Monday, September 18, 2017

An Identity Crisis~

Although my primary focus in western bottle collecting has been western whiskies for the past couple of decades and change, such was not always the case. Starting in the early 1970's, I began to build a diverse collection of both western whiskies and bitters produced by the same company. Some of you old timers may recall the display of mine which used to appear at many western shows. It was titled, simply, "The Cause or the Cure?". 

The collection included Hibernia Bitters / Old Pioneer Whiskey (Fenkhausen & Braunschweiger), Cunderango / Jockey Club (G.W. Chesley), Damiana Bitters / Phoenix Bourbon (Naber, Alfs & Brune),  Ayala - Ayyalla  / Game Cock (M. Rothenberg), Alpine Herb / P. Vollmers (Thos Taylor), Hibernia / Bear Grass (Braunschweiger & Bumstead), Dr. Millers Ratafia Damiana / Rosedale (Siebe Bros. & Plagemann) etc. etc. etc.

Back then it was generally accepted as fact that if the bottle had those funny curved leg "R's", it was definitely a western blown bottle. Since then, a great deal of in depth research has been done which further cemented our belief about the curved leg (serif) "R's". 

The old saying about "old too soon - smart too late" held true in my case. I temporarily got side tracked and began collecting antique Winchesters in the early 80's. It soon became evident that I couldn't afford to collect whiskies, bitters and lever action rifles. On August 17, 1985, at the Reno Show, I liquidated the bitters end of my collection. I knew the moment that the last bottle went out the door, that I'd goofed. At least I kept "The Cause" even if I did cut loose of the "Cure"...

A couple of weeks ago, my "personal fortunes" made a reversal, and I now had a bit of disposable cash available (it's called social security)... Hmm, decisions, decisions; a slightly bigger bank account or start collecting bitters again. To me, the choice was obvious. And so, history repeats itself and I'm back on the prowl for good western bitters.

My first new addition to the ranks of western bitters was a Dr. Henley's. Not just your basic Wild Grape Root Bitters though; this example was one that I'd always wanted, but never had. A Dr. Henley's California IXL Bitters.   

This one has it all, crude, big sloppy swirl of tobacco juice embedded in the glass right in front, great strike, curved leg "R's" and that beautiful deep fire aqua that just screams S.F. glass!

The embossing is interesting in that the "IXL" logo is a dead ringer for the style on the label (which was trademarked in 1870). The letters resemble logs arranged to spell out "IXL". I got out my Wilson Bitters book but there's no listing for the cylinder California variant in aqua, although it does show Henley as operating out of Alameda, Cal., with offices in San Francisco, in 1870. The lack of mention of the California variant in Wilsons book comes as no surprise though, as it contains as many errors and omissions as not... Fortunately, I have a copy of Bill Hams "Bitters Bottles" and on page 274 is a reference to the California IXL. 

Henry Epstine is listed on the California trade mark paperwork of February 3, 1870, with offices in San Francisco. According to Ham / Ring, a footnote mentions that Henley is also listed in the 1870 Chicago business directory in a partnership dba Epstein (sic), Henley & Co. Prop's., and that the California IXL was an eastern product. 

This bottle has me confused; fire aqua & curved R's both indicate S.F. Glass Works production. And yet it's supposed to be eastern? Blown in the west for the east coast market (not)? Blown back east using west coast sand to produce the fire aqua coloration (not)?

The combination of both the color and serif "R's" sure leaves me scratching my head! 

Eastern? Western?

Looks like an identity crisis to me...


  1. First nice bottle Bruce I`m going with western how many IXL`s have been found back east and like you said look at the color and even the shape looks western to me

  2. Well, written and informative article Bruce.Congratulations on the Henley's,that is a killer example in all respects,and a great start to reassembling your western bitters collection.Thats a handsome Horsey as well!

  3. Steven H. Has done massive research on the Henley products and may have some answers. My money is on western blown.

  4. Beautiful bottle. I don't know if it's western or not, but some of these examples with similar or identical embossing have base embossed with W. Frank & Sons, Pitt. The serif R on this bottle appears to be different than the Rs found on, e.g., Henley's OK Bitters and early IXLs from San Francisco. That doesn't mean this bottle wasn't blown in San Francisco. Also, found a nice go-with:

  5. The W.Frank & Sons for sure is eastern made .A fair number of these were dug in New Orleans .

  6. I agree with Rob, in that the "R" on the California IXL Bitters is not the same style as the classic Western R

    Also, having dug many 1870s bottles in the West, I myself have never found nary a shard of the California IXL, nor do I know anyone that has.

    I would lean towards this bottle being Eastern blown and distributed in the EAstern market. Makes a great go-with on the SF IXL's !!


  7. I also believe it is an eastern blown bottle. as I have an aqua Ayers Ague Cure with the exact same serif R as on the S.F. blown bottles. Either that or the same mold carver worked back east as well as at the S.F. glassworks. In either case nice bottle!! no matter where it was blown.