Friday, April 30, 2010

Small Rosenbaum's Bitters

Here is a recent acquisition. It is the "small" version of the Rosenbaum's Bitters. You just gotta love these early squares! This particular example was dug below "C" St. in Virginia City, Nevada. Comstock bottles have an extremely strong appeal to me, and others. The historic aspect of this important town, is represented in the early glass containers found there over the years. Just holding a bottle like this to me is a connection to this history, and you get that feeling in your tummy that cannot be accurately described to a non collector. This is an 1860s artifact from one of the most significant mining districts in U.S. history. It was brought by wagon or mule from San Francisco where is was blown, and subsequently filled, over the Sierra Nevada, over rocky roads, and trails.There was no railroad to V.C. at that time. Can you just imagine if this bottle could tell you where it has been, or who consumed it's contents?

To me, that is what collecting Western glass is all about. When that feeling goes away, I am done...for the past 36 years it has only gotten stronger though.

By the way, the current count on small Rosenbaums, broken down by color and condition would be appreciated. This example is mint as a dug bottle can be. Not even a scratch, and in a rich amber. When was the last one unearthed? I have not heard of an intact small Rosie being dug in years. It's about time..

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Lacour's

As per popular request here's a close up of the Lacour's that Mike & Shawn uncovered last week.

Sure looks like a beautiful medium to lighter amber variant three to me. Once again Congratulations guys!


Monday, April 26, 2010

Amber Lacour’s Unearthed

Local "digging dynamos" Mike Lake and Shawn Hunt SCORED!! Take a look at the bottle at the bottle in the middle, and maybe the green one at right. Dude, these don't come out every day.

The hunks of granite behind them attest to the hard core nature of their efforts. Rocks,rocks,rocks, and all moved by hand. 'Ya gotta move half a collapsed building to get to the layer that holds trash that was literally tossed out the window back in the day.

I can't believe that a Lacour's actually survived this stony zone! It most certainly did and here is the evidence front and center. These men need major accolades for this accomplishment. Yeah man, way to go gents, way to go!

Thanks to OldCutters for the report & Janice Lake for the pictures

Wow! I know these valley diggers have been working hard all winter . Great finds and Congratulations!
Anyone out there know which variant Lacour's Mike is holding?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sole Agents & Sole Proprietors

Reading the information that our old hombre from the Cajon Zone posted on McMillian & Kester started me thinking about the use of the terms “sole agent” and “sole proprietors”.
Ol’ Dr. Barnes posted an ad that stated McMillian & Kester were “Sole Proprietors” for Dr. Wonser’s USA Bitters but referred to them as “Sole Agents”

The rampant misuse of the words proprietors and agents is like fingernails on a blackboard to this old collector. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not riding a high horse, but maybe it’s time to explain what these two terms mean.

Ask any western whiskey collector the difference between sole agent and sole proprietor and they can tell you right off who’s who and what’s what. They specialize in bottles with the words “sole agent” embossed right there in the glass. Heck, the big bull goose Looney over on the whiskey blog goes by the moniker “Soleagentdoesn’t he? Do you think he knows what sole agent means?

Let’s start with the word “Sole”- Sole means, as we all know, not divided, not shared or exclusive.

“Agent” is the party that has express authority to act for another. An agent is under the control (is obligated to) the principal, and (when acting within the scope of authority delegated by the principal) binds the principal with his or her acts. The agent, however, does not have title to the principals goods in his or her possession.

Proprietor, on the other hand, is the Sole owner, or one of the owners of the goods that the agent is selling or distributing. You know, the person who has the legal right or exclusive title to something.

So, in lay men’s terms - Sole Agent - working for owner.
Sole Proprietor – Owner.

Hey, shouldn’t that guy running the whiskey blog be the “Sole Proprietor”?
Or is he just an agent for some overseas consortium trying to inflate the value of Cutter whiskey bottles?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

McMillan & Kester / Dr. Wonser's

Found this Great Ad in a copy of a 1876 SF Directory. I didn't realize how much stuff this Company put out. I wonder how many examples on this list can be accounted for? Says they were Sole Agents for Dr. Wonser's U.S.A. Bitters. They also put out a bunch of other flavors of Bitters, probably all paper label stuff? It got me searching for more info.........If anyone out there has any documentation, ads, trade cards, or the names of any odd ball Jakes or crazy colors, I sure would like to hear from you. Dr.Barnes,

Auction Mania

Just the other day during a bout with the acquisition blues, out of desperation, I typed “BOTTLE AUCTION” into my search engine. Wow! What a surprise. Did you know that everybody and his brother are auctioning bottles online now a days?

