Friday, February 7, 2020


Note:  This is research by a joint effort between Eric McGuire and myself. We both realized we were doing concurrent research and decided to collaborate in a single article. Great fun, and we welcome any comments or further information on this subject.

"El fantasma". Translated into English, means "the ghost".
And that's exactly what the Mexican Tonic fifth has been. One example was dug down in Southern California years ago. Since then, no more have surfaced. The bottle is a
beautiful example of a clear picture "whiskey". Embossed MEXICAN TONIC / large picture of an eagle but with no serpent in its beak, and talons holding a branch with a flower / JOSE GARCIA, MEX.

Bob Barnett first documented it's existence in 1997, in Western Whiskey Bottles 4th edition as #549, with a footnote that only one damaged example existed. He'd guessed that it dated ca. 1895 - 1905. At the time Bob saw the bottle it was in a collection in
Carson City Nevada. Since then, the bottle had disappeared from the radar. Oh well, it's Mexican anyway so of no real interest to collectors of western American pre-pro whiskies; or so we thought...

This rather rare bottle is not known to many collectors. The name implies some connection to Mexico even though the words MEXICAN TONIC are decidedly English. The proprietor appears to be Jose Garcia from, or in, Mexico. I couldn’t imagine the difficulty in attempting to document this man in Mexico. It would be even more difficult than finding a certain John Smith in the United States. Fortunately, the implied proprietor of this MEXICAN TONIC  is only fictitious. The bottle was actually a product of two California men who are not impossible to document but still a challenge – Alphonso Moncton Peache and Myndert LaRue Starin.

A search of available online digital newspapers turned up this small advertisement. It ran from January 6, 1890 through June 1890. Lowenthal & Myers, wholesale liquor dealers of Albuquerque, New Mexico, secured the wholesale agency for that state in January 1890 and ran a few ads in the Albuquerque Morning Democrat  until April 1890. The only wholesale agent located who advertised the product in California was Brassy & Co. in San Jose, who continued a similar ad from July 1890 to September 1890. Brassy & Co. was primarily a wholesale liquor agent, which lends credence to the conjecture that the Mexican Tonic was an alcoholic beverage.

The partners, Starin and Peache, residents of Los Angeles, created a medicinal product, as phony as the ‘best’ of them, claiming it was good for dyspepsia, constipation and loss of appetite. Packaged in a whiskey style bottle it probably carried a healthy dose of alcohol. Understanding the basics of marketing, the bottles were nicely embossed with a Mexican eagle and the artwork of the labels were first class. The name and graphics were trademarked with the California Secretary of State to help deter imposters who were expected to copy the product if it were to become wildly successful, as they hoped. It received trademark No. 1665 on October 24, 1888, which was undoubtedly about the time that Mexican Tonic was first marketed. 
The beautiful front label for Mexican Tonic
The secondary bottle labels for Mexican Tonic
The son of  England born William E. and Mary J. Thompson Peache, Alphonso Moncton Peache was born in Michigan in 1868. His father was a boiler maker in Port Huron, but Alphonso apparently had no interest in that trade. He first appears in the registration record of the Seventh Infantry Regiment of the California National Guard (Los Angeles) as a Hospital Steward on October 10, 1888.

Of course, there was no bona fide Major George LaRue. Starin had created a fictional person using his middle name for this Major who so loved the Mexican Tonic. This was the earliest ‘advertisement’ located, running on January 1,2 and 3 of 1890.

The 1890 Los Angles Business Directory lists both Peache and Starin as being associated with the Mexican Tonic Co., and both residing at 210 Boyd St. In 1891 Peache is listed as a druggist at the same address, along with Starin, but the latter is listed as a salesman with the Germain Fruit Co.

One may begin to wonder if the Mexican Tonic Co. had reached the end of the line by 1890. To even bolster this thought the Mexican Tonic advertisement that can be found nearly every day in the Los Angeles and San Jose, California, newspapers abruptly ended in September 1890. The only other continuing advertisements for Mexican Tonic were from retailers who were offering sale of the tonic at a reduced price. All indications conclude that the tonic was a defunct product by the end of 1890.
 By 1892 Peache is listed as a salesman at 124 Spring St., and residing at 500 Buena Vista, in Los Angeles. Starin is missing from the listings but is noted as a salesman at 210 Boyd in the 1893 listing. Also of interest is a listing for Helen Starin at 224 Boyd. She was Starin’s mother. Starin is listed at the same address in 1894 as a “business manager Trade”, and in 1895 as a salesman and in partnership with Abe Hart as proprietors of the St. Louis Lunch Room at 109 W. Second. (In 1897and 1898, Starin is a clerk and residing at 210 Boyd, and as a salesman in 1899)

In fact, Peache was acting as a salesman for the Cudahy Packing Company of Omaha at least by January 1892. He continued in the employ of Cudahy as a traveling salesman and is documented traveling throughout the west as far as Helena, Montana, in the north and Dallas, Texas, to the south. He eventually became a manager for Cudahy in 1902 and Peache was quickly ensnared in matrimony when he married Clara Fotheringham on May 14, 1903, in her home town of Sutter Creek, California. He and Clara had two children in San Francisco, Dorothy on March 2, 1904, Kathryn on  March 25, 1907. They then moved to Oakland about 1911 and had Alphonso, jr. on February 19, 1912.

