Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Unicorns and Rainbows

Unicorns and Rainbows

Historical research was somewhat elusive for most until the advent of the internet. Research generally required hours of travel to State Archives or libraries, which held vaults full of often mis-categorized paperwork, and then more countless hours literally digging through file drawers of this and that, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together, much like trying to connect random dots.

Hence, early books often contained a myriad of false information. As a relative of Bill Wilson (co-author of Spirits Bottles of the Old West) once told me; he'd spend hours at the archives in Sacramento going through the files and looking at old labels in an attempt to document a certain brand, agency, or proprietor. But, if he couldn't find "it", he'd just pull something out of his ### and figure it was up to someone else to disprove it. Innocent enough, but detrimental to the hobby just the same. Same goes for Dr. Julian Toulouses "Bottle Makers and Their Marks". Among other glaring errors, he "documented" the now infamous H base mark, which he attributed to a non-existent Holt Glass Works. Again, innocent enough, but still a problem.

Recently, there has been much discussion about what constitutes a "western bottle". The general consensus arrived at is that a bottle is truly "western" if; it was blown in the west and intended for distribution solely by a western concern. An exception would be if a bottle was blown in the east for a western concern, and intended for distribution solely in the west, by a western concern. The same basic criteria applies to a "Nevada" bottle.


An article appeared in the current issue of the FOHBC's magazine, "Bottles and Extras ". The article, starting on page 33, was entitled "Nevada Backbar Bottle Bonanza", by Jennifer "Nevada" Jacobitz, James D. Jacobitz M.D., and Jon Aurich Jr.

I read the article in awe, thinking that this was more a treatise on "Unicorns and Rainbows" than it was a well researched, factual presentation on western whiskeyana.

As I delved deeper into the article, I thought to myself "what were these people smoking"? And then it dawned on me, the timing of the article was strangely coincidental (or not) to the offering of the Nevada collection of the legendary "Smilin' " Bob Ferraro. Was this a merchandising ploy? Then again, maybe this was simply a tongue in cheek attempt to bamboozle collectors. After all, they couldn't possibly be serious...

The article contained references a total of fourteen supposedly "new and unknown Nevada back bar bottles". A total of six were "enameled" with the balance being copper wheel cut. After a few days of research, I've assembled the following hard facts about the bottles listed. They are as follows;

1) Old National - allegedly National Nevada. Fact; Old National was registered to BERNHEIM BROS. of Louisville, KY. It is NOT a Nevada bottle.

2) Middletown Golden Rye - allegedly Divide, Nevada. According to the article, a generalized reference to the area located between VC and Gold Hill. The town of Divide was actually located in the southern part of Nevada, just south of Tonopah. Talk about a stretch here... Unable to locate a MiddletoWn link to any particular distiller or wholesaler, although CHARLES L. RICHARDSON & SON of Boston, MA. had Middleton registered to them ca. 1900. Another reference suggested that Wire-Welsh & Co. in New Middletown Ohio also owned rights to the brand, although I was unable to verify this. Regardless, it is NOT a Nevada bottle.

3) Middletown Golden Rye (#2) - see #2 above. It is NOT a Nevada bottle.

4) Columbia Rye / C. Thomas - allegedly Pioneer, Nevada. Columbia Rye was registered to two separate firms at different times; COLUMBIA WINE & LIQUOR CO. of Albany, NY. and MORRIS LASKY Baltimore, MD. The small camp named Pioneer Nevada, located in the Bullfrog District, dated ca. 1908 (burned 1909 & rebuilt) - ca. 1916. I found no reference to the presence of a saloon (although it undoubtedly had one) and or a C. Thomas in the camp. Jury is still out but most probably, NOT a Nevada bottle. (According to Eastley research this is a Nevada bottle - see below)

5) Bon Ton - allegedly Tuscarora, Nevada. The "Bon Ton" brand was registered to Strauss - Pritz & Co. of Cincinnati, OH. The faceted bulbous style back bar decanter is in keeping with east coast back bar decanters. Nothing found to indicate that this was a Nevada brand. It is NOT a Nevada bottle.

