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!