Thursday, May 28, 2009


Here's a real nice little trade card that was found at the Auburn Street Fair a couple of weeks ago.

There is some mystery attached to this card. Seems like the Turner Bros. sold their San Francisco operation to McMillan & Kester in 1865. The Turner Bros. continued business in New York until sometime in the early 1870's when they retired from their syrups & cordials business. McMillan & Kester, from 1865 on, were the sole agents for the Turner Bros. products on the west coast & possibly manufactured & sold various products using the Turner Bros. name.
I have seen a lot of early advertisments for the Turner Bros. Forest Wine Bitters and their far famed Ginger Wine, but have never run across an ad for the "Regulator" product.
It is believed this card dates from the mid 1880's, long after the Turner Bros. were out of business.

Any thoughts or information on the Turner Bros. - McMillan & Kester relationship sure would be helpful.....

Friday, May 22, 2009

Circa: 1864 – 1868

The first mention of Rosenbaums Bitters is in an 1858 advertisement listing George Thatcher, a liquor merchant residing in San Francisco, as an agent for the product and Dr. Rosenbaum of Philadelphia as proprietor and manufacturer. In 1859 N.B. Jacobs was listed as the general agent for Rosenbaums Bitters while he was working at the George Thatcher & Co. In November of 1859, N.B. Jacobs removed himself from Thatcher & Co. and started his own liquor concern, still advertising that he had the depot for Rosenbaums Bitters. Meanwhile Thatcher & Co. is still advertising that they are also an agent for Rosenbaums Bitters. In 1860, Jacobs starts to advertise more aggressively, pushing the Rosenbaums Bitters in several large ads, stating that he is the sole agent for the Pacific Coast. In an advertisement for Rosenbaums in 1860, he cautions the public about another firm counterfeiting these bitters, saying that it is put up in similar bottles with the name Rosenchief’s Bitters, and to beware that it is of externally similar style, and to look for the name, N.B. Jacobs & Co., branded on the top of every cork. In 1861 N. B. Jacobs becomes the proprietor of Rosenbaums Bitters, suggesting that he is now the owner of such brand and we do not see anymore advertisements with Dr. Rosenbaum of Philadelphia as manufacturer and proprietor in any of his ads.
The Rosenbaums Bitters comes in various shades of green and also in amber. There are two variants of this bottle; the large variant is believed to be the earliest, and is thought to have been blown in the east. The small variant is believed to be a later western blown bottle. These bottles are considered rare with possibly thirty some specimens known.

Relation to Sierra County:
One whole medium green example of the large size Rosenbaums was dug by the author at Indian Hill in Western Sierra County. This bottle had a small base chip and was sold to a collector from Redding California. A broken green small variant Rosenbaums was also uncovered at Indian Hill by a Nevada City digger in the 1990’s. A base of a dark green large size Rosenbaums was discovered above the Ruby Mine by the author in 2008. To my knowledge these are the only examples of the Rosenbaums discovered in Sierra County.

The above post was taken from the forthcoming book "Gold Rush Camps & Bottles of Sierra County" by Rick Simi. This book will be available in September of 2009 at the Downieville Bottle Show

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


There is an example of the rare, iron pontiled Hostetter's currently available for bid in Auction #87 - Norm C. Heckler & Co. Lot number 68. Auction closes on June 10, 2009

Heckler does his auctions old school, by telephone, fax or mail. He has been doing them for years and is highly respected. His website is:

Dr. J. Hostetter's Stomach Bitters

Dr. J. Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters was first marketed in an embossed bottle, on the Pacific Coast, as early as 1858 by the firm of Park & White of San Francisco. David Hostetter, with his father’s recipe for bitters, and George Smith with the capital to produce and market the product, in 1853, formed the firm of Hostetter & Smith. The first containers produced for the western market were the large 31 ounce size black glass or amber bottles that were manufactured for the Pacific Coast. A 27 ounce bottle was also produced for the western market. These large blacks are rarely unearthed east of the Rocky Mountains and almost all examples have been discovered on the west coast. The large size Hostetter’s were distributed until sometime around February 1865 when in an advertisement run by Hostetter, Smith & Dean they claim to be discontinuing “the old size large bottle used exclusively in the west” and replacing it with the small size 20 ounce bottle. This information leads me to believe that if you are digging the large size Hostetter’s here in the west you are digging a bottle made before 1865 and possibly as early as 1858.
Although several western collectors believe some variants of the Hostetter’s were blown out west I cannot find any evidence that Hostetter had any of his bitters bottles manufactured on the west coast.
Hostetter’s Bitters was one of the best selling bottled products of the 19th century and the amount of these bottles available to collectors is staggering. It is believed that after 1865 Hostetter was selling over six thousand bottles of bitters a day, an unbelievable amount of bottled goods for that time period. The Hostetter’s come in dozens of variants and a myriad of colors ranging from the lightest of yellows to a dark black-amber. Although the majority of the Hostetter’s are considered common, unusual colors and different mold variants are highly desirable and sought after by collectors.