6) International Hotel - allegedly Virginia City (VC), Nevada. The International Hotel, originally located at C Street and Union, was built ca. 1860. Later a larger International Hotel was erected at B Street and Union. It burned and was rebuilt on the same sight, with the final building going to the ground for good thanks to a fire on December 12, 1914. There is a possibility that this bottle dates to the third and final incarnation of the International Hotel in VC. (however, a quick internet search reveals that just about every large city from east coast to west, had an "International Hotel" prior to 1900). (According to Eastley research this is a Nevada bottle / however it is linked to Austin and not VC - see below)

7) Hermitage - allegedly Gold Hill, Nevada. The brand was registered to W. A. Gaines & Co. of Frankfort, KY. The nearest reseller of the brand that I could locate was John Sroufe of San Francisco, who had rights to it ca. turn f the century. Nothing found to indicate that this was a Nevada brand. It is NOT a Nevada bottle.

8) Hermitage (#2)- see #7 above. It is NOT a Nevada bottle.

9) Tahoe Whiskey / Old Globe - allegedly Carson City, Nevada. Unable to locate a pre-prohibition "Tahoe Whiskey" or "Old Globe" (in any context) link to any particular distiller, reseller or wholesaler. An "Old Globe Saloon" is located at 407 No. Curry in Carson City. According to the E. Clampus Vitus plaque, the original was built in 1870 on Carson St., at a different location than the current bar. It was closed down by prohibition ca. 1918. The current location was built in 1971. A Tahoe Rye Whiskey is currently being made, but I was unable to find anything remotely linking it to turn of the century western whiskeyana. A Tahoe Soda Springs existed at Lake Tahoe ca. 1900 - but no relationship found between the two. My gut feeling is that it has the "right look" to be western. If so, it's a hitter. Jury is still out - may, or may not, be a Nevada bottle.

10) A. Fischer / Wells, Nev. - Allegedly from Wells, Nevada. Well, it does say "Wells, Nev." Kinda takes the guess work out of this one. A rare and desirable amber cylinder with white enameled lettering. This is a top shelf back bar that any advanced collector would welcome into a collection!

11) Belmont - Allegedly from Belmont, Nevada. The Belmont brand was registered to Belmont Distillery of Louisville, KY. The reseller of the brand nearest Nevada, that I could locate, was James Gibb of San Francisco. Gibb had rights to it ca. turn of the century. Nothing found to indicate that this was a Nevada brand. It is NOT a Nevada bottle. (According to Eastley research this is a Nevada bottle - see below)

12) Miller - Allegedly from Miller, Nevada. There are two brands of whiskey spelled "Miller", without being plural (Millers). "Miller" Rye was sold by Adler, Furst & Co. of St. Louis, MO. "Miller" Pure Rye was sold by Miller Dist of Ryeland , PA. A Miller / Stewart brand was sold by Miller - Stewart of Louisville, KY. Nothing found to indicate that this was a Nevada brand. It is NOT a Nevada bottle.

13) A. Livingston Whiskey - Allegedly from Genoa Nevada. "Livingston" was registered to National Distilling Co. of Milwaukee, WI. The style of the decanter strongly suggests east coast origin as well. I found no reference to an "A." Livingston brand. "M. A." Livingston was listed as a retailer of liquors in San Francisco ca. 1914 - 1915. Livingston & Co. did business as liquor wholesalers, also in San Francisco, ca. 1867 - 1917, but did not offer a "Livingston" brand, instead they pushed Pride of Ky. and A. A. Occidental. Nothing found to indicate that this was a Nevada brand. It is NOT a Nevada bottle.

