Saturday, October 17, 2020





This investigation began with a simple desire to attempt to determine the manufacturing date of the soda bottle embossed, G. P. MORRILL. It is clearly understood to be the product of druggist, George P. Morrill, while conducting his business in Virginia City, Nevada. My research then expanded into attempting to follow the history of Morrill in California, and to understand his relationship with several of his brothers, who were also in the drug trade. A simple project suddenly got complicated. What a story the Morrill brothers weaved, but I dared not tackle the entire bunch for I would never finish with my intended goal.

 I did find it necessary to touch upon the lives of the other brothers because they were so intertwined with George Morrill. As always, one of my underlying goals is to document my findings as well as possible, so if anyone else is interested - or obsessed as I -  in looking into Morrill’s life, my data could be retraced. Another element of this story is the use of visual examples of some of the uncovered newspaper documents to actually take a leading role in telling the story. Reading the actual news articles then become items of discovery for the viewer. This method, laid out in timeline fashion, can be a little confusing; however, I believe it can be appreciated by many. The article ended up being much longer than expected, but anyone interested in the Morrill soda bottle should find the history of the man just as intriguing as well.

The heavy use of historical newspaper research is rather new to many historians. It does not replace traditional researching but adds to it tremendously. I often expound on the amazing ability to ‘word search’ many newspapers with just a click of the computer button – something I never thought I would see in my lifetime. The technology is actually in its infancy and has a long way to go, but is already something of a miracle. I have discovered information that could, otherwise, not be found in my lifetime.

The G.P. MORRILL soda bottle is a favorite collector’s item from the glory days of Virginia City, Nevada. The date of the bottle would mean that the bottle manufacturing order was placed with the Pacific Glass Works of San Francisco, or the newly re-opened San Francisco Glass Works.  From the following information it becomes clear that the G.P. Morrill soda bottles were blown about June 1871. If additional orders were placed they were most certainly made prior to September 1872.


This article focuses on the soda water bottle of G.P. Morrill, who spent most of his adult life as a druggist in California and Nevada. He came from a very interesting family of siblings that who also deserve a good story, but my objective here is to focus on George Peverly Morrill, and to pin down the date of his somewhat scarce soda water bottle. Born on July 6, 1828, in Chichester, New Hampshire, he arrived in California aboard the ship New Jersey, which sailed from Boston on May 1,1849. He first worked the gold fields in Coloma, the site of the first discovery of gold. (New York Daily Herald, May 11, 1849)  After investing the usual hard work in ‘digging’ for gold, he opened an apothecary shop in the early mining town of Diamond Springs in 1853. He also opened another store the same year with his brother, Augustus Morrill, in Volcano, California. Based on early advertisements the brothers seemed to have had a ‘back and forth arrangement’ between partnership and sole proprietorship of the two stores.


Advertisements for the Volcano store nearly always listed both partners as proprietors, even though George P. Morrill lived in Diamond Springs. This ad announces the opening of a new store which, incidentally, was brick construction, a more secure structure from the previous wood frame building. (Volcano weekly ledger. Volcano, Amador County, Cal., December 01, 1855)


 The Diamond Springs store was burned out in 1856 but George Morrill rebuilt and continued in the same location. Augustus Morrill operated the Volcano store until the later 1850’s when it was then advertised for sale. The partners sold the Volcano store in March 1857, and continued the Diamond Springs store for a few years.


One of the few advertisements noting a partnership interest of the two Morrill brothers in the Diamond Springs drug store. (The Granite Journal, Granite, California, March 2, 1856)


The Volcano drug store of George and Augustus Morrill was put up for sale in November 1856 and sold in March 1857 to Dr. Charles W. Shoeneman. (Volcano Weekly Ledger. Volcano, Amador County, California, November 15, 1856)


The business life of Diamond Springs had begun slowing down and there was no interest in his drug store, and the nearby town of Placerville had begun to outshine Diamond Springs.


George P. Morrill advertised his interest in selling his drug store in Diamond Springs in 1858. His brother, Augustus, had apparently dissolved his interest in the store and went to work for their brother, Charles Morrill, in Sacramento, probably managing his coal oil business which had grown considerably. Charles was harvesting oil on the beaches near Santa Barbara as well as oil fields in Colima, Mexico

 George P. Morrill left his store in Diamond Springs and set up shop in Placerville, early in 1860. His first advertisement noted in Placerville was April 1860. (Mountain Democrat, 28 April 1860).

