Sunday, July 28, 2019



Many years ago I called upon bottle digger and collector, Mel Hughes, who has long since gone to his reward, to photograph his Baker & Cutting pickle bottle. Mel was an avid digger, and if you find an Oly beer can at the bottom of a privy hole in California that you thought was un-dug, Mel beat you to it. He also owned the bottom portion of a spectacular Napa Soda bottle that I have not seen before or since.

Many people are not aware that Napa Soda has been bottled since 1856 but its early history is shrouded in intrigue and even violence over the rights to ownership. Even during the long California Supreme Court battle over who owned the spring, various people were given rights to bottle and sell the water as agents. Its early bottling history, therefore, is not very clear.

Mel’s bottle is unquestionably the crudest Napa Soda and most enigmatic. It is not known if it is the earliest embossed bottle used for the water but certainly must be one of the first. Its age is only part of the mystery, for the mold used to blow the bottles has to be the crudest on record. No respectable eastern or mid-western glass manufacturer would have allowed the use of such a mold. There is no record of this Napa Soda bottle being blown in the West, even though that would be the logical favorite. The wastage from the first San Francisco Glass Works has been excavated by several people over the years and no trace of Napa Soda bottles were found. The only other western source may have been the glass works established by J. Lambert & Co. of San Francisco. The Sacramento Daily Union of August 16, 1860, noted, . . .”Lambert & Co. state that it makes an excellent quality of common glass, and that they will use, at present, from one to four tons per week.” This glass works was obviously not successful as very little documentation exists, and given the crudity of the above noted bottle, it may be one of the reasons failure soon followed. This works lasted at least through September 1860, as noted in Warren Friedrich’s book on EARLY GLASSWORKS OF CALIFORNIA. This is only conjecture, but there seems to be very few logical options available for the manufacture of this bottle.

I am posting these photos to see if any other examples of this bottle may have been found by someone else.

The front of the bottle is embossed with the familiar wording, NAPA SODA. The most significant clue to its origin is embossed near the base of the front, P & W  SF, which must be either the initials of the agent, or the short-lived proprietors of the spring.

The reverse is lettered with the typical words, NATURAL / MINERAL / WATER, but in a very crude and clumsy style.

The base sports a very nasty, almost dangerous, blowpipe pontil.

While several parties involved with the early Napa Soda Springs have surnames beginning with W (Whitney, Wood & White), a likely candidate for the partnership initials embossed on this bottle may be Thomas A. White. The surname beginning with a P is a complete mystery to me. White apparently had some involvement with the springs as early as 1860. However, his earliest documented involvement as a sales agent wasn’t until 1861.

The other known early variant of an early Napa Soda bottle is marked W. & W., and is most likely the initials of Whitney & Wood. I have seen one example, nearly whole, but if my memory serves me correctly, it did not show any signs of a pontil mark.

 By October of 1861, as San Francisco agent for Napa Soda, White advertised the sale of this water in his own trade marked bottles, which included his initials – T. A. W.

Note also that Phil Caduc, Sacramento agent for Napa Soda, was the first to register his Napa Soda trademark, on September 16, 1861, but it only consisted of the bottoms of his bottles painted white, with no embossing involved. For some unknown reason T. A. White chose not to register his trade mark initials with the State. Perhaps he felt the precise establishment of his trade mark features described in his advertisement in the Daily Alta California, beginning October 6, 1861, and running for one month, was enough to adequately document his proprietary rights.

T. A. White’s October 6, 1861, advertisement clearly documents his trade mark for his Napa Soda bottles.

White’s Napa Soda bottles were as well made as any of that period and were probably blown in the East. The only slightly unusual feature is that the lettering is deeply cut into the mold.

It is not clear when White stopped functioning as agent for Napa Soda. He no longer advertised after 1861. White almost certainly gave up his association with the springs after November 1862 when the bottling house and other structures were destroyed by Amos Buckman, one of the previous stakeholders in the spring who went on a vengeful rampage against Whitney and Wood, the other claimants of the spring. T. A. White subsequently entered the mining business by 1863. The ownership squabble over the springs went well into 1865.

Please note that this was not written as a complete early history of Napa Soda bottles. As many are aware, John O’Neill has been collecting information about Napa Soda for many years in anticipation of publishing a book on the subject. I know he will eventually succeed in this task and I am sure it will be a necessary read for many of us. My objective here is to elicit response about the mysterious broken P. & W. bottle shown above and hopefully add some knowledge about its place in this world. It would be great to see a picture of a whole specimen.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019


I recently picked up this unassuming little 5 ½ inch aqua unembossed but labeled medicine bottle because it appeared the proprietor was located in California. The town location was very difficult to read but enough of the lettering remained to make a decent guess. It looked very much like the word FOREST. I drew a blank on where a town by that name could have been a likely location for someone to produce a commercial medicinal product. Of course, the SYRUP OF FIGS was well known at about the time this little bottle was made, but EXTRACT OF FIGS had me stumped. The only town I could find in California with the name of Forest, is the former Sierra County gold rush period settlement of Forest City. It is a remnant of its former glory and never did contain more than about 1,500 inhabitants during its heyday. In fact, as its residents began moving away it lost its post office and its status as a ‘city’, becoming simply Forest in the mid-1890’s. (see for a nice article on the town.)