14) Manhattan XXXX - Allegedly from Manhattan, Nevada. A "Manhattan X X X X Rye" was sold by Meyer - Pitts Co. of Baltimore, MD. A "Manhattan X X X X Whiskey" was sold by Griffin & West of Lynn, MA. These are the only two documented brands that include both "Manhattan" and "XXXX". Nothing found to indicate that this was a Nevada brand. It is NOT a Nevada bottle. (According to Eastley research this is a Nevada bottle - see below)

In closing, I'd like to go on record as saying that the internet has opened many doors for us in terms of solving mysteries. It has also provided an avenue for some to publish mis-information which sadly, is taken as gospel by others. I'd like to strongly encourage readers to do their due diligence before assuming that everything they see in print, or on the internet, is the truth. In the case of this article, only one bottle can be definitively attributed to Nevada; the A. Fischer / Wells, Nev. Other bottles conceivably may have lined the back bar of a Silver State saloon. The operative word is "may".

A bottle is truly "Nevada" if; it was blown in the west and intended for distribution solely by a Nevada concern Or if a bottle was blown in the east for a Nevada concern, and intended for distribution by a Nevada concern. If not, it can be considered about as much a Nevada bottle as a Paine's Celery Compound found lying under the sage brush on the outskirts of VC.

Bruce Silva



PS: Many thanks to Robin Preston for providing access to his database. It proved, once again, invaluable especially in assisting with the research for this article!


Good friend, David Bethman, had the following to say on this subject;

"I read with interest the article in the Sept-Oct 2016 issue of "Bottles and Extras" that attributed 14 new NEVADA back bar bottles, and that each one was "rare and one of a kind" to quote the article.

I am kind of a stickler on accurate research, and that quote and the idea that these are NEVADA bottles, not NATIONAL bottles, seemed incorrect. Also, it seemed incorrect to assume the name on some of these bottles represented the names of Nevada towns!

I checked out some of the bottles using online information, and found out the following...

1. Old National is a national brand sold by Bernheim Bros of Louisville Kentucky, their back bar bottles were issued to other bars and saloons. Not from the town of National Nevada.

2 & 3 . Middletown Golden Rye was also a National Brand, sold from New Middletown Ohio. Other examples exist. Not from Divide.

4. Columbia Rye was a national brand sold out of Baltimore, but the "C. THOMAS" could make it a local Nevada bottle if proved thru research.

5. Bon Ton was a very popular name for thousands of saloons and restaurants in this time period. I find W. J. Jones of Boston used this name as a brand of whiskey they sold. Not a Nevada bottle

6. International Hotel - the author attributes this bottle to Virginia City, when a 2006 article in Bottles and Extras by Ralph Van Brocklin attributes this bottle as to be known from AUSTIN, Nevada.

7 & 8. Hermitage was a national brand put out by W. A. Gaines & Co of Frankfurt Kentucky. Not a Nevada brand.

9. Tahoe Whiskey Old Globe IS a Nevada back bar bottle.

10. A Fisher / Wells IS a Nevada back bar bottle.

11. Belmont was a brand controlled by the Belmont Distillery Company of Louisville Kentucky, NOT a Nevada bottle. I find it a real stretch to assume Belmont was from Belmont Nevada. That is like assuming #13 Livingston Whiskey to be from Livingston, Montana.

12. Miller - not sure, could represent Miller's Extra Old Bourbon a brand sold in the west, but attributed by the name on the bottle to Millers Nevada?

13. Livingston Whiskey was a brand used by the National Distilling Company of Milwaukee Wisconsin, again a national brand.

14. Manhattan XXXX - was a national brand advertised all over the East Coast, I've found many ads in North Carolina, Delaware etc offering this product, probably from Baltimore, MD. Yet attributed in the article from Manhattan, Nevada?

Would you call a Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound medicine bottle, found in the basement of an old Nevada drug store, a NEVADA medicine bottle, no you would not.

