Friday, October 30, 2009

A Brief History of Dr. Renz's Herb Bitters

Dr. Renz's Herb Bitters was first introduced to the California public on August 31st 1867. The very first advertisement shows the bitters to be marketed from 222 J Street in Sacramento California by Dr. C.M. Renz and his son John.
John Renz had a paints, oils and glass business when he began marketing his fathers bitters. The bitters sold well in the Sacramento area so John tried to expand his bitters product to the competitive San Francisco market. San Francisco based competitors included Dr. Henley's Wild Grape Root Bitters, Lacour's Bitters and Cassin,s Grape Brandy Bitters, very stiff competition indeed.

Several different newspaper advertisements show different San Francisco agents handling Renz's product without much success. He continued in Sacramento promoting his bitters and eventually Langley & Co. began distributing Dr. Renz's Herb Bitters in the San Francisco bay area. Renz's bitters won a silver medal at the 1869 State Agricultural Fair after narrowly losing to Dr. Henley's Wild Grape Root Bitters in 1868.

John sold his Sacramento paint business sometime in 1870 and later moved to San Francisco to pursue the sale of his award winning bitters full time.

There are three variants of the Renz bottle. The small letter variant is considered by most western collectors as the earliest example of the Renz bottle. It is not known if this bottle was manufactured at the San Francisco or Pacific Glass Works. These early examples of the Renz's bitters bottle are seen in several different colors with three different style tops and most likely date from 1868 - 1869.

The second variant of the Renz bottle has large letters and "straight legged" R's. This bottle exhibits the same exact lettering style and apostrophe font as the Dr. Wonser's Indian Root Bitters; The Wonser's started being marketed in December of 1870, and is attributed to the San Francisco Glass Works. An original label found on an example of the second variant shows that John Renz was still marketing the product fron the Sacramento location and probably dates from 1870.

The third and last variant of this bottle has large letters and the distinctive western "curved" R's associated with the San Francisco glass houses. This variant uses an apostrophe that is seen on several different whiskies of the early and mid 1870's and has the same font style as the E. Martin crown shoulder and mid crown whiskey fifths. This last variant has been found with an original label confirming that John Renz was marketing the "curved" R bottle from the San Francisco location during 1871 and until he discontinued the embossed bottle.

Western collectors consider the Dr. Renz's Herb Bitters a highly collectible bottle and the small letter variant is the most coveted of the three variants. Any western bitters collector worth his salt has completed the Renz hat trick, all three variants of the bottle in his collection.

From left to right: the "curved legged" R variant, small letter variant & the "straight legged" R variant.


  1. Actually, John Renz put his business up for sale beginning in October 1870, but I don't believe he relocated to San Francisco until sometime in 1873.

  2. You are correct. The labeled example that states 'Sacramento' is the 'straight-legged R' varient. It resides in the AP Hotaling collection !
    Rick,I'm glad you wrote this post re the Renz timeline for the three varients, as the info in Wilson's book is incorrect.
    As for the hat trick.... the Stanley Cup for bottles hat trick, is to dig all three varients ! I'll bet Old Cutters has his Cup. Anyone else out there??

  3. Yeah, I managed to stumble into the "Salted Stanley" a couple of times. My run of digging "Renzicle's" ended over a year ago. Been dry ever since. In fact, I can't seem to dig ANYTHING decent. Too old, I reckon.

  4. OldCutters,
    At least your still diggin. Festus and some of your other old pards, have long done hung up their holsters !