When it comes to online auctions, whether it’s bottles or smoked bacon, ebay be king. At any one time ebay has between 5,000 and 10,000 antique bottles up for your bidding consideration.
Yep, you read that right - 5 to 10K, that’s a lot of antique bottles amigo.

Even though ebay has a massive volume of bottles for sale and a gigantic amount of exposure the buying public still perceives it as a “rummage sale” or “bargain basement” type of auction house and expects to pay less for an object then you would at a bottle show. That type of mentality makes selling high end bottles on ebay a risky proposition. I just find it hard to believe that folks still think they are going to find a rare and desirable bottle for a bargain price on a site that over 100 million people look at daily. In my book that's the definition of optimism.

American Bottle Auctions and Glass Works Auctions seem to be the “go to” auction houses for serious collectors of early glass and offer bidders everything from high end items to regional bottles and go-withs that a lot of glass collectors specialize in.

If that’s not enough auction action for you back east there’s Norman Heckler, Glass Discoveries, Pole Top Discoveries, a perfume bottle auction starting on April 30th and an outfit called Auction Zip offering more bottles for your purchasing enjoyment..

And here out west we have an upcoming ebay style auction on the Old West Bottle site and, believe it or not, a non auction site. Oregon Trail Antique Bottles and Glass's format is interesting in that you can pay the asking price on the bottle or make an offer. I wonder how many people pay the asking price without making an offer. I wonder if anyone has ever offered more than the asking price. I wonder what happens if two people offer the same amount, does it go into an auction type situation? Maybe I wonder too much.

The only problem I have with online auctions is the lack of instant gratification. When I buy something I want to pick it up and take it with me. But then I guess I’m just old fashioned.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Renz's Bitters...Unraveling the three variants.





For the past 2 days I have been unraveling all my research material on Renz's products in order to put together a time line on his bitters products. I believe I have put together some pretty good evidence to distinguish when his three mould variants of his bitters bottles were put into use.

The first written evidence of Dr. Renz's Herb Bitters for public use comes from an article where Dr. Carl M. Renz (John's father) of Sacramento "exhibits a case of herb bitters of his manufacture, claimed to be an excellent article for diseases of the blood, spasms of the stomach, ague, scarlet fever, colic, etc." at the State Fair on September 16th, 1867.

The first advertisement for Dr. Renz's Herb Bitters appears on October 4th, 1867, by Dr. C. M. Renz & Son. This ad was slightly revised on October 17th to include J. Leuze as the first S. F. agent and now had J. Renz, Proprietor [his father would no longer be listed on ads, except as reference to].

John Renz would advertise Dr. Renz's Herb Bitters continuously from this second ad until June 1880 without interuption, using 41 different ads in Sacramento, San Francisco & Oakland newspapers for 14 years.

One particular advertisement for Renz's bitters 1 year anniversary, states that Dr. Renz's Herb Bitters was introduced to California on September 1st, 1867.

John Renz started his Paints, Oil, Glass busines in 1863 and continued to advertise his trade thru October 1867 when his advertisements stopped [although he continued in this business until it sold in 1871] and he began advertising his father's bitters product.

J. Renz exhibits his bitters in the 1868 State Fair but loses the First Premium Award to Dr. Henley's Wild Grape Root IXL Bitters. However Renz's Herb Bitters takes the First Premium Award (Medal) at the 1869 State Fair and again takes the First Premium Award at the 1870 State Fair.

On September 5th, 1870, John Renz places his first advertisement to sell his business, this ad runs for 1 month, see figure 1.

On October 5th, 1870, John Renz places another advertisement to sell his business, see figure 2.

Again on February 1st, 1871, John Renz places an ad to sell his business, see figure 3.

An advertisement on October 12th, 1871 shows that Renz has re-located to San Francisco and his bitters depot is at 221 Sacramento St, S. F. see figure 4.