In 1860 Augustus Morrill left California to manage the coal oil factory of his brother, Charles Morrill, in Colima, Mexico, arriving there on December 19, 1860. Charles Morrill was likely the most active of all the brothers, and almost always was involved in some sort of law suit. Perhaps the most unusual located was a suit he brought against Samuel Brannan and two others, claiming a violent assault and battery upon him while on board the steamer Sonora on September 10, 1858. (Sacramento Bee, December 30, 1858). Charles operated two drug stores, one in San Francisco and one in Sacramento, as well as his coal oil business in Colima. Based upon newspaper records, it does appear that Charles Morrill was either highly unlucky in his personal and business life, or he was extremely litigious.

 Oscar F. Morrill is the most mysterious of the three ‘brothers’. In fact, there is no documented record of him actually being a sibling of the other two brothers. He styled himself as an inventor, and resided near Boston, Massachusetts. Oscar died in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on January 9, 1875. He actually did hold several U.S. Patents, primarily for improvements in oil burners.

 When Charles Morrill retired in 1862, three brothers, Oscar F. Morrill, Augustus Morrill, and George P. Morrill, formed a partnership in purchasing the business interests of their brother, Charles Morrill. George P. Morrill also integrated his own assets of the Placerville store into the partnership. By the end of 1863 the partnership began to unravel, as the newspapers documented a number of lawsuits between the brothers.  Shortly thereafter George Morrill moved to Virginia City where he set up his drug store in his own name. Augustus Morrill remained in Mexico and continued with the coal oil business, eventually becoming an American Consular to Mexico. In a kidnapping plot gone awry, Augustus was killed by an outlaw gang on February 23, 1920.


An advertisement documenting a merger of three Morrill brothers, which included absorbing the businesses of their brother, Charles Morrill. (Sacramento Daily Union, February 12, 1862)


George P. Morrill’s drug store in Placerville also fell under the umbrella of the Morrill brother’s holdings, as this advertisement attests. ( Mountain Democrat, July 4, 1862)




The first of the Morrill brother’s store to be liquidated was in San Francisco. (Daily Alta California, November 11, 1862)


Exactly where George Morrill went after he left Placerville is somewhat conjectural. It is likely that he may have tried mining for awhile prior to returning to the druggist trade in Virginia City, Nevada, in 1864. His son, John Morrill, was born December 13, 1863, at a location described as near Verdi, Nevada, but in California. It is very likely he was born near the ghost town of Crystal Peak, or in that vicinity. Of course, Verdi, Nevada, didn’t exist until about 1868, which was established as a railroad stop on the transcontinental line. There is some evidence that Morrill homesteaded property in this area, or at least within the Truckee Meadow area, which was confirmed just prior to his death in 1891, (MDM, Twp 19N, Range 17E, N1/2, SE ¼, Section 12)

 Morrill’s attention also focused on the successful mining interests of the Virginia City area, investing in stock of the Palmyra Consolidated Gold & Silver Mining Company. He had opened his drug store at 16 South C Street in Virginia City by 1864. In October 1865 he suffered his first fire which destroyed most of his stock. The loss was covered by insurance.

 By July 1866 Morrill installed a soda fountain in his drug store. Given the parched Nevada climate this must have been a big supplement to his income. The same year he became involved in local politics and ran for County Commissioner of Storey County, Nevada, and won.


Morrill’s first advertisement where he presented the public with the sale of soda water. (Gold Hill Daily News, July 14, 1866)



Two days after his previous advertisement another informational type ad was printed in the same paper describing the availability of his “splendid soda fountain”. (Gold Hill Daily News, July 16, 1866)

In 1869 Morrill purchased one of William Gee’s soda generators for his drug store and ordered the necessary components for serving soda water in his shop. By September 1869, all the equipment was in place and he began advertising soda water by a much more efficient method than previously.



Morrill also intimated that he was prepared to bottle soda water for family use, but it was not yet for sale. By October 1869, Morrill advertised his bottled soda water, however, it was sold in “a peculiar style of stout glass bottle, holding about a quart”. This is an obvious description of a siphon bottle.


 In a first step toward bottling his soda water, Morrill described the use of Wm. Gee’s special attachment to his soda water machine that allows for the filling, and refilling, of siphon bottles. (Gold Hill Daily News, October 9,1869)



Along with Gee’s soda fountain, for an additional $30 Morrill purchased this new attachment for filling siphon bottles, patented in January 1868. The siphon bottles cost Morrill $15 per dozen.  He was still not prepared to sell his soda water in the typical half pint bottles.


