and endeavored to maintain status quo rather than shutting the doors for good. Thanks to her decision, the firm not only weathered the Great Earthquake and Fire of April 18, 1906, but was able to remain financially solvent. They moved out to 659 - 661 Divisidero and reopened the doors shortly after the disaster.

In 1910 the firm name appears as John Sroufe & Co. (Inc.) with Z.A. Sroufe (I believe this to be Zelda Sroufe - one of Johns daughters who was married to J. R. Loosely) as president, J. R. Loosley as vice - president and Charles I. Crowell as secretary, as well as a new location at 41 Drum St. 

The final listing I located was in the 1915 S.F. directory, still at 41 Drum St. Lasting for twenty plus years in the dog eat dog wholesale liquor industry was no small accomplishment and we have John Sroufe to thank for two wonderful additions to modern day whiskey and bitters collections; both a cause and a cure.


Thanks to Jerry Forbes / Peachridge Glass, and American Bottle Auctions for the Pipifax bottle photos. Please note that there are facts stated herein which contradict some statements published in Wilson's "Western Bitters". However, all documentation within this article was taken directly from original archival material and not "the book".


Rick Simi said...

Great research on this crossover post Bruce. First I have heard of the Pipifax connection. -rs-

Rick Simi said...

Great crossover post Bruce.

Rick Simi said...

Nice crossover post Bruce.

Roy_L said...

John Sroufe`s business partner for many years was my g, g, great uncle Hugh McCrum a native of Antrim, Ireland. They not only had a successful liqour business but had interests in Mining, Property, Saloons in what was the `wild west` era.
More information here from novelist Jack Sullivan who has done an interesting piece on the life of Hugh McCrum and his partnership with John Sroufe

(your truly at the bottom of page)

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