When the small lettered embossed bottle was made precisely is unknown and by which glassworks precisely is unknown. However this particular bottle (mould) variant shares some unique features which are seen on the Cassin,s Grape Brandy Bitters [1868] and the Alex Von Humboldts Stomach Bitters [1868] of which both of these bottle moulds were made for SFGW by a pattern & machine shop in SF. This particular bottle mould has 3 distinct patches made to the mould, and bottles of this mould have been seen without embossing, indicating that the glassworks may have sold to Renz a used mould that was then engraved for his embossing at a reduced price [as new moulds made here were more expensive than moulds from Pittsburg mold makers] which had the majority of the US bottle market.

The large lettered embossed bottle variant have been found with both Sacramento and San Francisco labels. The straight legged letter R variant bottle is most likely a PGW made bottle, it shares the same style font as the Dr. Wonser's U.S.A. Indian Root Bitters bottle [including apostrophe style] which was advertised and marketed beginning June 1870 thru 1872. An advertisement for Renz's bitters shows this bottle and lettering style in an 1873 ad.

The large lettered embossed bottle with curved legged letter R is seen with a SF label only and is most likely a SF & PGW made bottle, with Renz's Blackberry Brandy product being marketed in 1875 and his Bonanza Bourbon product both made with a stylized letter R font as well. With the merger of the SFGW & PGW glass factories in August of 1875 this bottle is most likely a product of the combined company.

Some collectors have seen a tooled top example of the embossed Dr. Renz's Herb Bitters, this seems logical since most likely Renz continued to market his embossed bottle up to his last advertisements in 1880.

John Renz married Wilhelmina in 1870. They had a son in 1871, and had a daughter in 1872, who died in 1874. John Renz advertised a saloon for sale in 1892 which was successfully run for the last 15 years. John Renz died in March 1897.
Trying to determine which glassworks produce the Renz's Bitters is difficult, one of the influencing factors was San Francisco Glass Works period of time that they were in non-operation due to their disasterous fire, [the factory ruins were purchased by PGW]. The private moulds were owned by the customer and this mould may have been salvaged and used by PGW. SFGW was not operating from July 24th, 1868 thru September 11th, 1870. That's 780 days or 2 yrs & almost 2 mos. I also examined 2 photographs that I have, one of PGW in 1869 and one of SFGW in 1874. There are examples of square bottles in both, however even with magnification it is difficult to identify any of these as a Dr. Renz's Herb Bitters.

Saturday Dig"Dobbins"

Trash dump among the rock piles.
50 plus bottles and a brass bell.
For your enjoyment.

Cutter "5th"
Hall Lures "5th"
Pepper sauce
Ink's and more.
Bob Kaiser

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What is it about GREEN?

For years, I have been attracted to Western bottles in the green color spectrum. I know of many other collectors who also covet "green" glass. There are some spectacular whiskeys, bitters, medicines, and soda in that "Western" green. Here are a few attractive, and still relatively affordable (?) Western bottles in pretty green shades. A nice bubble filled ammonia, Walkers Vinegar Bitters, a nice green sixth, Pacific Congress Springs, Hall's Sarsaparilla, Dr. J.J. McBride King of Pain, and 5 green jamaica gingers. I have seen some stunning green glass...a Thos. Taylor in Nevada, Cutter non crown in Cal. and a Teakettle whiskey. There are some collections in the West which would knock your socks off! Cannot wait to see one of the Western early beers in green someday (not a Swan). Let's see some green glass!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Acquisition Blues

Ever take a hard look at your collection and think “boy it’s been a while since I have added something to my (fill in the blank) bottles. Did that today and now I’m needing a “bitters fix”
There’s only one problem... bitters, the ones that I like, are impossible to obtain. Western bitters, and especially squares, have just caught fire and are selling for stupid money lately. The influx of “new” western bitters collectors has ratcheted up the demand for a limited supply of the more desirable bottles and we all know what that means; it’s a seller’s market and in a seller’s market buyers pay what seller’s ask

What’s a fellow to do? Find another field to collect?

I have been trying to get interested in local stuff.... but nothing from my little backwater town was embossed. Looking at a shelf full of slick bottles, in my opinion, is like watching paint dry. That’s not an option.

Whiskies? Now there’s a thought. I own some nice ones and could possibly add some interesting fifths to my collection, but they are all pretty much the same shape and same color. Although the history of the western whiskey and their manufacturers and agents stories are fascinating I need something more to keep my interest.