An 1871 ad notes that he was nearly ready to sell bottled soda water, but it appears that it was still not for sale.


Finally, Morrill’s bottled soda water was very close to being sold to the public. The only caveat was his statement that some of the facilities for making it were "on hand and arriving". It is possible that everything was in place except for the bottles.


Another notice in the same newspaper appears to secure the reality that regular bottling for the general public would be occurring within days. It is fairly safe to assume that the bottles had been blown and were on their way via railroad from San Francisco.  Therefore, the earliest noted reference to Morrill actually bottling soda water occurred in July 1871, when he practiced a popular custom of delivering some gratis soda water to local newspaper staff – always a sure way to get some free advertising.  (Gold Hill Daily News, 6 July 1871)


Morrill’s business seemed to be on track at a time when Virginia City was at its peak. As fate would have it, he suffered a crippling fire a few months later in 1871. While it is not known if he was insured, he was at least able to recover.


Following the accounts of anyone, via newspaper, is normally a sketchy affair. The entire story is often hidden, which may be the case with Morrill. Financial stability is an important element in the life of any entrepreneur, but if he was overextended it had not become obvious in the newspaper record.


From this day forward, it is safe to say that Morrill was in the business of selling soda water in bottles. The following advertisement, regularly occurring in local newspapers, attests to that, with one caveat.


Morrill’s advertisement plainly notes he was manufacturing soda and sarsaparilla, however, what does he mean where the ad states, “cleanly put up in bottles for Bars and Saloons”? Was he not selling his bottles to the public?  Perhaps he was referring to his seltzer bottles, or maybe the half-pint bottles were sold only through saloons. If this was the case, then Morrill would not have to deal with the labor intensive process of retrieving his bottles - leaving that task to the saloon owners. This statement remains unclear. (Gold Hill Daily News, July 6, 1872)


Soda water and ice seems to be a natural complement, and Morrill’s industrious nature motivated him to develop a side business he called The Gold Hill Ice Company. It is clear that Morrill had some sort of property interest in the region of Truckee, where ice could be easily harvested and perhaps stored on the property. When needed it could be loaded on the train at Truckee, or by wagon, and delivered to Virginia City in quantities that would be easy to handle.


Morrill’s ice business began very shortly prior to this advertisement. (Gold Hill Daily News, September 14, 1872)


The ongoing question of whether George P. Morrill was selling his soda water bottles via the general public or whether he was selling them to bars and saloons, who then had the responsibility of collecting the returns, is an interesting one that may never be answered, for all his newspaper articles, and advertising, came to a halt in September of 1872.

Not long afterward an ominous notification was inserted in the newspaper that clarified the reason and also spelled the end of his business in Virginia City.



George P. Morrill’s drug, soda water and ice business came to an end in September 1872. (Gold Hill Daily News, December 31, 1872) He virtually disappeared in the newspaper record until his death in 1891. It is clear that he left town and most likely retreated to his property near what is now Verdi, Nevada.


After leaving Virginia City, Morrill’s residence appears to be rather vague but still within the area of extreme eastern California from Loyalton in the north to Truckee in the south. In 1875 he was scheduled as a laborer at Crystal Peak, in 1880 as a druggist in Truckee, and in 1884 the village of Oneida with no occupation. Most of his children had settled in Truckee. Perhaps of most significance, at least for this article, is that he never again engaged in the bottling and sale of soda water. If he did work in Truckee as a druggist, Morrill probably worked in a store for someone else. There is no mention of him in the Truckee newspapers.


(Sacramento Daily Union, July 20, 1891)



George P. Morrill’s final resting place is in the Morrill plot of the Truckee Cemetery, along with a number of his family members.

Friday, September 25, 2020




By Eric McGuire


Searching out information on the proprietor of a bottled product is not an unusual approach to bringing historical context to a physical item. It is done all the time and I have done it for many years. Which items to focus on is often serendipitous and the end results can be extremely varied. At times, no significant information can be found, and for others, what seems like too much is uncovered. For the subject who produced the product noted herewith, the information uncovered that was directly related to the bottle was succinct but rather brief. However, after looking at the additional exploits of the proprietor, the research became unusual and incredible beyond my expectations.

