Tuesday, October 8, 2019


Except for the Virginia City embossed ink bottles, for some strange reason the only other ‘early’ western ink with the proprietors name embossed is the Gibb umbrella. I know that there has been no documented evidence that this bottle is western made but I would put a hefty wager on the odds of it being blown in San Francisco. Regardless, let’s look at Mr. Gibb himself.

The earliest listing found for Gavin Gibb was in the 1863 San Francisco Directory.

Born in Philadelphia in 1843 Gavin J. W. Gibb was in San Francisco by about 1863 when he was first listed in the San Francisco city directory selling paints and offering his services as a painter.  During the first few years he named his business the Pacific Color Works. Known for obtaining his own color sources from minerals found throughout California and Nevada, he invested in a mill and necessary equipment for producing paints. In June 1866 Gibb was forced to file for bankruptcy. After opening his paint mill in January 1866 his expenses put him in the red by about $5,500.

The first of two bankruptcies that Gibb had to endure was documented in the Daily Alta California on June 19, 1866.

After a hiatus of a few years Gibb is noted in the 1868 San Francisco Directory as a sign painter at 633 Market Street. He then took a partner in 1869, then known as Gibb & Koch – sign painters. By 1871 Gibb worked alone as a sign and ornamental painter. By 1872 he was in partnership with Hiram B. Melendy as sign painters and importers and manufacturers of paints, oils and varnishes. The following year the partnership was reorganized and called Gavin J. W. Gibb and Co. By 1874 Melendy had left Gibb and his company was simply called Gibb & Co.

While maintaining the same company name of Gibb & Co., in 1875 he acquired another partner named Albert M. Shields and Gibb no longer advertised sign painting. As in the previous several years this partnership did not last very long. In December 1875 Shields left the company.  The end of his business was just around the corner when he was forced to sell nearly all of his stock in January 1876 and he was adjudged bankrupt in December of 1876.

Gibb never recovered from the assigned sale of most of his business in 1876.  Daily Alta California, January 26, 1876

In his last few years Gibb hired out as a sign painter and even tried his hand at manufacturing window shades.  The final chapter in the life of Gavin Jarden Watson Gibb closed on March 22, 1879, when he died in San Francisco, of “apoplexy”. His grave marker at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Colma notes he was born in 1843.

Gibb’s wife, Emma Josephine Holt, lived on until 1930, and died in Alameda County. The last of their five children died in 1966 in Berkeley. To think that I was collecting and researching bottles in the early sixties and could have interviewed her – if I had known of her existence – is somewhat disconcerting.

Following the upturns and downturns of Gibb’s business life it is very difficult to insert a logical time for when he produced his umbrella ink style bottle. One observation is that the bottle may not have held ink but was used for paint. This is not unusual for there is precedent for labeled examples of the same style of bottle used for paints by other merchants. It is certainly safe to determine that the bottle was produced some time between 1863 and 1875. Any tighter time assignment would be speculation unless more information comes to light.