Wednesday, January 8, 2020


A number of years ago the Governor’s mansion in Sacramento was in such a dire need of renovation that no head of the State wanted to reside there. The State finally allocated funds to fix up the grand old structure. I stopped by one day to check out the progress, not knowing if they would accept my impromptu visit. To my surprise the workers, which included a few staff members from the Office of Historic Preservation, gave me a tour of the very meticulous restoration process. I just happened to mention if they had discovered any old bottles in the process of their work. Several had been found and I followed one of the staff members to a room where a variety of historical items had been collected.

The few bottles were not very interesting except for one that had been located within a wall. It was a typical Jamaica ginger style with a paper label. The label was less than attractive and I turned the bottle over expecting to find no embossing. To my surprise it was embossed “Allen’s Essence of Jamaica Ginger”. This bottle had been a bit of a mystery as to where it originated, especially since all the specimens I had seen were not characteristic of western glass. I turned the bottle back to the label side to look for an obvious clue for whom may have made it. To my surprise, at the bottom of long verbiage defining directions for its use, was the wording, “Prepared and sold by ISAAC P. ALLEN & CO., WHOLESALE DRUGGISTS AND CHEMISTS. 139 J street, Sacramento.”

What an unexpected surprise! This bottle had not strayed very far from its origin. That label had solved a mystery that, to my knowledge, still has not been verified by any other source. Needless to say, I photographed the label as documentation, for fear that the bottle may never surface to the public eye again. I have no idea where it may be today, but hope it safely resides in the public domain.

A photograph of the Allen’s Jamaica Ginger label that was discovered during the renovation process of the California State Governor’s mansion.

I won’t go into great detail here about Isaac Allen, but will note that he was born in Massachusetts in 1847 and came to California as a young child with his father, Isaac S. Allen, in 1856. He worked as a druggist for a short while in Sacramento and eventually moved to San Francisco about 1873. He then entered the banking industry where he remained for the rest of his life. Allen died in Alameda, California, in 1925.

The most spectacular event in the life of this family was when his father, Isaac S. Allen, was connected with the San Francisco Benevolent Society. This organization was formed to provide help to economically disadvantaged people within the City. The elder Allen formed a friendship with a woman who needed support and happened to have a daughter who Allen had an interest in. The woman began receiving funds on the condition that Allen could spend some private time with the daughter. This illegitimate tryst was eventually exposed which caused a scandalous uproar in San Francisco. The senior Allen ended up in big trouble. This affair is well documented in the San Francisco newspapers.

Isaac Allen assumed the drug business of R. H. McDonald in Sacramento. (Sacramento Daily Union, September 16, 1871). After moving to San Francisco he continued in the drug business in San Francisco for a few years, and produced yet another embossed patent medicine.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020



As 2020 unfolds we will soon b e experiencing the largest antique bottle event in the Western Hemisphere from July 30 to August 2, in Reno, Nevada. If you would like to attend this event I strongly encourage you to get your reservations early - especially for the accommodations at the Grand Sierra Hotel. It makes life much easier as this event is held in the hotel and rooms are limited,  If you are planning on selling, I also recommend reserving your sales table(s) early as well. Please go to the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors website at for the most current information.