 Henry B. Slaven’s early life cannot be verified, especially in corroboration with the several published biographical versions. Henry Bartholomew Slaven was born near Picton. Onario, Canada, October 19, 1853. His biographical record includes having spent two years at the Ontario College of pharmacy in Canada, and then spent two years at a large Philadelphia drug firm in Philadelphia, and returning to Canada where he assumed management of a large wholesale drug house from 1873 to 1876. (Leslie's History of the Greater New York: Biographical: Volume DeLuxe by Daniel Van Pelt. Arkell Publishing Co., New York.1898)  None of these activities, prior to coming to San Francisco,  could be documented, however, his brother, John Wallace Slaven, did own a drug store in Orillia, Ontario, Canada, and it is entirely possible that much of Henry Slaven’s pharmacological experience was guided by his brother.

 How Slaven was able to set up his drug store in the prestigious Baldwin Hotel in San Francisco deserves some serious speculation. There is little doubt that he had some background in chemistry. How he got it and his proclaimed experience noted in his biographical record, is still an open discussion. I am thinking that his entrance to the Baldwin Hotel is directly connected with his brother, Moses Slaven, who was already in San Francisco. Being connected with the construction trade, and having a successful track record in working on some of San Francisco’s great structures, it is certainly within the realm of possibility that Moses Slaven came to know Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin during the process of construction of his hotel. In fact, it was Moses Slaven and his partner, Charles C. Terrill, who were the contractors in the construction of that edifice.(Daily Alta California, San Francisco, December 3, 1876)  It is entirely possible that Moses championed his brother as a worthy occupant for a first class apothecary shop in the lower level of the hotel.



Lucky Baldwin’s magnificent hotel, called The Baldwin, at the corner of Market, Powell and Eddy Streets in San Francisco. The corner entrance was also the entrance to H.B. Slaven’s Baldwin Pharmacy.


A close-up photograph of the corner entrance to the Baldwin Hotel, where above the awning may be seen the conspicuous name of H. B. SLAVEN, CHEMIST.

 Regardless of his introduction to Lucky Baldwin, it is a fact that Henry Slaven did occupy what was known as the Baldwin Pharmacy as its first tenant when the hotel opened its doors in November 1876. Just as the hotel was advertised as one of the most glamorous structures of its day, the pharmacy retained top billing for its opulence where Slaven worked and, coincidentally,  lived upstairs in the hotel.


A contemporary description of Henry B. Slaven's drug store in the Baldwin Hotel, known as The Baldwin Pharmacy.

His advertisements can be found in newspapers throughout the state, which almost always included mention of his Yosemite Cologne, a product for which he trademarked the name with the U.S. Patent Office on November 12, 1878.


An example of one of Slaven's early ads which includes the first product he advertised heavily - YOSEMITE COLOGNE. (Marysville Daily Appeal, Marysville, California, October 8, 1880)

 The next product for which he took credit, and the item that is featured here, is what he called California Fruit Salt Derivative Compound. Born from the mind of a chemist, it wasn’t an entirely new concept, as salts concentrated from a variety of sources were in common use throughout the civilized world. The most common examples were the compound salts derived from famous mineral springs found in the U.S. and Europe. Slaven’s fruit salt was likely derived from the concentrated and dehydrated extract of the sugary compounds of the fruits grown in California. Lemon was described as the dominant fruit in the product.


In his early ad for the Fruit Salt, Slaven attempts to clarify that his product is different from any other of the effervescent salts on the market, noting it was manufactured from fruit. (Russian River Flag, April 21, 1881)

 Slaven developed his marketing strategy for the salts by devising packaging and advertising, and trademarked the name with the State of California. His trademark, registered with the Secretary of State on October 14, 1881, as Trade Mark No. 747, including a copy of the label, which contained the essential words, FRUIT SALT, was apparently available for his unique proprietary use.


A copy of the label for Slaven's California Fruit Salt taken from his trade mark registration with the California Secretary of State in 1881.

 His labels were attached to the bottles that were designed for his fruit salt. The bottle design included a wide mouth to more easily remove the dry, or perhaps semi-dry salts. The bottles were probably produced on the East Coast since they have none of the subtle characteristics of glass produced in the San Francisco glass factory operating at that time.

 Slaven’s Fruit Salt was heavily advertised throughout the western United States as far east as Kansas City. All manner of publications were inserted with ads, but especially newspapers. As many as 34 different trade card items were circulated with the product name. Slaven obviously spent considerable funds on advertising.


The California Fruit Salt bottles are known in both blue and amber color.