Western medicines... I have picked up a few crude and scarce ones lately and they look great but they don't scratch the itch, just make it tolerable.

Insulators? The Doc told me I was getting to old to work on roofs anymore. If he found out I was climbing poles looking for insulators he would read me the riot act. I am going to pass on the insulators.

I guess I will just be patient; hopefully I will dig something or detect something that sparks my interest or maybe what I need is just some early glass to scratch that itch.

I just hate “The Acquisition Blues”

Thanks to the soleagent for the help on this post!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Excelsior Bitters

Here’s a bottle that’s quite a mystery. Wilson in his “Western Bitters” book claims the distributor of this product is unknown but all known examples have been dug in the west.
Wichmann in his book “Antique Western Bitters Bottles” has this bottle being manufactured from 1888 to 1892. He also states the Excelsior comes in both an applied top and tooled top and there is a variant of the bottle spelled “Excelcior”.

What I know is Excelsior means always upward or higher. Excelsior is the New York state motto and is on the New York state seal. Known examples of the Excelsior Bitters in collections.?? got me. The use of excelsior as an adjective was quite common in the 19th century and just about every mining camp in California boosted an “Excelsior Mine”.

That’s all I have, anyone have anything we can add to the Excelsior mystery?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Looks like 1867 was a banner year for well known western merchants to trademark their products.
Joseph Walker and Louis Lacour trademarked their wares in January of that year.
The Connelly Bros., James McEwin, Mercado & Seully, the Wormser Brothers and Dr. Grattan make up a who’s who of western merchants that filed trademarks in 1867.
I’ll bet you didn’t know that HHH stood for Horseman’s Hope Horse Medicine. I sure didn't.

Green Hall’s Sarsaparilla goes over the Top!

In an ebay auction that just ended a green colored Hall’s Sarsaparilla - Shepardson & Gates Proprietors S.F. topped out at an incredible 1275.00.

Described as:
"This bottle measures 9 ½ inches. Embossed on it is- Hall’s Sarsaparilla Shepardson & Gates Proprietors S.F. This bottle was dug many years ago at an old mining camp in California. It is a very crudely made bottle. It is in excellent condition no chips or cracks. There are some spots of mineral oxidation on the inside and outside of bottle. There are some surface scratches on the back panel. In the photos of the top it appears there is a chip on the rim, it is actually a flaw in the manufacturing of the bottle. It is not a chip."

At first I was surprised at the final sale price of the Hall’s but taking into consideration today’s volatile economy nothing should surprise me. It’s just had to imagine a small western medicine bringing that kind of money.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I Like These Bottles Too, Mo Jakes

Screwing around shooting some pics, little run of Jakes. If these bottles could talk, I bet they would have some great stories. Dr.Barnes.

C C C But...No "E"

Here are four Western blown bottles without the all important embossing. Tough not to display, and appreciate though. Kind of wish the sixth was embossed with some Blackberry Brandy that was distilled from the Berry...oh well.

The Three C’s and the " Big E "

Ask any western bottle collector what makes a bottle worth collecting. More than likely they will tell you it’s the three C’s; Color, Condition and Crudity.

What they mean by color is the “not so ordinary color” If a particular bottle is known to come in let’s say amber, then finding an example of that bottle in a different shade of amber would make it more desirable. If you found that same bottle in an unknown color than you hit the bottle jackpot. Hence the old bottle collector’s saying “Color is King!”

Condition is in the eye of the beholder in most cases. What one person might call mint condition on a bottle another might consider it in a different condition. I think we covered this in a previous post. Didn’t we?

Crudity is what really turns some collectors on. For example, an advanced western collector from Nevada just loves “deplorable” tops on bottles. Oversize tops, tops on crooked and any top that doesn’t look normal or is “crude” does it for him. Other collectors love a bottle that has a lot of whittle. Chunky whittle, long uneven whittle or even the small faceted whittle screams crudity and has collector’s quick drawing their wallets.. There doesn’t seem to be many hobbies that value crudity as much as bottle collecting.

Even though most collectors expound the virtues of the three C’s and can go on all day about color, condition and crudity you hardly ever hear them mention the E word....

