Sunday, October 10, 2021

The tale of 33712

 What goes better with a turn of the century western whiskey than a pistol of the same period?


The tale of 33712


John C. Stewart was born in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, on September 17, 1875. Like so many others seeking a better life in the land of milk and honey, he emigrated from his birthplace to the United States of America.


Dr. Darwin French led an expedition to an area in the SE desert of California in 1860 and discovered silver at Coso, nine miles from the future site of Darwin. Silver was discovered at Darwin proper in 1874, the same year that the boom to Panamint City occurred nearby in the Panamint range. Darwin quickly mushroomed and by 1876, boasted a thriving population of over 1000 souls. However, Darwin's time in the limelight was short lived as the deposits proved to be shallow, water was scarce, and ore values began to plummet starting in 1877. Despite its short lived window in the history of the Old West, Darwin proved to be one of the wickedest places on earth. Bodie paled by comparison when one compares the body count racked up during Darwin's short lived history, courtesy of both knife and gun. In its first three years of existence, between 1874 and 1877, there were said to be at least 80 murders, most of them unsolved.


Undaunted, John C. Stewart made his way west, determined to make his fortune as a miner. He arrived in Darwin, California in 1897, lured by the promise of finding a fortune in silver. John obviously lead at least a subsistence existence, but nothing newsworthy occurred. Based on facts and some sketchy evidence, we know that he purchased a Smith and Wesson model 1902 pistol, serial number 33712, at the Darwin General Store in early 1904. The gun had left the factory on Tuesday, December 1, 1903, shipped to a dealer in St. Louis. It was resold to the Darwin General Store and subsequently purchased by John. Chambered in "38 S&W Special / US Service Ctg's". It was a powerful and modern double action handgun that used the newly invented smokeless powder cartridge. It was good for keeping vermin, be they four or two legged, at bay.


Little is known about John's life, his successes and or failures, for the next couple of decades. However, he must have been able to eke out a living as a jackass prospector, ranging far and wide in the hills around Darwin and throughout the area bordered on the northeast by the then booming strikes at Goldfield and Tonopah.


That was, not until March of 1929. It was at that time that Smith and Wesson received 33712 back at the factory along with a note from John. He listed three requests; fix the loose barrel, refinish it, and install a set of pearl handle grips. John must have finally made a strike.


Johns requests were obliged, (for the most part) and the gun left their repair facility on May 1, 1929 with a "tightened barrel" and new finish. The tab; about $7~. Unfortunately, they were out of Pearl Handle grips, and the gun was returned with the desert worn originals. John, disappointed that he couldn't walk heeled down the street with gussied up grips, took matters into his own hands. He had a local make new wooden grips that served two purposes, they shifted his grip back so that the trigger guard would no longer slam into his middle finger when fired, and they looked "purdy".


John got careless one day, a year or two after he had the gun spruced up, and it ended up being lost by the side of a gravel road outside of Darwin. My ex-wife's grandfather, Herman, worked for the road department, and spotted the gun lying in the  dirt while making his rounds. He asked around town, but no one had heard of a missing pistol, and John and his trusty burro must have been out looking for their next big strike.


The gun sat in the dresser drawer in Herman's bedroom, wrapped in an oiled rag until they departed Darwin in the early 30's. Herman had a son, Dick, and when Herman died, Dick inherited the gun. It sat in the same oiled rag that had been its home for another forty years, in Dick's bedroom dresser. Several years ago, Dick's health took a turn for the worse. With the writing on the wall, he gifted it to me. I was grateful.


I've always been a stickler for historical authenticity, and the "gussied up grips" bugged me. I made a concerted effort to locate a pair of period correct walnut or guttapercha grips for it. It took a while but I finally located a pair and replaced the grips, restoring 33712 to its original glory.


Being an historian, I was also curious about, what Paul Harvey used to call the "Rest of the Story". With the help of a new found, and extremely knowledgeable, acquaintance we were able to connect most of the dots. Many of which you've just read. We were also able to determine that this is a model 1902 (pre first change) and that there were only approximately 13000 of this variant that left the factory. Markings on the guns grip frame document that it is original as when it left the factory, with the exception of the metal work, reseating of the barrel, and the replacement grips.


As for John C. Stewart; he died in Darwin on May 23, 1947 of "heart trouble". His occupation was still listed, simply, as "miner". 




Many thanks John, and Herman, and Dick for allowing me to be the custodian of an incredible piece of the wild west.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

A fresh idea~


For Sale - Fixed prices / accurate  descriptions!

Sick of Fleabay? You've come to the right place for high quality western whiskies, described accurately and honestly (what a novel idea).

No better / no worse than as if you had picked the bottle (or go-with) up off a table at a show. Read the description, look at the photos. Want more photos or a clarification on anything - no problem; simply email me at

I've avoided the foolishness that accompanies eBay auctions like a case of the plague. In an attempt to keep this stuff affordable, I will now list western whiskey items as Buy It Now offerings here at a substantial discount compared to you know what. This shaves nearly 20% off the overhead required just to break even. This is not an auction, but a fixed price offering, priced in line with the current "western whiskey market".  Click on the photos and they will open in a new (and enlarged) window.
My offerings here will run for about a week.

Here goes;
Hoffschlaeger Co. LTD (fancy intertwined monogram) Honolulu

Tooled, light yellow orange with notable variation in color density , touch of character, bold strike, much lighter color than normally encountered.

Listed as #400 in Western Whiskey Bottles 4th edition, and #711 in Hawaiian Bottles of long ago. This example was the result of many, many years of Hoffschlaeger upgrades for me. It has the reversed 428 base mark and stands 11" tall. There are no chips or cracks, and it is in original, un-cleaned, as-found condition with good glass luster.