 It would be remiss to note that Slaven was actually not the first to market such a product. John Crossley Eno, of Newcastle, England, was selling his fruit salt in England as early as 1874.  Eno didn’t receive trade mark protection in the United States until December 28, 1897. 

 No sooner did Slaven get his fruit salt to market, when an unexpected event occurred that literally changed the world. The roots of this event had likely been growing for some short time concurrently with his fruit salt venture, and became exposed to the world about this time, having a profound effect on his business at the Baldwin Hotel.

 Advertising for Fruit Salt came to a halt late in 1884, which presents an unanswered question in the documented timeline of Slaven’s activities. Because of his other interests Slaven was noticeably absent from his pharmacy starting in 1881, and in his own words, he permanently left San Francisco in 1882. In the face of his new venture the pharmacy became almost trivial to him and he likely virtually abandoned the profession. The store continued in the Baldwin Hotel, however, it must have been under new management, even though his name was still associated with the pharmacy for several more years.

 And the most likely individual to have transitioned into the management role of the Baldwin Pharmacy was a man named Beverly S. Taylor. Born in Canada about 1856, Taylor arrived in San Francisco in 1878, immediately working for Slaven. There is a strong possibility that Taylor was either a distant family member or previous friend of Slaven since Taylor continued a relationship with other Slaven family members in California during his remaining years. In fact, the 1884 San Francisco business directory notes his occupation was “manager, H.B. Slaven.”, implying he had taken control of the pharmacy. By 1885 Taylor left the Baldwin Pharmacy but apparently took the Slaven brands with him, including the fruit salt. He may even have continued their manufacture and sale for as long as about 1889, but after that date Taylor was deeply involved in his mining ventures.

 But, what happened to Henry B. Slaven, and why did he leave his business so abruptly?  The primary operative behind the construction of the Suez Canal was a Frenchman named Ferdinand de Lesseps. His close friend and associate was French civil engineer, Prosper Huerte who had moved to San Francisco to work on a variety of large projects in the quickly developing California. De Lesseps came to San Francisco to meet and discuss with Huerte about a new project that De Lesseps was about to undertake. He was to embark upon the construction of the Panama Canal and needed to preliminarily construct twenty base camps, or staging areas, along the route of the proposed canal to accommodate the thousands of laborers involved with the project. The construction contract was estimated to be funded in the amount of two million dollars. Huerte lined up several business partners in the venture which included Moses Slaven. Moses convinced his brother, Henry Slaven, to work with him and a partnership in the name of Huerne, Slaven & Co. was formed. San Francisco was populated with a number of overnight millionaires who committed initial funding, and the short story is that the project was completed on time and with a hefty profit as well.


 Newspaper articles throughout the country began covering the amazing story about Slaven and his part in the construction of the new canal across the Isthmus of Panama. Slaven was even able to note the importance of his California Fruit Salt in helping prevent illness in the army of workers constructing the canal. (Reno Gazette JournalRenoNevada, December 23, 1881)

 The intricate dealings and obvious underhanded deceit, whenever such large amounts of money is concerned,  is far too difficult to put into simple words, however, the biggest coup for the Slaven brothers was the winning of the second canal contract, which entailed the actual dredging of the first leg of the Panama Canal. Again, the mechanizations of the funding was extremely complicated, but the brothers hit upon the idea of constructing three massive dredges, a design of which they had witnessed in California for gold dredging. With the use of the dredges they completed their contractual obligation of about a seventeen mile segment of the canal, way under the assigned value of twenty million dollars. By 1883 the Slaven brothers were multi-millionaires.


Pomona Times Courier, Pomona, California, January 6, 1883 )

 Of course, the remainder of the story is one of great complexity involving many lawsuits, deceit, cheating and painful family issues that would make an unbelievable movie – but it would really not make for a happy ending.


Another of the many articles printed throughout the U.S. covering one of the most sensational human feats of the 1880's, which coincidentally included the proprietor of CALIFORNIA FRUIT SALT. ( The Weekly Economist, Elizabeth City, North Carolina, October 2, 1883 )

Moses and Henry Slaven had walked away with the vast majority of the profits from the canal venture which created all manor of problems for them. Moses Slaven died in 1886. Henry then married the widow of his brother, which in effect, gained him his brother’s large estate as well. Henry Slaven lived a sumptuous life of luxury until his death in Manhattan, New York, on December 2, 1904.

 Most are aware of the failure of the French to complete the canal in 1888 due to both cost over runs, and the huge loss of life caused by tropical diseases. The project was eventually given to the United States in 1904 and completed in 1913.