Tuesday May 19th Update

First off I would like to welcome followers Disco Francisco, castle and dr. henley. Thanks for taking the time to follow our Western Bitters site. We are trying to have a couple of new posts each week for you to enjoy. If you are interested in posting an article, pictures, digging reports or anything having to do with Western Bitters drop me a mail at: and I will list you as a contributor so you can get started posting.

Digging News:
Digging season has been underway for quite awhile and I still haven't heard of any really killer western bitters being un-earthed. I did hear that those young whipper-snappers from S.F. dug a nice Peruvian Bitters from the Morro Bay area. Other western bottles that have been recovered by the S.F. boys lately include a Kane & O'Leary flask and some nice western soda's. If I missed anything guys let me know.
I also heard that a light yellow amber two name bear was recently dug here in Northern California - details, I hope, will be forthcoming?

More to come......
The unknown diggers

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Turner Brothers

Which product did James, Malcolm, Archibald, Thomas and Robert Turner fill their "Turner Brothers" square quart size bottle with ?

The Turner Brothers were listed as soda water manufacturers as early as 1850 in Buffalo New York. By 1853 they had opened a branch depot in San Francisco and were listed as syrup and cordial manufacturers. By 1858 they are pushing their Ginger Wine, Forest Wine Bitters and a Vegetable Bitters in newspaper advertising. Even though the Turner's manufactured many products, most Western collectors believe that the Turners bottle contained the Forest Wine Bitters product. It would be my guess that the bottle was used for all of the products that they marketed. Just slap a different paper label on the old square for whatever the contents and you were good to go!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Western Squares

Above are five desirable Western Bitters,
from left to right:
Dr. Renz Herb Bitters - straight legged R variant
Excelsior Bitters - variant with the correct spelling of Excelsior
Hibernia Bitters - arched letter variant with an applied top
Dr. Renz Herb Bitters - curved legged R variant
Bennett's Celebrated Stomach Bitters

Grand Prize Bitters

The Grand Prize Bitters is a square shaped sixth with a applied square collar top. This product ( Dr. Cooper's Celebrated Grand Prize Bitters) was manufactured from 1880 to 1884 by Louis Taussig & Co. of San Francisco California. The bottle is similar to the Peruvian Bitters but has three indented panels as opposed to the one indented panel on the Peruvian bottle. The Grand Prize is considered rare and western collectors believe that there are about 16 known examples of this bottle.
Recently American Bottle Auctions of Sacramento sold an example of the Grand Prize Bitters for $1000 documenting just how rare and desirable this bottle is. In forty years of collecting I have seen two examples of the Grand Prize, the example that just sold at auction and one other example several years ago.
photo courtesy American Bottle Auctions

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Color & Shape

The appeal of Western Bitters is not only the rich history but the various colors and shapes that they can be found in.

From left to right:

Wormser Bros. / San Francisco - believed to have contained a whiskey bitters

Rosenbaums Bitters / N.B. Jacobs & Co / San Francisco - small variant

AT& Co - believed to have contained Asher S.Taylor's Champagne Wine Bitters

Lash's Kidney & Liver Bitters - red amber indented panel variant

Lacour's Bitters / Sarsapariphere - variant three in light yellow amber

Celebrated Crown Bitters / F. Chevalier & Co. / Sole Agents

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The "Drakes Clone"

Pictured above between the Cassin's Grape Brandy Bitters and the Lacour's Bitters is an example of an un-embossed Drakes style cabin bitters. I realize that this "Drakes Clone" is not a western manufactured bottle but the fact that this example was recovered from the Sierra County ghost town of Chaparral Hill back in the late 1990's, I believe, makes it worth mentioning.

Chaparral Hill was located on the west side of Goodyears Creek, north of the town of Goodyears Bar, and was settled as early as the early 1850's. This small gold rush era camp, consisting of some roughly constructed cabins, mine buildings and a blacksmith shop, was entirely dependent on the drift and hydraulic mines of the area. The area was mined from the early 1850’s to sometime around the early 1870’s when the ancient river channel they were mining played out. This area was again mined during the depression years by the Thompson family without too much success. It is generally believed that Chaparral Hill was mined exclusively by the drift tunnel method of mining, but on one of several field trips to the area I found evidence to the contrary. The discovery of pieces of a hydraulic monitor, large cast iron diversion valves, remains of hand riveted iron pipe and a water ditch running from Goodyears Creek to the area indicate that hydraulic mining played a major role in the recovery of gold at Chaparral Hill.
The heavy winter snow, seasonal availability of water and rugged remote location, I believe, forced this camp or settlement into being a seasonal mining community.

