Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Screw It!


Screw It!


That’s a term that many, or most, of us have used in one form or another since the beginning of time.





When it comes to bottle collectors, that phrase takes on another meaning. Now, I’m not talking about uttering that phrase after dropping a bottle and watching it grenade into a million pieces. I’m talking about the ubiquitous black thing that screws into the top of many western whiskies.









1902 has been generally accepted as the year that the black colored inside thread stopper with the orange “gasket” made its debut on the west coast. That assumption, although taken as gospel for decades, could not be farther from the truth. Recently I was admiring a couple of Lilienthal related fifths in my display. Both had the original embossed inside thread stoppers in place. And both had applied tops. One, a blood red Crown Distilleries, sported the hammer whittled effect and massive spillover on the applied long tapered collar; long known as having been blown in Germany. The other, a Lilienthal “small badge”, was more the color of a London Warners Safe Cure, but was also heavily whittled and sports spillover. The long tapered collar on this example was stippled in an identical manner to the clear glop tops that we associate with the German Connection or “GC”. Based on Tom Q’s research, coupled with the process of elimination, we’ve narrowed the window for the “GC” applied top western whiskies to roughly ca. 1888 – 1892. But wait, the Crown and the Lili both have inside thread closures and both are GC bottles. That’s ten years, give or take, earlier than originally thought.







Obviously these black screw stoppers were being produced and used much earlier than originally thought. My first clue was the addition of the words “Riley Patent” in addition to the liquor company’s name and or logo on the embossed western stoppers. A quick check of patents for inside thread closures shows that Frederick George Riley, of England, filed a patent for a modified screw stopper closure on July 6, 1885. 


His patent was the result of improvements on earlier European inside thread patents. It was met with immediate acceptance by soda / soft drink manufacturers in England and was gradually accepted later on by American west coast firms who bottled a harder beverage. 


Quite a number of bottles destined for the west coast liquor industry were blown in Germany. The glass factory that supplied bottles to the west coast adopted the inside thread as dictated by Abramson Heunisch, the “jobber” responsible for the German Connection whiskies. The stoppers were a vast improvement over the age old cork closure method. The side of the stoppers had grooves molded in to improve one’s grip. They were easily removed and reinstalled by hand and they didn’t require a cork screw or pick to get at the goods. By the time the 20th century rolled around, the Riley Patent stopper was in widespread use by domestic glass factories on the west coast. Trade catalogues in the US referred to them as the "American Screw Stopper." The stopper was extensively marketed by the American Screw Stopper Company, Limited, in Jersey City. 

The stoppers were comprised of pressed, hard / non-elastic, India rubber, often called “vulcanite”. The stoppers are also sometimes described as being made from “ebonite”, which in fact was the brand name for the vulcanized rubber – patented  by Charles Goodyear in 1846. Wrapped around the stopper was a sealing washer of pink (or orange) India rubber which was quite pliable when new and formed a tight seal. The stoppers themselves weather far better than the gasket, which in most instances has decomposed and is either badly cracked or missing entirely.

The most common stoppers are plain, followed by the star design stopper. 














The third style stopper is embossed with the company names, and or logo. Often “Riley or Riley's Patent” is cut into the mold as well. Some of the more common embossed ones encountered are Roth, Hanley Mercantile, Louis Taussig, and Kellogg's.  



 All of these were San Francisco firms. 


Occasionally, a liquor dealer would go all out and have a picture stopper manufactured. F. Chevalier (also of SF) was one and an elaborate stopper was made for their flagship brand, “Castle”.

They are scarce. 





Another picture stopper, “Black Crest”, posed a mystery, as no company name was present on the stopper. 


Turns out that only one company in the US offered the brand; Warren Watson of Oakland. 


Another fancy stopper, embossed Belle of Lancaster, was a mystery as well.



It too, turned out to be an exclusive product of Watson.






Following are some photos of more stoppers, and some stoppers mated to their embossed and or labeled bottles.













Next time you’re out scratching around, don’t forget to keep an eye out for, and bring home, the stoppers. Without the correct stopper, an inside thread whiskey is pretty much like a cake without the frosting~ 




PS: if you're in need of a stopper or two, feel free to check in with me. I've got a few dozen and may be able to help you out.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Something special.



Not exactly a whiskey but... I'll bet a lot of it was consumed on this auspicious occasion!

This is an interesting piece which will appeal to many collectors of various genres. It is a dance card for the 4th annual ball at Wadsworth Nevada, in 1902. The card is dated Dec. 31, 1902, and is significant for one reason, it was Wadsworth’s swan song.

Wadsworth Nevada was originally a wide spot on the trail, located on the Truckee River. It was a stopping spot for weary settlers headed west. Later, during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, the Central Pacific (CP) selected this spot as being ideal for their repair shops. In 1868, they built a roundhouse, repair facilities, and a depot. Hotels, stores and saloons soon followed. A residential section also began to emerge.

All went well and the place thrived. In 1882 the CP elected to begin construction of new facilities (across the river) and by 1884, the relocation had been completed. 1884 was also significant because the original town site across the river burned to the ground. Things went well and the new town site continued to flourish for nearly twenty more years.

Clubs, lodges and fraternal organizations were popular and the Ladies Society of the BOF (I know not what this stands for) was one of the active groups. Lillian Flint was one of the members. On Dec. 31, 1902 Lillian attended the 4th annual ball.

There are many things about this dance card that make it unique. Check out the names of each dance! One of the other things that I noted is that Lillian dutifully wrote down each partner with whom she danced. That was until about half way through the evening. It would appear that either her feet gave out, or she had one too many libations, as the entries ceased with #7, a polka~


The date of this waltz (Dec 31, 1902) was significant. In 1902, the CP (by then the Southern Pacific - SP) had decided to realign their route and move their facilities, lock, stock and barrel, to their new company town, which we know today as Sparks.

The date of Dec. 31, 1902 was indeed Wadsworth’s swan song as the town emptied out as quickly as it had originally been built.



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