 One final note of interest about the life of Henry B. Slaven, is that he had one child with his wife – the former wife of his brother. She was Edith Egypta “Nila” Slaven, born March 1, 1890, in Egypt. Henry was living in Egypt for awhile exploring potential ventures which included the idea of flooding that portion of the Sahara Desert, known as the Qattara Depression, located below existing sea level, with the intention of creating an inland sea that would provide shipping access to the vast hinterland of Northern Africa. Obviously, the idea didn’t come to fruition. His daughter, Nila, eventually inherited a huge fortune with which she lived a life of luxury. Never married, she moved effortlessly among the highest of social circles, and traveled throughout the world. Edith Slaven died November 1977, at Blue Hill, Hancock, Maine.

 After researching the information behind California Fruit Salt, I must admit the bottles have taken on a whole new meaning for me. It’s amazing what a little research can do.

Saturday, August 15, 2020


Jumping into the mix of chemists who concocted a face cream for Victorian women living in the West, the druggist, Henry Bowman, of Oakland, California, decided on giving his product a name as pure as the driven snow. Competition was rough in this cosmetic field, with Camelline, and Crème de Lis being the top competitors. He decided on copying the idea of traditional cobalt blue glass bottles for his creme and gave it the name of Beautiful Snow.

 Bowman's Beautiful Snow bottle.

Bowman applied for, and received, a trademark with the California Secretary of State, for the name on November 16, 1883, as Trademark No. 1047. Examples of the bottle are fairly scarce and advertising for the product could not be found in newspapers any later than 1884. This is somewhat of a puzzle as Bowman well understood the value of advertising. Perhaps sales were not up to his expectation and he pulled it from the market.



The label for Beautiful Snow as submitted with his trademark registration.

Saturday, August 1, 2020



Obadiah Kendall Levings was one of as many as fifteen children born to Abel Levings and Hannah Marshall. Born in New Hampshire on November 25, 1812, his earliest life is not well documented. One record from the Lancaster School in Lancaster, New Hampshire, documents him at this preparatory school in 1832. While he consistently maintained he was a doctor, there is no record of Levings receiving a formal medical degree.

He married Jane Bleazard in Gore, Ontario, Canada in 1843. He stayed in Canada at least until his only son, John Kendall Levings, was born there about 1845. By 1850 he was living with his family in the house of his father-in-law, Robert Bleazard, at Whitestown, Oneida, New York (later renamed Whitesboro).

Levings arrived in California as early as late 1850. While his mind was obviously on the golden riches of the earth he didn’t let go of his dream of becoming a wealthy patent medicine maker. From January to February of 1851 he advertised his SYRUP OF HOARHOUND AND ELECAMPANE and his SARSAPARILLA AND ROSE WILLOW, in Sacramento, which he claimed was made in New York City.  It s true that the 1850 New York City directory notes a Levings & Co., druggists, at 515 Broome Street. He may have concocted his medicines the year prior to leaving for California, and possibly brought a shipment with him to fund his initial existence in the golden state. The advertisement notes his products may be purchased at the drug store of P. & S.S. Crane in Sacramento. No embossed bottles from this early date have yet to be found.

Levings' early ad which ran in the Sacramento newspaper for a few months in 1851. (Sacramento Transcript, January 9 1851)

By 1852 his name became prominently connected with the new settlement of Gold Hill, in the vicinity of Auburn Ravine, Placer County, California. That he was actively mining for gold in this region is documented by a newspaper article noting that Dr. Levings had found a gold nugget of nine ounces at Gold Hill. (Placer Herald, Auburn, California, January 29, 1853.)

Shortly thereafter, several Sierran towns began running an advertisement attempting to find the whereabouts of O.K. Levings.


The significance of the ad and the effort to locate Levings is not entirely clear, however, aside from the obvious that his family back in New York was attempting to determine if he was still alive, I am also surmising that they may be contemplating joining him in California. In an unusual twist of events O.K. Levings sued his wife for divorce on July 20, 1861. It is, of course, speculation, but it may be a case of his wife, Jane Levings, not desiring to join Levings in California. She continued to live in New York with her widowed father, and died in Whitesboro,  New York on July 28, 1887.