Not convinced this little town may have contained a doctor who was willing to peddle a medicine from such a remote location I focused my research attention on Dr. E. R. Brooks. It wasn’t long before it was clear that Ezra Rockwell Brooks was, in fact, a real doctor and he actually did settle in the old gold rush town of Forest. I had to find out a little more about him.

Ezra R. Brooks was born June 12, 1861, in Seymour, Iowa. In 1886 he received his M.D. degree from the College of Medicine of the University of Iowa. On August 20, 1890 he married Kate Thomas in Union County, Oregon, where a number of his siblings had previously relocated. His first daughter, Lucile Frances Brooks was born in Oregon in 1892.

Dr. Brooks had located to Forest, Sierra County, California, by 1896, where his second daughter, Greta, was born on August 12, 1899. He continued to practice medicine there until about 1901 and then moved to Bodie, California, where he stayed until 1906. Brooks then moved to the copper boom-town of Greenwater, Inyo County, for about a year and was also appointed postmaster in that town.

Dr. Brooks wife, Kathryn, was apparently tired of his wanderlust and they were divorced. Kathryn remained in Orange and Los Angeles Counties for nearly the rest of her life.

His first daughter, Frances Lucille, had graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, and became a music teacher. By some tragic act of fate she died in 1916 and is buried in Santa Ana – age 23. Even her alma mater wondered what happened to her when it published in one of its odd little newsletters titled The Brazen Knocker, on June 23, 1923, “WHAT HAPPENED TO L. BROOKS. The mysterious disappearance of Lucile Brooks is still puzzling the authorities.  Eleven years ago her whereabouts were well known to everyone. She was pointed out to visitors as one of the most promising entites (sic) in the vicinity.  She had even attained the honorable position as a josh editor of the Exponent, but shortly after its publication on June 1912, she disappeared suddenly. Anyone having knowledge of her whereabouts will kindly notify the authorities.”

 About 1945, and in failing health, Kathryn Brooks moved back to the Washington, DC area where her daughter, Greta, and family were living. Greta’s husband, Robert E. Soderberg, was a career military man stationed there at the time. Kathryn died in Arlington, Virginia, on January 31, 1946. Her death certificate notes that she was to be buried at Cedar Hill Cemetery, Suitland, Maryland, but her final burial place is in Fairhaven Memorial Park, Santa Ana, Orange County, CA, along side her daughter, Frances Lucille.

About 1908 Dr. Brooks moved to Orange, Orange County, for awhile and then moved to Holtville, in Imperial County, in May of that year, where he associated himself with the Central Hospital in El Centro, California, until 1910 when he then moved to Coalinga, Fresno County for a short time. By 1912 Brooks had relocated to Oakland, California, where he met and married Mabel M. Hagel on March 29, 1916.

Then, by 1920, Dr. Brooks moved to Meadow Lake, Nevada County, as noted in the census record for that year (Feb 7, 1920). He then moved to Floriston, Nevada County, where he continued to practice medicine. He stayed there until 1924, and in the following year moved to San Francisco. He then moved to Albany, in Alameda County by 1927 and stayed there until about 1934. While living there, his second wife, Mabel Mary Brooks, died in Santa Clara County, on November 4, 1930, probably at a hospital there.  In 1935 he was back in San Francisco.

 I lost track of him for a few years but he apparently moved to Atascadero in San Luis Obispo County after his San Francisco residency.   The San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram, December 30, 1938, notes. “Dr. E.R. Brooks returned to his home in Atascadero recently.  During the summer months he is employed as resident physician at the Michigan California Lumber Company near Placerville.” He continued this summer job at least until 1940, all the while maintaining his primary house in Atascadero and moving there in the winter months. This is probably why the U.S. census for 1940 lists him as living in Georgetown, El Dorado County with the occupation of “lumber camp physician”

The San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune, October 24, 1941, notes. . .  “ Dr. E.R. Brooks has sold his home at the corner of Cubaril and Rosario avenues and has moved to the Anderson Kentucky Home on Rosario.” He would have been about 80 years old by this time – certainly old enough to slow down a little.

Why Dr. Brooks chose Forest to live and to produce his Extract of Figs is currently not known, however, it was truly an isolated location that had already witnessed its glory days as a gold rush town. It just doesn’t seem like there would be a sustainable market demand for a medicine within the area he chose to live. And, in time, he probably came to the same conclusion.

Although packaged like many patent medicines of the day it only skated on the edge of such products. Most importantly, it is not a scam product and is an effective medicine for the relief of constipation. Even though the dominant product of the day, Syrup of Figs, located in Reno, Nevada, was similar in nature, and actually may not have contained figs, apparently that company chose not to rein in Brooks’ version of the product, since it really didn’t present itself as a blatant copy. Or, perhaps the Syrup of Figs company was unaware of Dr. Brooks’ version since it really was not a great success in the market place, thus not a real competitor. It is even doubtful that Brooks continued with his Extract of Figs after he left Forest and moved to Bodie. Whatever the answer it is an unusual artifact from an unusual location.

Initially, I had no intention of following the life Dr. E. R. Brooks with such tenacity but I don’t recall anyone, especially a real medical doctor, move around with such frequency. It became a fascinating challenge to see where he would go and what he would do next. Has anyone else seen one of these bottles?