Tragedy struck quickly to the Peache family when Clara died December 1, 1913, and Alphonso died a week later on December 7, 1913. Their three children were suddenly orphans which was quickly remedied when Clara’s parents, Fred and Emma Fotheringham, took them in and raised them in San Francisco.
The obituary notice for Alphonso Peache (Oakland Tribune, December 8, 1913)
Myndert LaRue Starin was born April 5, 1857, in Watertown, Wisconsin. He moved from Chicago to Los Angeles in the Spring of 1880. (Los Angeles Herald, 15 Nov 1896)) Starin is first documented in California as a member of the Eagle Corps of the California National Guard in Los Angeles in 1882, and working for Hellman, Haas & Co., wholesale grocers.  He was elected a third sergeant of the California Eagle Corps National Guard, under the supervision of then Major George S. Patton, in 1884. (He was the father of General George S. Patton, Sr.) (Los Angeles Herald, January 17, 1884) By 1886 Starin was instrumental in organizing Company C of the Seventh Regiment, Los Angeles and elected its captain. (San Diego Union and Daily Bee, August 4, 1889)

It is highly likely that Starin and Peache became friends through their National Guard activities, both committed salesmen; probably saw the potential benefits of creating and selling a medicinal product of their own making. Both apparently loved the world of sales and felt they could succeed handsomely with their talents. Starin’s father, Erastus Charles Starin, died June 30, 1891, leaving his estate equally divided to Myndert Starin and to Helen, who was Myndert’s mother. Myndert’s father had worked in the insurance industry and owned a hotel in Los Angeles. It is probable that Myndert received a considerable estate from his father.
Acting as a traveling salesman, Starin sojourned to Manila in the latter part of 1899. Assessing the business conditions he was pessimistic about opportunities. However, he noted,,. . . “that there are good openings in Manila at present for a manufacturing chemist, lawyers, a photo supply house and a manufacturing confectioner”. (Los Angeles Herald, 12 February 1900) . He may have tipped his hand a bit as a reason for traveling there when he further stated, . . . “The coldest weather there is warmer than in Los Angeles at this time and you can see the ‘miasma’ rise out of the ground every morning.  It is like breathing a poisonous gas, and then there are no sewers.  The moist tropical climate produces all kinds of malarial and tropical fevers and I hear the plague is there now.  If that is so, the question of living there is settled.”

Back in Los Angeles, in 1900 Starin invested in the Oak Oil company, becoming a director, and secretary,  at a time when the Los Angeles fields were booming. (Los Angeles Herald, 4 Mar 1900).  He also became a director of the newly incorporated Kismet Oil company a month later (Los Angeles Herald, 5 April 1900)  He then became a director of the newly incorporated Trophy Oil company in May of 1900.  (Los Angeles Herald, 9 May 1900)  With continued trust in the oil business he then subscribed $7,000 to the incorporation of the Arfena Oil company. (Los Angeles Herald, 19 Jul 1900) It appears that he got a little carried away with investments for in 1903 Starin, still defined as a commercial traveler, filed bankruptcy alleging his liabilities to be $2390 and assets, $350.  (Los Angeles Herald, 22 Jul 1903) And, this was at the time when California was the largest oil producing state in the U.S.
 As he had done several years earlier, Starin purchased a liquor license, this time from A. T. Carter for use at 115 Wilmington Street, Los Angeles. ( Los Angeles Herald, 4 May 1904).  In 1907 he then purchased the liquor license of wholesale liquor dealer, C.R. Grand of 422 North Main Street. (Los Angeles Herald, 11 December 1907). The 1910 U.S. census lists Starin as a wholesale liquor salesman.

Starin was active in politics and attended many of the city, county and State Republican conventions for years, as a delegate. His first bid for the Los Angeles City Council came in 1896, but he lost. In 1909 Starin again threw in his hat for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council. (Los Angeles Herald, 14 Sep 1909) He wasn’t elected but tried again in 1913.  Chances were slim, as the San Pedro Daily News exclaimed the “Aspirants for Mayor and Council (are) thick as dots in a telegraph office”. (San Pedro Daily News, 27 Mar 1913). Not gaining a council seat Starin eventually settled into the accounting business. He died February 25, 1945, in Los Angeles County.

Another company by the name of Goldschmidt Bros. also advertised a Mexican Tonic in the Spanish newspaper, Las Dos Republicas, from 1896 until July 1898. Goldschmidt was a large wholesale liquor company in Los Angeles, and it is my guess that it had acquired the remaining stock of Mexican Tonic, and was attempting to sell it to the Mexican population of Los Angeles.
The elusive Mexican Tonic bottle

A close-up view of the embossing

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Aurora Oregon Show

February is here! 

Daffodils are just now starting to sprout from the frozen soil, a sure sign that spring isn't too far off.

And with February comes the annual Aurora Show.

This little show is one of the best kept secrets up north. 

What it lacks in size is more than made up for in the quality of glass that pops up every year.

A fun venue to be sure!

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