There is good documentation that his son, John Kendall Levings, did come to California, but the date remains elusive. He is noted as joining the army on Aug 12, 1863, in Gold Hill, Nevada, in Company L, 1st Battalion, Nevada Calvary. He was mustered in at Fort Churchill, Nevada, and was mustered out there on November 18, 1865. He re-enlisted December 17, 1866 and was discharged October 15, 1869. His former occupation was listed as a miner.

O.K. Levings continued with his residency in Gold Hill, California, working as a miner and investing in water supply projects for gold extraction, with mixed success. In 1863 he was forced into bankruptcy as an insolvent. (Placer Herald, Auburn, California, August 29, 1863). By 1870 he had moved to San Francisco, and again, advertised himself as a doctor and began pushing his Hoarhound and Elecampane medicine, noting that it was “formerly put up in the city of New York by Dr. Levings.” (Stockton Independent, April 28, 1870). And, by 1872, he had also resurrected his Sarsaparilla and Rose Willow for sale. (San Jose Weekly Mercury, January 4, 1872)  Based on the length of time Levings’ advertising campaign lasted, he again, stopped selling his products about 1875. In fact the 1875 San Francisco business directory notes his occupation as a “whitener” for the Pacific Furniture Manufacturing Company. It appears that Levings’ interest in mining soon returned to top billing as the 1878 voting register for San Francisco confirmed that his occupation was once again a “miner”. By 1880 Levings had returned to Placer County where he was scheduled as a “laborer” within the communities of Damascus and Iowa Hill. He apparently stayed in this vicinity for a number of years, working at odd jobs and prospecting for the next big strike.


Examples of Levings’ earliest bottles are typical of those blown in San Francisco during the early 1870’s. All appear to have applied tops and exhibit some crudity.


Just as with his Hoarhound and Elecampane bottles, the Sarsaparilla and Rose Willow bottles show a fair amount of crudity, typical for the period.


It is clear that by 1891 Levings had been residing at the county hospital in Stockton for an indeterminate time. This was likely the Stockton Insane Asylum, as there would be no other reason for Levings to travel from Auburn to Stockton to seek medical help unless it was a mental matter. Many of its cases involved alcoholism which is probably the affliction for which he was treated.  It is at this time his name is noted in the Placer County Grand Jury report when it investigated a complaint by Levings that he had been mistreated during his residence at the hospital. An investigation proceeded with the determination that there was no basis for the claim and it was dismissed. (Placer Argus, November 20, 1891)

In 1892 the 80-year old Levings again returned to San Francisco with the title of “doctor”. He promptly began selling his same two medicinal products that he relied upon when the excitement of prospecting and mining didn’t pay the bills. He saturated the greater Bay Area newspapers with ads for his syrup of hoarhound and his sarsaparilla – this time until December 1895. He trademarked his brands with the State of California under registration number 2163 on July 18, 1892. Shortly thereafter, Levings moved to San Bernardino City, presumably to be closer to his son, where he registered to vote, on October 18, 1894.


Levings trade marked label as deposited with the State of California in 1892. His registration noted that the words SYRUP OF HOARHOUND AND ELECAMPANE could be substituted with SARSAPARILLA AND ROSE WILLOW.

 During this time period Levings dusted off the old molds from when the same bottles were blown in the 1870’s. The bottles blown from these molds in the 1890’s have a decidedly different appearance in the quality of the glass. They are less crude than their 1870’s counterparts and all have tooled tops instead of the earlier applied version. The glass is generally a lighter aqua and has a tendency to stain easier. They are visually much different than the earlier variants, and quite typical of bottles blown in the 1890’s.

An example of one of Levings' ad that he used in the second round of pushing his medicines - and actually the third if one counts his first attempt in 1851. This time he advertised until the end of 1894. (San Jose Herald,  19 October 1892). 

The real mystery in his life came in 1894, when a small news article noted he made one final prospecting trip in hopes of finding the “big one”, but this time in the desert.


The last known prospecting trip for Obadiah K. Levings. After this date Levings seems to have disappeared. No more references could be found (San Bernardino Sun, September 5, 1894), except for his voting registration about a month later. We must assume then, that he did return from his trip.


Making this story even more intriguing is the fact that Levings son, John K. Levings, had moved to San Bernardino County by 1876, and was living in San Bernardino City about this time. His occupation was usually listed as a farmer or laborer. Approximately six months after his father went on his mining exploration, John did the same thing.

John Levings eventually left San Bernardino for San Diego in 1900, giving up any further interest he had in mining. Unlike his father who just seems to have disappeared, John Levings, died in San Diego on March 17, 1929. 