The example above, discovered at Chaparral Hill, is a six log variant with a smooth base and came out of the ground without any stain in near mint condition. This bottle shows the same characteristics as the 1862 patent drawing for the Drakes Plantation Bitters that is shown in the Ring - Ham Bitters Book.

There are conflicting theories on the origin of this bottle and even a report of an example of this un-embossed cabin style bottle with an open pontil on the base. Some collectors believe that this bottle was an attempt to counterfeit the Drakes Plantation Bitters. Other collectors believe that this cabin bottle was the prototype of the embossed Drakes Plantation Bitters and was first sold in bottles with paper labels. There have been other examples of this "Drakes Clone" un-earthed in Northern California, but to my knowledge, the Chaparral Hill example is the only one recovered from Sierra County.

The above post was taken from the forthcoming book "Gold Rush Camps & Bottles of Sierra County" by Rick Simi. This book will be available starting in September of 2009 at the Downieville Bottle Show.


A Survivor....
During the 1992-93 digging season, a couple of prolific digger/collectors had dug many privies from the Nevada City area, and had accumulated around a 1000 bottles to split up at the end of the season. An incredible array of early glob whiskies were found as well as some interesting bitters. Among the bitters were a blue green Lediard's Stomach Bitters, an amethsyst Old Sachem's Bitters and Wigwam Tonic and this beautiful grass green Cundurango [Dr. Place's Cundurango Bitters] example.
To celebrate the incredible finds from this digging season, the two diggers decided to write an article for the AB & GC magazine along with photographs of the bottles. I happen to be present when the photo shoot took place. An outdoor patio table was moved to a grassy lawn area and I began to place all the choice bottles on this table for the photographs to be taken. After the photo session was completed, one of the diggers accidentally tipped the table and all of the bottles began falling and rolling off the table and hitting each other as they fell to the ground. I was closest to the table at the time and was able to grab and stop a few from falling onto other bottles and breaking as they hit the ground. Unfortunately several choice pieces were either broken or damaged from the incident. The example shown here was one of the lucky ones.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Dr. Renz's Herb Bitters

Above are all three variants of this bottle. The center example is considered the earliest embossed bottle. This example is most likely made around 1868,'69 and is R36 in the Bitters Bottles book. This particular mold shares some interesting characteristics with another early western square, the ALEX VON HUMBOLDTs STOMACH BITTERS also marketed briefly in 1868.
The variant on the right is R37, this example comes in several shades of amber, and also in a pure green color occassionaly. The example on the left is R38 and this variant is found in amber shades ranging from light yellow to orangish red and occassionally in a yellow olive. R37 & R38 use a lettering style for the embossing that is seen on 1870 and later bottles.
Dr. Renz's Herb Bitters was a success for John Renz who began marketing this bitters product in August of 1867. This bitters won a silver medal at the 1869 State Agricultural Fair and won the First Premium Award at the 1870 Fair. Renz became so busy trying to fill the orders for this product that he put up his Paints, Oil, Glass business that he had operated for many years for sale. Two ads appeared in October 1870, essentially stating that he is so busy filling orders for Renz's Herb Bitters that he is willing to sell all stock in trade, along with a lease of the premises for a discounted price. He was determined to sell his going concern and relocate to San Francisco.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Dr. Henley's Wild Grape Root IXL Bitters

Circa: 1868 – 1871

One of the more popular bitters products of the western states, Dr. Henley’s Wild Grape Root IXL Bitters, was introduced to the public in 1868. L. Gross & Co. of San Francisco was the manufacturers and proprietors of Henley’s concoction of alcohol, wild grapes from Oregon and flavorings.
The first and oldest embossed bottle that contained Henley’s Bitters does not have a circle embossed around the IXL. These early examples come in various colors with amber being the rarest and one of the most sought after, although any colored Henley’s is extremely desirable and collectable.
The variant pictured above was a product of the Pacific Glass Works. In a stereoscopic view photo taken at the 1869 San Francisco Mechanics Institute Fair of their glassware exhibit, an example of the above was identified by magnification, and was able to read a portion of the embossing on the bottle. Dr. Henley's Wild Grape Root IXL Bitters was entered in the 1868 State Agricultural Fair where it won a silver medal over a rival competitor, Dr. Renz's Herb Bitters. This bitters became such a success market wise that F. & P.J. Cassin began marketing a second bitters called Cassin's XXX Wild Grape Root Bitters in a similar shaped bottle and began a marketing blitz near the end of 1868, pushing this brand and apparently having success with it. Louis Gross so objected to this that he sued the Cassin brothers over infringement rights and lost the lawsuit, which the Cassin's played up in their newspaper ads for their bitters product.