Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merchants or Scoundrels

Fraud or Politics as usual?

Dale’s post on the Salutaris Bitters got me to thinking about how little I knew about this western bitters and the merchants that bottled it. Dale states in his post “According to Wilson, Castree and Byrne opened a grocery store at 184 Kearney Street in San Francisco in 1863. Unlike many other bitters manufacturers, these two did not really have a tie in to any liquor distributer, or any large company backing them.”
Castree and Bryne advertised as early as 1854 in the Daily Alta California that they were importers of groceries, wines and liquors and located at the corner of Post and Kearny Streets in San Francisco.
One article I ran across rang so familiar that I just had to relate it:

In August of 1854 the San Francisco Grand Jury was considering payment of a bill for supplies furnished by Messrs. Bryne & Castree for the last session of the Grand Jury. The bill amounted to $145 and the Board of Supervisors ordered payment be made to Castree & Bryne.

The supplies furnished to the Grand Jury, according to Castree & Bryne, amounted to five baskets of champagne (the Grand Jury claims to have been furnished just two baskets of champagne. One basket for their expedition into the country for the examination of a county road – the other for their rooms- if more were furnished they did not see them)
Three thousand five hundred cigars (The Grand Jury claims that at the utmost extant they could not have smoked more than a thousand). The sherry wine and brandy charged by Castree & Bryne are at least double in quantity the amount brought to the jury rooms, and were so inferior in quality that but very little was used.
As regards prices, making all due allowance for the discount on script, they are so palpably exorbitant that a glance is only necessary. (Script was paper money, not gold, so was worth less and discounted)

The Grand Jury goes on to try and discredit Castree & Bryne stating that the brandy, wine and other supplies that were furnished were of inferior or common quality and at best could not have cost half of what was charged. The jury also denies having ordered the supplies; deny using them or having been provided with them. They further state that it is customary to furnish Grand Juries with refreshments, which is no doubt proper enough, but never ordered them.
The jury also states that the Grand Jury rooms are open to others and supplies provided to the jury may have been consumed by others.

Castree & Bryne were paid for the supplies that, according to a somewhat confused Grand Jury, were never ordered, used or provided to the Grand Jury. Does any of this sound familiar? One hundred and fifty six years have come and gone, but nothing has really changed. Or has it?


  1. In a century and a half, we sure haven't made much progress have we?

  2. The creed of greed is alive and well!!

  3. Wow...I have a couple of observations. First, I was not aware that Byrne and Castree were in business as early as the 1850s, and second, they apparently sold crap for product, and charged a high price to boot...Either they got their act together in 1863 anf finally produced a decent quality bitters, or it was also crap, hence the extreme rarity of the bottles.
    It is also interesting to think about a Grand Jury being supplied liquor and cigars in the first place. I was on a grand jury a few years ago, and we were lucky to get Little Caesars Pizza! Some bad champagne, wine, and cigars would have been better than that!How could these two have remained in business for over 10 years?