Being born in 1812, it is highly unlikely that O.K Levings lived into the 20th century. It would have been helpful to have found his death date, but the real story about his penchant for being a successful patent medicine dealer and his unlikely quest for the big strike, had already unfolded in his earlier years. And, now it becomes much clearer why his patent medicine bottles appear to have  been made over a long period of time, when in reality, they were blown within two distinct time periods – the early 1870’s and the early 1890’s.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Rose Cream

Some bottles are much harder to document than others, which has been proven many times over. I have been looking for the origins of an obviously western blown bottle marked with the words ROSE CREAM for many years with no luck. As more data is added to Internet newspaper sites, it becomes easier for research opportunities. Such is the case for the elusive Rose Cream bottle. A recent search finally connected with a ‘hit’, however small, but a huge lead anyway.

San Jose Mercury-news, 14 July 1872. This ad ran only until 3 Sep 1872, and was the critical link in determining the origins of the Rose Cream bottle.

Not much to go on but at least I was given a name. Fortunately, Knickerbocker is not a common name in California, and it led me on a research journey that unfolded to a point that makes some sense to how Rose Cream came to be. I had originally thought that it was a product that followed on the heels of the well known Camelline. It turns out that Rose Cream was six years senior to the better known face cream. Why Rose Cream failed so quickly and Camelline was such a huge success is not entirely clear, however, marketing may have played a big part. It has been proven that marketing is significant in the success of most products. It is a double edge sword that the initial advertising budget for a product is often not available but so critical, which may have been the issue with Rose Cream. Of course, other issues may have caused the cessation of advertising for this product and for those we may never know.

The elusive Rose Cream bottle

The person involved with Rose Cream was Elizabeth “Eliza” D. Knickerbocker. She was New York born about 1818, and married Jacob Eli Knickerbocker about 1844. His untimely death occurred on April 20, 1861, in Valatie, Columbia County, New York. Jacob was part of the famous Knickerbocker clan who can trace their roots in New York back to the 1600’s. He and Eliza had seven children, all born in Dutchess County, New York. Eugene, 1845-1925, Charles, 1849-1852,  Calvin, 1851-1932, William, 1853-1937, Caroline E., 1858-1937, George, 1859-? and Louisa, 1860-?. But how, or why, did Eliza end up in San Jose, California?  She was the sister of Caleb Martin, a California gold rush pioneer who settled in San Jose in 1852, and became one of the city’s most well known citizens in its early days. Caleb fathered 18 children, of whom, 13 survived him.

 After the death of Eliza Knickerbockers husband she made the trek to San Jose in 1867 to join her brother. Her children, Eugene, Calvin and Caroline (Carrie) went with her.

Caleb Martin was born in the same region of New York, and certainly was close to his sister and her husband, Jacob Knickerbocker. Caleb probably gave his sister glowing reports about how wonderful it is in San Jose and she left New York. Caleb sold her a house for $1,000 and probably gave her a solid financial footing since he was one of the wealthiest men in town at the time. He may even have helped her with the Rose Cream product, but that is pure speculation.  Our proprietress eventually moved to San Francisco with her son for awhile but died in San Jose on December 30, 1892.

In a confusing twist that often happens, Eliza actually has two gravestones. What is probably her first marks the spot of her husbands burial place in Gallatinville, Columbia County, New York (Findagrave Memorial No. 66242246). While Eliza’s death date is not included, her name and birth date are. This was certainly added when she initially ordered the stone, fully expecting to join her husband some day.

 Eliza Knickerbocker’s name is also carved on this gravestone located in Oak Hill Memorial Park, San Jose, California. (Findagrave Memorial No. 204976818). This will certainly give pause to genealogists trying to figure out what is going on here. Especially because her name is inscribed with a different birth year. Eliza’s name was probably added well after her death on this stone, which includes memorials for the family of her son, Eugene Knickerbocker.

We can now give a ‘home’ to this elusive little bottle whose origins have dogged me for many years.


Perhaps every bit as mysterious but probably with traceable origins is this little bottle from the same mold as the Rose Cream. All the lettering has been removed and it could now join the ranks of a generic item that could hold a great variety of liquids. At least we now know a little about its history as well.

The obituary notice for Calvin Martin. To further secure the relationship between him and Eliza D. Knickerbocker, the text notes that the information was provided by Calvin's nephew. That would be either Eugene or Calvin Knickerbocker, Eliza's sons. (San Jose Herald, 7 April 1881)