In summary, I find that 3 of the bottles are Nevada bottles, with possibly the Columbia Rye IF "C. Thomas" proves to be a local Nevada saloon owner. About 45 minutes of research online gave me this information. Your thoughts appreciated and should I send my concerns to Martin Van Zant? Thank you!

David Bethman"

It looks like we are in agreement.

I received the following letter this morning, from a respected Nevada collector, and felt that it was important to attach to the above article.

October 1, 2016
This letter is in response to the “Unicorns and Rainbows” opinion that certain bottles mentioned in an article entitled “Nevada Backbar Bottle Bonanza” (FOHBC magazine “Bottles and Extras, September-October edition, page 33) are not genuine, legitimate Nevada bottles.  I include my personal research on a select handful.
Columbia Club Rye – C. Thomas

This bottle came from the Columbia Club in Pioneer, Nevada.   That the Columbia Club existed is evidenced by a rare Columbia Club, Pioneer, Nevada, 12 ½ cent trade token.  Additionally, an article printed in the May 7, 1909 edition of the Reno Gazette-Journal mentions a “disastrous fire in Pioneer, Nevada” in which the Columbia Club was among businesses suffering loss.  Charles Thomas is listed in the 1910 U.S. Federal Census living in Pioneer (Springdale district), Nevada as the manager of a department store, which makes sense because the fire in 1909 destroyed the saloon.  The final, and most compelling evidence, is a photo (found in the UNLV digital library on line) from the Charles Thomas and Perry photo collection showing Charles Thomas standing in front of the Columbia Club in Pioneer with the handwritten notation “He is always the same.”  This bottle has been examined thoroughly by many collectors and has been deemed to be genuine.

Manhattan XXXX – J.E. Connor
The author left out one distinctive marking on this bottle that helps greatly in its identification.  The name “J.E. Connor” is enameled below the “Manhattan XXXX” on this backbar.  Joseph E. Connor was a hotel and saloon owner in Manhattan, Nevada, as evidenced by RL Polk’s Nevada State Gazeteer and Business Directory, First Edition (1907-1908) and further supported by the 1910 U.S. Federal Census.  He continued to reside in Manhattan through 1920, as evidenced by the U.S. Federal Census, and is still in the hotel business in addition to being co-owner of the Manhattan Water Company (documented in the Appendix to Journals of Senate and Assembly of the State of Nevada and Report of the Railroad and Public Service Commissions of Nevada).  This bottle has been examined thoroughly by many collectors and has been deemed to be genuine.

International Hotel
This particular bottle was found in Austin, Nevada in the burned out ruins of the International Hotel.  When the hotel burned local resident Gail Williams, then a young girl, recovered it from the site and asked the owner if she could have it.  He replied “Yes, if you promise never to bring it back.”  Many years later a bottle show was being held in Austin and although the International was not on display, show goers heard of its existence there in town.  Gail was subsequently pressured by so many collectors that she put the bottle in a closet in her home and refused to answer the door when they knocked.  The bottle was however, ultimately sold.  Her nephew is a close friend of mine and I was permitted to view the bottle several years before it was sold.  The story of the bottle’s discovery was relayed to me directly by Gail Williams, the then-owner.  Its provenance is impeccable and is well-known among Nevada collectors.