EMBOSSING! That’s what really makes a bottle desirable. You can have a hundred crude green applied top western bitters type bottles and they won’t get you one Dr. Renz’s Herb Bitters in trade. Five dozen blue sided un - embossed soda’s won’t fetch you a three Cities Chase soda and so on and so forth. Sure we collect un–embossed bottles but not like we collect embossed ones. Embossing is what really is king and if anyone tells you different they are pulling your leg!

An embossed bottle tells a story, shares some history with the collector, identifies the manufacturer or agent and just flat looks a lot fancier than it’s un-embossed counterpart.
Sure plenty of people blow off about slick bottles being desirable and lots of collectors have them in their collections but believe me when I say “they are the bridesmaids - not the brides”.

Since I have been collecting bottles I have had hundreds of people ask me what makes a bottle worth something. Backhoe operators on jobsites, home owners planting gardens, folks clearing their property and dozens of other people that have found bottles all want to know what makes a bottle worth keeping. And every single one of them I have told “it has to have writing on it to be worth something to a bottle collector"......

Come on, walk on over to your bottle cabinet and try to prove me wrong.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Which Side Ya On

Here is a little run of Sided Blob Sodas, they are all Graphite Pontils and Unembossed. Really crude.....crooked, misshaped, & wobbley. The Cobalts seem to be the toughest to get, then the Aqua's and then the many shades of Greens. I wonder if they come in Amber? I really like these Ancient Vessels. Dr. Barnes

Some Local Liquor Labels

While I was cleaning out some files I happened to run across these two labels for a local establishment.

F.W. Kayser owned and operated a saloon in the old Armory Hall building here in D

The flood of 1937 destroyed quite a few of the historical buildings here in town including the Armory building. The old armory building, in it's prime, boost
ed a roller skating rink, livery stable, the Fritz Kayser saloon, a meeting hall and a grocery store.

I have yet to see an embossed bottle from the town of Downieville and these paper labels were probably pasted on bottles that were re-cycled and filled in the back room of Fritz's saloon.

I have no idea if ol' Fritz was filling these labeled bottles from a bulk product he purchased or if he was making his rum and bourbon out back in a horse trough.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Just some old bottles that say:

Dr. Thos. Hall’s Pepsin Wine Bitters

I noticed over on the Oregon Trail Antique Bottle and Glass site a Dr. Thos. Hall’s Pepsin Wine Bitters is being offered for sale. I don’t really know much about the Hall’s bitters except that it is a western product, comes with an applied and tooled top and, the examples I have seen, are a plain amber color. That’s all I had so..
I started to research the Hall’s product and found it was first manufactured and sold by none other than our old Sacramento druggist Justin Gates as early as December of 1869. Dr. Thos. Hall, according to the Gates advertisement, was already pushing up daisies by 1869. By February of 1880 the H.C. Kirk Company of Sacramento were the general agents for the Dr. Hall’s line of medicine and bitters.
The pepsin in Pepsin Wine Bitters is an enzyme that is usually obtained from the stomachs of hogs and calves and used as a digestive aid. It also is used commercially in some cheese making, in the leather industry to remove hair and residual tissue from hides, and in the recovery of silver from discarded photographic films by digesting the gelatin layer that holds the silver. Now there’s something I would reach for if I was suffering from dyspepsia or indigestion, wouldn’t you?

If you are interested in a Dr. Hall’s or just like looking at western bottles take a look at the Oregon Trails Bottle site.

I believe this embossed bottle was marketed somewhat early as there are some crude examples with drippy applied mouths. But there are also tooled top examples that display the later techniques used for manufacturing a squished neck to form the mouth. Major advertising for this bitters occurs in the early '80's, however I would suspect that the crude applied mouth examples are earlier in their manufacture. The bottle is a sixth size container and features the similar mould manufacturing features seen on both the Dr. Mott's Wild Cherry Tonic bottles and the Louis Taussig San Francisco square bottle. W.F

That Mysterious Apostrophe

I have been looking at the apostrophe on both of the Fish’s Infallible Hair Restorative bottles for a long time. The darn thing is shaped like a 7 and for the life of me I can’t figure out why someone would shape an apostrophe like that unless it was some sort of signature item the mold maker used.

The more I looked into this apostrophe thing the more intrigued I became. Not just the Fish’s bottle has the 7 looking apostrophe several other known “eastern" bottles display that crazy looking thing-a-ma-jig.

