Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What Really is Western?

For quite awhile another Western Bitters News author and I have been throwing around the idea of writing a post on "What is Western"

I have asked a half dozen collectors what their definition of western is and have received six different answers. A couple of western collectors looked at me aghast when asked the "W" question, "Just what do you mean by that" or "What part of the country are you considering western" and "why do you want to know" Whoa' boys I'm not trying to pin the tail on the donkey - just asking a simple question. I sure don't understand why these so called "western " collectors get their hackles up when asked "What is Western?"

How about this reply - "To many Easterners the term west used to mean on the west side of the Mississippi or even the western end of Pennsylvania. So should we call the Ohio & Pittsburgh glasshouses western?". Gimme a break anybody knows Ohio isn't in the west, try heading a little further toward the Pacific Ocean feller. Here's one that got me to laughing- "I collect Arizona bottles, do they have to be made in Arizona or just say Arizona to be Arizona bottles?" Huh? Are western bottles only manufactured in San Francisco? Listen to this reply " I have a western whiskey collection, and I am personally not going to throw out all of my bottles that are not pictured in the San Francisco Glassworks display" Come on, start throwing those non S.F. Glass Works fifth's my way!

Most all bottle collectors seem to collect in some area, category or grouping. For instance some folks collect bottles that they found while others collect a type of bottle that is popular or heavily advertised as a desirable category. Other collectors try to put together groupings of what they feel are related bottles.

And then there is the western collector! Now a western collector can be a soda, whiskey, bitters, medicine, seltzer, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada or even a Hawaii etc. collector or all of the above. (can't get much further west than Hawaii unless you call Japan west) Some collectors specialize in whiskey bottles from Sacramento or soda bottles from Oregon. Others in western bitters blown at the Pacific or San Francisco glass works before 1870. Do you get where I am going with this? Well, lets try to put a few parameters on this whole western bottle collecting thing. Here are a few things to consider:

Should you consider a bottle western if it was blown in the east for an eastern merchant that was marketing the product in the west. I believe the Old Sachem Bitters & Wigwam Tonic, Bryant's Stomach Bitters, Liediard's Stomach Bitters, Catawba Wine Bitters and others fit into this category. The gold rush produced an instant market for any product that could be sent to the west. Are these western?

How about considering a bottle western if it was blown in the east for a western merchant that was marketing the product in the west. For instance, most of the pontiled soda bottles such as the Boley, Cudworth and the M&R and the early medicines like the Oil of Manzanita for Sacramento druggists McDonald & Levy fit into this category. Are you calling these western?

Oh, how about a bottle that was blown in a different country for a western merchant that was marketing the product in the west? The red whittled whiskies and bitters of the late 1880's come to mind. Is that what you would call western? Or would you call these foreign?

And then there's the ( what my old friend Roger Terrry would call the royal flush ) bottle that was blown in a western glass house, for a western merchant, filled with western ingredients, marketed exclusively in the west and discovered by a western bottle digger in a western state. WOW! THAT HAS TO BE WESTERN!


  1. Rick, you present an interesting perspective, albeit one that I don't particularly espouse. If a bottle was blown in the East for a product that was exclusively marketed in the Far West, then the bottle must be considered Western. In the very early days of commerce in cities like Downieville, Marysville, Sacramento, San Francisco, Stockton, and numerous other camps and towns, there were no facilities that produced glass containers, a situation that forced the product's manufacturers to order their bottles from the likes of Union Glass Works, of Philadelphia, PA.

    Oh yes, the ever popular "M&R", of Sacramento City. Actually, the correct name is M.R. There don't be no & in the embossing. Martin Rancich, the soda manufacturer, par excellence. Them 'ol blue sodas bring a purty penny, don't they? Don't get all skittery now, I'm jest funnin' with y'all.

    We do have our sensibilities when it comes to what bottles "wind our clocks", but we basically all like a Western product, especially those whose vessels are blown in the West.

  2. I thought I would throw in my 2 cents worth. I believe a bottle is "Western" if it is embossed in the glass with a Western company or town. It may be that a bottle was manufactured in the East, and distributed exclusively in the West (Catawba, Bryant's), but these are just cool Western distributed, or Western found bottles. Still great, but not Western in my opinion. The Frisch is Eastern made, but embossed San Francisco. This is a Western bottle. Unembossed quart ammonia, made in S.F. so to me it is a Western bottle. My Toyota Tundra, made in USA, but is a Japanese vehicle...geez, I guess there is no absolute rule. I like Western blown glass embossed or not. I also like Eastern pontiled stuff embossed with S.F. I also love my Tundra.ARGHHH! Thanks Rick!

  3. OK Boys,
    Of course its M.R. and I didn't write this post to tell you what I thought was western. I wrote it to ask you what y'all thought was western. Now if you want my opinion on what is western.....

  4. Western Huh??Any bottle embossed with a western concern (Rockie Mountains to Hawaii) Make it the middle of the Rockies west, to be fair. The best of them would be made and centered about the three coastal western states and Hawaii, just my two cents worth.....Andy You guys sure come up with the best B S on the bottle web

  5. Well,living here on the right coast ,I look at any west coast distributed bottle a western bottle. Because they aren't digging up any Bryant's here in NY....