Thursday, February 14, 2019

What's with the Shark Fin?

What's with the Shark Fin?

That seems to be a pretty much universal question the first time someone picks up a Boulevard Bourbon.

Turns out, it's a belt and belt buckle, not a sharks fin, although it takes a while to figure it out. But wait, on second glance, there is a sharks fin too... Why Buneman and Martinoni chose this particular design is anyone's guess.

Henry Buneman & Emilio Martinoni were in partnership for a number of years. They first appear as a partnership in the SF Directory of 1879. Mention of the partnership last appears in the SF Directory of 1895. Their location remained same for the entire duration of their partnership; the "NW corner of Clay & Front".

The first embossed bottle that they had blown for the brand is a clear "German Connection" fifth. 

All that I've seen have had either a light "steel" hue or a straw colored cast to them, indicating either a lead or selenium based composition of the cullet. They will not turn color if exposed to normal (non-radiation UV)  sunlight. A clear western blown tool top fifth, which will turn purple if exposed to UV rays, was also produced. Both were embossed identically; "Boulevard OK Bourbon / surrounded by the belt design / Buneman / & / Martinoni / Sole Agents / SF Cal ". And emerging from the belt just to the left of the buckle is what appears to be a sharks dorsal fin. Whaaat?...

This would date the first Boulevards to the ca. 1890 - 1892 era. Why they waited 21 years to have the first mold cut is anyone's guess. I can just imagine what an amber glop top mold, dating to the late 70's / early 80's for Boulevard Bourbon, could have looked like. Research of the California State archives for trademarks failed to turn up any registration of Boulevard Bourbon.

The last listing for the partnership is in the SF Directory of 1895. There is no longer a listing for "Buneman and Martinoni" in the 1896 directory. What does appear is a listing for E. Martinoni, wholesale dealer in wines and liquors. And another listing for H. Buneman wholesale dealer in wines and liquors. And so, somewhere toward the tail end of 1895 they separated and went their own ways, both pursuing what they knew best, the wholesale liquor trade.


Henry retained the rights to the Boulevard brand and in 1895, the mold for an amber tooled top cylinder was commissioned. The design is similar to the earlier one. It is embossed "Boulevard OK Bourbon / surrounded by the belt design / H. Buneman / Sole Agent / SF Cal.". Oh, and there's that shark fin again~

On February 12, 1897, Emilio Martinoni registered two brands of Kentucky Club Whiskey with the State of California; OK and AA. No embossed examples of this bottle have been found to date so we can assume that he opted to forgo the expense of having a mold made, and just bottled and sold the product in paper labeled slicks.

Getting back to Buneman, as stated, he appears in the 1896 directory flying solo with the Boulevard brand. There is no longer any listing for H. Buneman Wholesale Liquors in the 1897 directory. Instead, the directory lists "the estate of Henry Buneman". My guess is that the Buneman and Martinoni partnership was dissolved due to failing health on Buneman's part. Albert Buneman, Henry's son, is listed as executor for the estate. In 1898, the listing changes again, this time Henry Buneman, estate of, wholesale wines and liquors. This listing remains constant through the 1904 directory.


In 1905, the name of the firm changes to Buneman Mercantile. A third mold was cut for the Boulevard brand. This time reading, Boulevard Bourbon / Buneman Mercantile Co. / Sole Agents / SF Cal. 

The belt and "shark fin" were omitted this time around. The firm was located at  317 - 319 Front St., in the heart of the liquor district. Who was Buneman Mercantile? Would you believe, N. Grange, president and treasurer?!!!

Unfortunately, Granges timing couldn't have been worse. They'd no sooner set up shop when 5:18 AM on April 18, 1906 rolled around (literally). Surprisingly, Buneman Mercantile was reorganized in the post Quake era of late 1906. It was incorporated as Buneman Mercantile Inc., moved to 1949 Market St., and continued on in the wholesale liquor trade for several more years. The last listing for the firm is in the 1916 SF Directory. 

No embossed bottles for the newly incorporated firm were produced, making the Buneman Mercantile Co. variant by for the rarest of the three embossed examples.

Summing it up, the Boulevard Bourbon Brand had one heckuva run; first appearing in 1879 and winding down in 1916. A lifespan of 37 years, for any brand, by any stretch, was quite the feat in the dog eat dog world of the San Francisco wine and liquor wholesale trade of the late 19th, and early 20th century.


Still, I can't help but wonder, what's with the sharks fin?


Rick Simi said...

Another interesting and informative post

Anonymous said...

Another great write up Bruce I have acquired a few of these have a first variant very whittled amber applied top with a different mold Bill C

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