It was found on the windward side of the big island in the 1970's. There is moderate in-manufacture tooling crudity in the tapered collar and the strike is extremely crisp and well defined. There are a couple of small chunks of pot slag embedded in the glass (neither has any flashes, radiations or legs present).

With the exception of a roughly 1/16" surface contact nick located beneath the H in Honolulu, (see close-up photo), it is issue free and the best example I'd encountered in my fifty some years of collecting western whiskies.

Let's get the ball rolling; One just sold (you know where) for $371~.

This is a better example - $300~ plus P&I.
Like Island cylinders? I've got quite a few more that are ready to go. Lovejoy / Peacock (tool and hammered whittled red glops) and of course, the good ol' MacFarlane. Gimme a shout. 
Mahalo, and Aloha!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

A Big Tree

Occasionally discussions on popular FB antique bottle websites overlap with this site and Western Bottle News. 

(please note that in the interest of disclosure, I've made a couple of corrections and changes to both copy and photos for this, the finished draft)

A line in a post a couple of days ago caught my attention. It read, "I personally have not ruled out so and so, you know the company that made the only western chestnut flask?" 

Uhh, not so fast on the chestnut flask... The only handled western chestnut flask...

Not too long ago a chestnut, of origin unknown, appeared on eBay. 



I got a few inquiries about the bottle via the WWG website. The bottle was embossed "BIG TREE", and pictured a big tree with a hole cut through the center and a wagon being pulled by some sort of critter emerging from the hole. It was boldly struck, had a crudely applied top with some spillover, and a Riley IT closure. 


Several folks suggested British. My response was the same to all; 'I don't know, but I'll look into it". The listing hammered for a respectable amount.

True to promise, I looked into it, and looked and.... Nothing.

I did run across the history of the tree that I’d remembered. It was called the Wawona Tree and was located in the Mariposa Grove of redwoods located in the southern part of Yosemite. The hole through the base was said to be “large enough for a coach and (a team of) four (horses or oxen)”. Best I could tell, the hole was cut sometime in the 1880's. Well, it was a start.

Then one day, while perusing the "Pacific Wine and Spirit Review" (a rag published in the 90's), I came across the smoking gun; an advertisement for none other than Big Tree! 



Calwa was an abbreviation for the "California Wine Association". It was a worldwide wine concern, founded ca. 1892 - 1894, operating in Calif., with original headquarters in San Francisco. It was formed to insure the survival of numerous smaller winemakers during the national depression that was raging at the time. Members included; Charles Carpy of C. Carpy & Company; Charles Kohler and Henry Kohler of Napa Valley Wine Company, Kohler and Frohling, C. Carpy & Company, B. Dreyfus & Company, and Kohler and Van Bergen; Arpad Haraszthy of Arpad Haraszthy & Company; Albert Lachman, Henry Lachman, and Samuel Lachman of S. Lachman & Company and Lachman & Jacobi; winemaker John Frohling; Benjamin Dreyfus of B. Dreyfus & Company; and Nicholas Van Bergen of Kohler and Van Bergen. The firms Aguillon & Busatelli and C. Schilling & Company, both part of the association's combined holdings, were also represented. 





The membership was later whittled down somewhat and the remaining primary members are listed on one of the letterheads posted in this article.








An especially impressive display was set up by Calwa at the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893. The following ad promoted their efforts, and the introduction of the Big Tree brand. Interestingly, the ca. of 1893 puts initial production of the bottles smack dab in the middle of the "German Connection" era.



According to one report of the era, "Wines at the Columbian Exposition sat inside an elaborate grotto constructed at the base of a 28 by 28 feet California Redwood Tree. A cluster of grapes, glass, and bottle of wine intersect the base of a post in the middle of the tree trunk that flies flags representing California and the United States" "Every inch of space in the Columbian exhibition and its illustration celebrated grape culture in California and its role in western progress."

Boy, did they pull out the stops when they decided to jump in with both feet. The headquarters building that they had constructed was one of the most imposing in SF (prior to the 06 earthquake and fire when it was reduced to a big black pile of rubble).


It turned out that a large share of their target market for the Big Tree brand was indeed located in Europe (England specifically). But an equally large share of their “audience” for the brand was located on the west coast of America. 



They also exported huge volumes of wine by the barrel, both abroad and to Hawaii.

I was originally able to document three existing examples of the bottle; two green (similar in color to the London Warner’s Safe Cure) and one red amber (“German Connection”?). All have Riley patent IT closures, with one sporting the original embossed gutta percha "picture" stopper. From what I was able to discern from some of the written material, the red flagon contained their red and the green flagon their white wine offerings.

Recently a green example was offered for sale from none other than England. And so there are four.

I believe the red and green examples pictured here were the large size, the quart, and the green with the flat bottom seen here was the smaller pint offering.








Calwa apparently was a prodigious promoter. No shortage of promotional items were missed.

For whatever reason though, the Big Tree flagons are an extreme rarity of a crossover western picture bottle.


Move over Kolb & Denhard, the Nonpareil chestnut now has company.


PS: Darned if I didn't get an email from a "chap" in Ireland who follows WWG. He'd found one on the eastern seashore of the Emerald Isle. It's pretty well sandblasted. My guess is that it washed over from England. 

Back in April, I published this article on the Big Tree brand, which originated in California, courtesy of the California Wine Association; (CALWA).
 It was conjectured that one of their primary markets, beside the east and west coasts of the US, was England.
 Sure enough, a bottle had been recently found on the east coast shore of Ireland, just across the English Channel from Great Britain.
Imagine my surprise when one of our WWG readers send me a link to an auction item. Yep, another Big Tree "chestnut". Big difference though, between the documented variants and this example. It's made of wood and is 37 inches tall!