Belmont W.B.
There are actually two Belmont backbars:  Belmont W.B. and Belmont W.B.&S.  My research documents the second bottle.  W.B.&S. stands for (Thomas) Warburton, (Frank) Brotherton and (Carl) Schaefer.  These merchants are well known to Nye County, Nevada researchers.  Warburton was a hotel owner in Belmont as well as a deputy sheriff, the county assessor and treasurer, a school trustee, deputy postmaster, and a member of the IOOF Nevada grand lodge.  Brotherton served as Belmont’s postmaster, was the county clerk, a clerk in the judicial district court, and was also a member of the IOOF Nevada grand lodge.  Schaefer, Brotherton’s brother-in-law, was a general merchant in Belmont.  There are many, many billheads, receipts and ephemera that document the trio’s partnerships.   They were brother Masons and active in both the IOOF and Silver Party and Republican groups.  At one time, Thomas Warburton owned a hotel.  This bottle, however, is from the period when the trio dealt in general merchandise.  In a shrewd business move, when Brotherton served as Belmont’s postmaster he moved the post office into the general merchandise store.  That they dealt in whiskey and bottled spirits is evidenced by a letter from a resident of Jefferson, Nevada requesting “a bottle of good whiskey be sent by stage”.  Over-the-counter drink sales are proven by an extremely rare “Frank Brotherton, Belmont, Nevada 12 ½ cent drink or cigar” token.  The W.B.&S. bottle was found in the 1950s in Belmont by a person who lived in both Belmont and Tonopah.  It was subsequently purchased by Willie Manzini of Austin, Nevada.  This Belmont, Nevada backbar bottle’s provenance is impeccable and certainly has not been faked.
 In conclusion, it is always good to chronicle the ownership, custody or location of any historical object, including bottles.  Establishing that history, whenever possible, through contextual and circumstantial evidence helps authenticate the item.  We’re fortunate that we have so many research aids at our fingertips through the internet.   I hope my comments above have alleviated any concerns about the authenticity of four important Nevada backbars.

Dennis Eastley
Tonopah, Nevada


  1. Don't let your eye's fool you. Those Tahoe and Truckee area Back Bar bottles are fake, made by a guy in the L.A. area back in the 1970's Ask the old timers, they know. He also was faking shot glasses as well. They look good and sound good but that's about all. This is what happens over time with fakes. They sit in collections for many years and when that generation passes on, that stuff resurfaces as the real thing.

  2. So which of the back bars in the post are fake? The Tahoe, Old Globe appears legit as I have inspected it with a loupe and the enamel is aged and has discoloration from age. One would THINK that a fantasy piece would have a town name rather than one or two words which leave doubt as to origin. The Exploration Mercantile from Goldfield ( not in the post) has EVERYTHING and is obviously a genuine piece. The rest, other than the Wells leave so much info out,they are not even good fantasy pieces if that is indeed what they are. Maybe that was the deceptive plan back in the 1970s? Heck if I were to dream up a fantasy back bar it would have a known saloon, the word saloon, bourbon, town, and a picture of a miner. I know that some very knowlegable collectors know specific history of a few of these. Hopefully they will chime in. DM

    1. I think Bruce made it perfectly clear about what he felt was possibly real and what he thought was a downright fake. David was more generous in his assessment of the back bars.

      At any rate I think the authors of the Nevada Back Bar article were naïve in thinking that just because these bottles sat on a back bar in a reproduction saloon in Rough & Ready California and supposedly came from a bar in Goldfield that they were the real deal. It takes more than hearsay to prove something is what it appears to be. It takes documentation, hell, we all know that.

  3. Well, I will tell you that not only was there a guy making them who was dam good at it back in the 1970'and kept them out of site, and now they surface to the next generation of collectors. The other thing is, back in the 1930's and 1940's Movie Companies making old Western's had back bar bottles made for the saloon scenes, which eventually many years later, made their way to auction's and into private collections, then sold again and again over the years. I do remember a respected dealer purchasing a labeled western whiskey, then sold it to a well advanced western collector, who had it for awhile and then put it up for sale on the internet and it turned out to be as fake as they come. Why? because the person who's label that was on the bottle spoke up and told him it was a fake. There are artiest who are very good at what they do. "Its a money maker if your good enough" Every collector should educate themselves as much as possible, even learning from the old timers before us.

  4. In the 1890's there was a Bon Ton Saloon in Sierra City Ca.

  5. Only four out of the group. The Belmont me is questionable. The history Dennis gave on it is true, but is the bottle. The W.B. looks like it was added later, different font. The Belmont name is common for Saloons back east.