Take a look at the apostrophe on the blue Fish’s bottle. It really looks like a seven (7). Not like your normal looking apostrophe.

Here’s the apostrophe on the aqua B.F. Fish’s bottle. The lower leg may be shorter but it looks to be really close to the blue Fish's apostrophe.
Doesn't it?

How about this one on the Rush’s Bitters bottle, looks real close to a 7. Could it have been made by the same character. er... mold maker?

If you go look at your Ghiradelli soda you will see a 7 looking apostrophe. Did you say your Ghiradelli was a little shorter and thinner than your normal western soda? You did didn't you.

And how about this Risley’s apostrophe, upside down and backwards. Could it have been made by the same mold maker, maybe on a Monday after a rough weekend?

Do you still think that your Fish's Infallible is western?
I don't believe the Fish's bottles moulds are western in origin. It's possible that the blue bottle may have been blown at Pacific Glass Works, there's just no evidence to absolutely say for sure that it was not. However there is absolute proof that the rectangular Fish's bottle was blown back East prior to PGW's start-up. That bottle and the blue bottle were made by a pattern /mould maker in the East. Several other eastern meds exhibit the same characteristic letter style, including periods, font style, etc. W.F.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Lacour's & Cassin's Seeking Patronage

Click on the images to enlarge them!

The Real Holy Grail of Buckles?

I just received an email from a pretty knowledgeable gold rush buckle collector and he claims I might be barking up the wrong grail. Seems he thinks the buckles pictured below just might be the top dogs of the California gold rush buckles.

I have to admit both the stamped and the cast miner buckles are a little rarer than the Eureka buckle. I actually dug examples of both of these buckles here in Sierra County but sold them to a fellow collector many years ago. I just couldn't get past the fact that the miners face on the buckles looked more like a grizzly bear than a person. Of course I was a lot younger and a bit dumber then....... Sure wish I had them back......

California Gold Rush Collectables

The collectors of gold rush era bottles, more often than not, are also collectors of California gold rush related items. It’s not unusual to see early gold coins, mining related items, tin type photographs and other related items from the early settlement of California on display with their bottle collection. I’m not sure if it’s the lack of available bottles or the fact that almost everyone that collects anything acquires “ go withs” or items related to their collections.

For example, one prominent western whiskey and gold rush bottle collector that I know also collects most anything related to the California gold rush. Wells Fargo items, gold rush era postal covers and even California gold rush belt buckles. What the heck do belt buckles have to do with bottle collecting you ask? Glad you asked.. The miner that bought that big 31 ounce black glass Hostetter’s Bitters probably had to either walk or ride his horse to the tent saloon to buy that bottle of bitters. More than likely he was wearing pants on his trek to purchase that bottle and needed something to keep em’ up!

I know your thinking “Boy, the old timer is really reaching on this one” but it isn’t much different than the guy that collects 57 Chevy’s also collecting match books from Mel’s Drive In because he once drove his Chevy to Mel’s. Or the guy that also collects clay face pipes because that old miner probably had a smoke while he was drinking his Hostetter’s.

If you have ever been lucky (or good) enough to have found and dug a few gold rush era privies then you are possibly familiar with California gold rush belt buckles. If not then read on because that’s what this post is about.

The early use of belt buckles has generally thought to be only related to the United States military or local militia groups. While some of the buckles discovered in California’s gold rush country were used by military and militia groups, these buckles were not manufactured for or worn exclusively by members of military groups. The majority of belt buckles recovered from gold rush camps were worn by everyday prospectors, miners and businessmen. These important pieces of history are a direct and personal connection to the pioneers of California and as collectable as a black glass Hostetter’s or a Catawba Wine Bitters.

If you are collecting gold rush belt buckles, in my opinion, the holy grail of buckles is the California state seal, or as it’s sometime called, the Eureka buckle.
When it comes to downright California history the Eureka buckle has it in spades. Manufactured by the firm of William Taussig & Co. in late 1850 or early 1851, at about the time he opened his store on Sansome Street in San Francisco, this buckle embraces everything California.

