Monday, January 15, 2018

More Mott's


At our last meeting Frank Ritz brought two bottles embossed with the above title but each was also embossed with different proprietors. One embossed A.H. POWERS & CO., and the other embossed with SPRUANCE, STANLEY & CO. A simple question was posed as to which bottle is the oldest. They look virtually identical in manufacture, so the challenge was on.
Let me first start with a little background on Aaron Hubbard Powers. He was born March 16, 1829, in New Durham, Strafford Co., New Hampshire. Ten years later he moved with his parents to Boston, MA. Another ten years witnessed young Powers, along with his brother, Lucius, pooling their money along with a company of about 150 other California bound gold seekers, and purchasing the Steamer Edward Everett and stocking it with supplies that could be sold for profit in San Francisco. The company set sail for California January 12, 1849, sailing around South America, and arriving at San Francisco on July 6th. The Powers brothers immediately headed for the mines on the Mokelumne River along with about 100 members of the company. Their overall success was abysmal and the supplies along with the Edwin Everett was sold and divided among the company.
 Aaron and Lucius Powers remained in the vicinity of Redwood City, San Mateo County, for a few years and had some success in the logging industry. They sold trees for construction of some of the earliest wharves in California and telegraph poles for some of the first telegraph lines. Aaron soon met and married Emma Louisa Sweazey, a native of England and daughter of William J. Sweasey - in 1853.
 In 1855 the couple moved to Calaveras County, near Campo Seco, where Aaron took up farming and stock raising. Meanwhile his brother, Lucius, gave up farming and opened a storage and commission merchant business in Sacramento for agricultural products. In 1864 Lucius opened a wholesale liquor company - L. Powers & Co. In 1867 Aaron Powers and family moved to Sacramento and joined his brother’s liquor company as a clerk. His brother, Lucius, died in Sacramento on October 1, 1875. Aaron remained in the liquor business until 1887 when he sold out and moved to Fresno County where he had purchased 250 acres of farmland. Aaron and especially his son, Lucius, left an impressive legacy in the field of agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley of California – a crop growing and shipping dynasty that has lasted to this day.
 Aaron and Emma Powers produced a total of nine children:
Eugene S. Powers: 1854 - 1869 
Emma Powers: 1856 - 1857 
Martha Kate Powers: 1858 - 1921 (She married Carl Ewald Grunsky. He was one of three students who comprised the first graduating class of Stockton High School, in 1870.) 
Charles Powers: 1861 – 1928
 Frank H. Powers: 1864 - 1920 
Jennie Louisa Powers: 1867 - 1835 
Aaron H. Powers: 1869 - 1921 
Lucius Powers: 1872 - 1933 
William John Sweasey Powers: 1875 – 1938 
Tragically, two years after Aaron and Emma Powers moved to Sacramento, their first born son, Eugene, sought to beat the hot August heat with two friends. They headed for the American River where the other two boys successfully swam to the other side. Young Eugene didn’t know how to swim and thought he could wade across. Alas, he went over his head and slipped into the murky waters, not to be seen alive again.
 Emma Powers died near Fresno, CA, July 24, 1902, of complications from diabetes. In 1906 Aaron Powers departed from his residence near Sanger, CA, for New England to visit his home state of New Hampshire one last time. From there he decided to continue on for an extended tour of Europe, also with the hope of visiting his son, William, who was studying medicine in Berlin. Aaron died in Vienna, Austria, on April 9, 1907, and his remains were shipped back for interment in the family plot at Sacramento. 
James M. Henderson, was born in Ohio, in March 1830. His wife, Margaret, was the sister of Aaron H. Power’s wife, Emma Louisa. Henderson. A 49er, Henderson began farming in the vicinity of Galt, CA, at an early day. After a few years he retired from business with Powers and resumed farming, but retained his house in Sacramento, which he built in 1869. His wife was Margaret A., born in England July 1829. She came to the U.S. in 1841 with her father, William Sweasey, and family. They were married in Stockton in 1850, and had five children, three of whom were living in 1900. 

While researching this product I happened upon an article in the Sacramento Daily Union of January 1, 1880, that gives a nice account of the activities of A.H. Powers to that point. I reproduce it here:  

A copy of the article from the Sacramento Daily Union of January 1, 1880, that describes what was soon to become A.H. Powers & Co. It should also be added that A.H. Powers withdrew from his brothers firm to join in the partnership of Powers & Henderson in 1870.  

Now, lets try to date these two bottles. Fortunately Frank Ritz’s A.H.POWERS & Co. version of the two bottles carries a label. However, it is the same label that was used when the product was originally registered by Powers & Henderson. We know that the label was copyrighted in 1877 and trademarked in the State of California in 1877. But the name embossed on the bottle is that of A.H. POWERS & CO. This company didn’t form until after Powers & Henderson and then Wilcox, Powers & Co. ran their course. Therefore, the bottle would have to date after the beginning of 1884
The original front and back labels for DR. MOTT’S WILD CHERRY TONIC as trademarked with the Secretary of State for California on December 3, 1877, by Aaron H. Powers and James M. Henderson.
This advertisement from the Sacramento Daily Union on September 20, 1879, documents the formation of Wilcox, Powers & Co. from the previous firm of Powers & Henderson in August 1879.

Since A.H. Powers & Co. was not formed until February 1884, the embossed bottles containing DR. MOTT’S WILD CHERRY TONIC, with the name of A.H. POWERS & CO. embossed, could not have been blown before this date.


By February 1884 Richard W. Wilcox had left the firm of Wilcox, Powers & Co., and the newly formed company of A.H. Powers & Co. was born.

The two bottle variants were unquestionably blown in the same mold. Only the proprietors names were modified from A.H. POWERS & CO. to SPRUANCE, STANLEY & CO. Simple reasoning would determine that the Powers version was made first even though there is no evidence that Spruance, Stanley & Co. either purchased the brand or it was transferred to them. Obviously, since Spruance, Stanley & Co. were partners in the firm of A.H. Powers & Co., there may not have been any official statement or transferrence of the brand. It seems most likely that when Aaron Powers retired in 1887 the Dr. Mott’s Wild Cherry Tonic name could have been transferred to Spruance, Stanley & Co., since that company continued on in San Francisco. The only issue I have with this apparent logic is that all specimens of the bottle have applied tops, and the date of 1887, while still possible, is a little late for this technique. The Spruance, Stanley & Co. variant must be some of the latest applied top bottles made.
At least the question of which variant came first is easy to resolve simply by close inspection of the two bottles. And, their date of manufacture would have to be after February 1884.

The first of the two bottles embossed DR. MOTT’S WILD CHERRY TONIC, with A.H. POWERS & CO. as proprietors. It was blown from about early 1884 to no later than 1887 when Powers liquidated his business and moved to Fresno County, focusing entirely on agriculture.
The second version of the DR. MOTT’S WILD CHERRY TONIC bottle, embossed with the name of SPRUANCE, STANLEY & CO. as proprietors. Close examination of the bottle shows the seam mark of the slug plate, indicating the mold had been modified. Other minor “fingerprints” show the mold to be identical for each variant.
This article was written a few months ago for the NBCA newsletter. Thanks Eric for reprinting it here
 - rs -


1 comment:

  1. I recently dug a Mott's AHP in a completely different mold. The embossing is thinner and more crude, as is the light yellow amber bottle which is whittled. Different base too with no dot in the center. The bottle looks earlier and is a totally different animal. The plot thickens.