Wednesday, October 30, 2019

On a mid-summers day in 1969~

On a mid-summers day in 1969~

I lived in the High Sierras above Sonora California. My little cabin was on the site of what had originally been the site of the Cold Springs Mill and Incline Railway, which saw extensive logging activity around the turn of the century. 

Back then I "bottle hunted"; that as opposed to digging. Nearly seventy years of pine and cedar needles had covered the forest floor (and discarded trash) with nearly a foot of "litter". Often I'd walk the area and just feel for bottles beneath my feet. A potato rake was the only tool required for success and hardly a day off went by without adding to my rapidly growing collection. Being both loggers and railroad men they drank, a lot.

The surrounding hillsides were crisscrossed with a labyrinth of skid chutes, abandoned rail beds and steam donkey landings. One afternoon in July of 1969, I was clawing my way up a steep hillside when I suddenly lost my footing and slipped on the pine needles above a donkey landing site. Just before I was about to crash and burn, I caught a glimpse of braided steel steam donkey "wire rope" and grabbed on, catching my balance. At that instant I spotted an amber bottle that had been dislodged by the cable, rolling down the hillside at breakneck speed. It was headed straight for me. With the skill of an NFL wide receiver (more like dumb luck...) I caught it in mid air. 


It was a whiskey. An embossed whiskey at that! P. Claudius & Co. / San Francisco Cal. 

Inside was a wooden plug instead of the inside thread stopper that it originally had. 
Also unusual was the piece of wire rope wrapped around the top of the neck. The free end of it was fashioned into a hook. Aha I thought; it had been repurposed into an oil bottle to lubricate the donkey. The wire hook would have held it in a convenient spot. 19th century recycling at its finest! Later that summer I found a broken P. Claudius with the original embossed Riley patent IT stopper to go with my intact example. 

Back then I was just a long haired hippie living the good life, but without two nickels to rub together. Without any bottle books, I just enjoyed what I found in blissful ignorance. In the early 70's I bought my first whiskey book. Bill & Betty Wilson had written it a couple of years before. My P. Claudius was on page 49, along with a little history of Peter Claudius (never mind that the "facts" both contradicted themselves and were wrong)... And the book said my bottle was "rare". Cool, I thought!

Fast forward fifty years I can't hike the hills or dig like I used to. At least for bottles. My digging abilities have been replaced with research abilities. As much as I often despise the digital age, it does have its good points. One of the main plusses of the internet is the vast amount of information that is available, if you know how and where to "dig" for it.

About a week ago, I was dusting off some of my more common bottles, and strayed across the P. Claudius that I'd found a half century prior. A rush of great memories came back. I wondered just who this P. Claudius was, and how he'd come to own a liquor company around the turn of the century, with his name embossed on a bottle.

The first reference I found to P. (Peter) Claudius surprised me. It dated all the way back to 1882. Huh, he was a "porter" for the massive firm of Lilienthal & Co. in San Francisco. What on earth was a porter, and why did Lilienthal need one? A quick search of the word porter spelled it out; " a person stationed at a door or gate to admit or assist those entering". Hmm, he was (in modern terms) a doorman living in a rooming house called the "Keystone House". 

The following year saw him doing the same job, for the same employer but now living at 34 Tehama. He stayed there through 1884, and then relocated to 703 Stockton. 1886 saw yet another move to 6 Lily Ave. 1887 was status quo. 

1888 saw major changes for Peter. He'd gone into the retail liquor business with Henry Hoffmann, where they established a saloon at 112 Taylor. I also noticed something odd, a listing for a G. Claudius. A typo? Most probably as it shows "G" as the porter for Lilienthal, as had "P"; (or was it really a typo after all)...

It was at this time that the firm of P. Claudius & Co. first appears as well. Peter was now calling a residence at the corner of Willard and McAllister "home". In 1889, the listing changes and the location of the saloon on Taylor was now listed as the headquarters for P. CLaudius & Co. Something else popped up that I found interesting that year; a Gotthilf (or Gotthelf depending on the listing) Claudius appears in the city directory as none other than a porter for Lilienthal & Co. 

My guess is that he was a younger brother, and Peter had pulled strings to land him the job.

In 1890, it shows Gotthelf  working as the bookkeeper for P. Claudius & Co. with both men residing at 823 Eddy St..

Gotthelf literally vanished from SF in 1891, and Peter moves back to the McAllister St. address. There are no clues as to what happened~ 1892 listings are the same as '91. 

In 1893, Peter took out a huge directory listing touting ownership of the Granite Creek Distillery with new corporate offices in the heart of the wholesale liquor district at 314 Battery St. They even had a telephone!

There are no listings for a Granite Creek Distillery in SF, so one can assume that it was either located on the east coast or was non-existent as was the Oak Valley Distilling Company of Braunschweiger & Co. fame (or infamy).

And then, 1894 rolls around. Things must not have gone as planned because P. Claudius & Co. vanishes from the listings and Peter is now just a salesman for the newly spun off Crown Distilleries (which was under the corporate umbrella of Lilienthal). 

The nationwide financial panic (depression) of 1893, which plunged the US economy into chaos in 1894,  may well have been a contributing factor.

By 1900, he had relocated to Oakland, but was still with the C.D. Co. 

Although listed simply as salesman in the directory, a society column in the Press Democrat (Santa Rosa) dated July 5, 1904 indicates that he held a much loftier position with Crown Distilleries;

Finally, in 1905, it appears that Peter caught a break and P. Claudius re-emerges on the wholesale liquor scene with headquarters at  300 - 304 Front St., just a couple of blocks down from Wolters Bros. & Co. By then the firm had both a vice-president and secretary (or were they the financial backing Peter needed to get back on his feet?)

He'd also snagged the sole agency for Cook & Bernheimer and was pushing their Mt. Vernon Rye Whiskey, which sold in the distinctive square bottle with the ladies leg neck (which at a glance bears a strong resemblance to the Ferro Quina Bitters of the same era).

April 18, 1906 saw the end of the old liquor district as we knew it, and that part of the city burned to the ground during the afternoon and evening after the earthquake. Undaunted, Peter jumped back in the game in 1907 and relocated to 56-58 Clay St. with Lehners still playing the roll of VP.

The effort was short lived though, and by 1909, Peter was back working for others (Wm. Wolfe & Co.) in the capacity of Asst. Manager. 

He was demoted to salesperson in 1910, and by 1911 completely disappears from all subsequent records.


There were two fairly late tooled top bottles blown for P. Claudius & Co.; the example I found with the monogram, and another one "P. Claudius & Co. Distillers" (without the logo). Neither are what I would call common, and I've only seen a handful of each over the years. Both probably date to the ca. 1905 - 1908 era. 

One can't help wonder though; based on the early years of the firm (ca. late 1880's / early 90's) if there isn't a glop top floating around out there or, even better, a red whittled German Connection "P. Claudius?!
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