At first glance you notice the ornate shape and cast filigree around the buckle. But if you take a closer look the buckle features 31 stars around the wreath. On the tongue is the goddess Minerva with a grizzly bear at her feet. In the foreground is a miner at work with his rocker and a stock of wheat. The center of the buckle has a steamship on the water with the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the background. If that isn’t enough the work EUREKA is cast in the top of the buckle. Eureka is the California state motto and means “ I HAVE FOUND IT”

With less than 15 complete buckles known, by bottle standards, it would be considered rare. If you are interested in learning more about California gold rush buckles Max Bell, the dean of gold rush buckles, has written an excellent book on the subject titled “ Belt Buckles and the Men That Wore them – A Collection of California Gold Rush Buckles” You can contact Max at if you are interested in purchasing a copy.

Friday, April 2, 2010


A new record price for a flask!     What a flask it is..  the famous "Firecracker Flask".   A flask that honors  two of the great men in U.S. history,   framers of the Constitution,  former presidents of these United States.   They both died on July 4, 1826,  within hours of each other.  Exactly 50 years from the signing of the Declaration!

Can it possibly get more "historical" than that?   I don't think so.

Pikes Peak flasks,  Civil War flasks,  Success to the Railroad,  Tippecanoe Cabin,  all of the pictorial flasks,  whew!!    They are beautiful,  and historical!    They are out of my league... and out of my limited realm of knowledge..  and for the most part out of my pocket book capacity.

We western digger/collectors just have bottles.   Good old bottles!    Crazy names,  funny shapes,  beautiful colors.   I guess we have a few that have a historical theme...  the beautiful Chalmer's Catawba Wine Bitters... Sutter' Mill,  or the Old Pioneer Whiskey...the California Bear   (can you hear the scoffs and hoots raining down from east of the Mississippi)  ha, ha!

Ok,  we have what we have... but we do have a name on a bottle that is tied to Mr. Jefferson.  His name is tied to Lewis & Clark,  tied to John C. Fremont,  to Charles Darwin,  tied to half the western U.S.


If you live in N. California, or N. Nevada  how often do you say that name,  as compared to John Adams, or maybe even T. Jefferson.

"Alexander von Humboldt was the reigning scientific mind of the early nineteenth century, a unique combination of naturalist and adventurer.  With his companion, Aime Bonpland,  Humboldt cut a six thousand mile swath across the New World, through what is now Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, and Cuba.  Risking his life in treacherous terrain, he conducted the first extensive scientific explorations of the Andes and the Amazon, literally redrawing the map of the Americas and dramatically expanding our knowledge of the natural world.  He brought back to Europe more than 60,000 plant specimens and a multitude of exotic New World animals, set an altitude record while climbing the volcano Chimborazo, made revolutionary discoveries regarding volcanoes and the Earth's magnetic field,  and introduced millions of Americans and Europeans to the astonishing cultures of the Aztecs and the Incas. 
At the completion of his epic journey, Humboldt became one of the most celebrated men in the world,  feted by Thomas Jefferson in Washington and  invited to Napoleon's coronation in Paris.  His ideas revolutionized scientific research,  laid the ground work for entire new fields of study, such as climatology, oceanography, and several branch's of geography.  His adventures profoundly influenced followers and students such as Charles Darwin.  Today,  more places and geographical features are named after Humboldt than any other historical figure,  and scientists continue to build on the foundations he established."  -  Gerard Helferich

Alex von Humboldt,  incredible traveler, author,  and father figure of science,  was perhaps the most admired man of the 19th century.  Fourteen towns in the United States and one in Canada are named for him.  Mountains in Antarctica, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand.  An ocean current off of Peru,  the largest glacier in Greenland.  A bay, a county, a university, a redwood forest in California.   Streams, parks, city streets,  even a "sea" on the moon carry his name. 

The map of Northern Nevada is covered with Humboldts name;  the county, a town, a canyon, a mountain range,  a huge national forest.  Most of the California and Nevada naming was due to the little "Pathfinder".  John C. Fremont.   Fremont was an ardent Humboldt admirer,  naming the river that marked the westward expansion and later the gold rush trail.  

Fremont's diary- Nov. 8th, 1845.  " Crane's Branch led into a larger stream that was one of the two forks forming a river to which I gave the name of Humboldt.  I am given by Himself the honor of being the first to place his great name on the map of the continent.  Both the river and mountain to which I gave his name are conspicuous;  the river stretching across the Basin to the foot of the Sierra Nevada."

Ok, Ok... it looks like I know way too much about Humboldt.   I put together a display for the Reno Show a few years ago...  this is just some of that material.   I always loved the photos of the Alex von Humboldts Stomach Bitters bottle in Wilson's Western Bitters.    The two bottles,  one plain-jane,  the other whittled, crooked,  crude.. the epitome of what we want in a western bitters.  If there was a picture that I went back to over and over and helped to form my fascination with Western Bitters,  that's it.   I thought I knew I little about the bottles when I put together that display.   Warren F.'s research will change much of the previous written information about the manufacturers,  even the date of distribution.  I thought for sure the beginning had to be 1869,  the hundred year centenary of  Humboldts birth.   Nope!  
Wilson had one thing right about Alex von Humboldt;  he "isolated the deadly native poison 'curare'."   That he did,  but it's kinda like condensing Abe Lincoln's accomplishments down to "being tall".

So,  if your not buying the "Historical of the West" thing...  don't confuse our bottle with the lame looking Eastern aqua bitters.   Our   ALEX VON HUMBOLDTS / STOMACH BITTERS  was blown in San Francisco.

 How about we go with the "Most Interesting Man in the World".

Humboldt traveled to Washington to meet with President Jefferson in 1804.  It was as far "west" as he ever traveled in the United States.   Jefferson was fascinated with Humboldt and wanted to make sure the Lewis & Clark Expedition reports contained everything that would possibly be important.  Humboldt spent 6 weeks in Washington and made an impact on the local society.

Charles Wilson Peale-  Humboldt discussing the possibility of a National Museum.   Another project that Jefferson wanted to see through..  it came together after his death with the endowment of half a million dollars from British scientist James Smithson in 1835.   (Smithsonian)   

Humboldt apparently spoke his own language.  A mixture of several languages. 

The most interesting man in the world...Dos Equis is about 200 years too late.

      Humboldt ..  a big hit with the ladies..                                             

"I formerly admired Humboldt,  now I revere him....  I shall never forget my whole course of life is due to having read and re-read as a youth Humboldt's Personal Narrative."
-Charles Darwin

"Humboldt was one of those wonders of the world, like Aristotle, like Julius Ceasar... who appear from time to time as if to show us the possibilities of the human mind.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have had the extreme satisfaction of a visit of the great man of Science,  Baron Alexander von Humboldt.  His communications and treasures of information fill us with impatience and hope for our future.  He is a true friend to America.
letter from - Thomas Jefferson

Stay thirsty my friends!


The first mention, that I have found, on the Pipifax Bitters is the 1870 filing of Max Walter for the trademark. 

October of 1871 saw the height of newspaper advertising for the Pipifax Bitters.

In October of 1872 Shaeffer Walter & Co. run an advertisement that they have sold their entire stock of bitters to J.M. Goewey & Co. I am assuming that (yea, I’m out on a limb) Goewey & Co have bought the stock and not the right to manufacture the product.

In December of 1872 the firm of Engel & Hass takes over the “agency” of Shaeffer Walter & Co. and are advertising for the patronage of liquor dealers and the general public. By April of 1873 J.M. Goewey & Co. are sole proprietors of the Pipifax brand (I believe this means they own the rights to manufacture and sell the Pipifax product.) and begin a major newspaper advertising campaign.

Goewey & Co. continue to advertise in several newspapers that they are the sole proprietors and have for sale Pipifax Bitters until March of 1875 when all mention of the company and the product stops.

The Pipifax bottle comes with an applied and tooled top (thanks Richard S) and although it does not have the word BITTERS embossed in the glass all the advertisements I have seen refer to it as a bitters. Pipifax was used to promote digestion, stimulate the stomach and restore the appetite, all ailments that bitters manufacturers claimed their products cured.
Sacramento Daily Union November 1870

Daily Alta California July 1871

This advertisement was run in several local newspapers in October 1871
Red Bluff Independent, Grass Valley Morning Union, Marysville Daily Appeal etc.

From a google search for the word Pipifax

 "Pipifax" meaning something of minor significance or complexity. "Die Aufgabe ist doch Pipifax"-"That exercise is a peace of cake", "Ach was die reden is doch alles Pipifax"-"Let them talk, it's not like they're actually saying anything" 
Interesting - rs -
Pipifax advertising from Charles Festersen
                Thanks Charles - rs -