Monday, June 26, 2023



This unusual bottle has had many collectors bewildered with precisely what it represents. They are not very numerous and the majority were found in the ‘big dig’ of about 1998 in San Francisco. Most have been found in blue with nearly as many in aqua. Embossed CLASSEN & Co. SPARKLING, surrounding crossed anchors, one doesn’t have to guess it is a product of the soda water maker, James Milton Classen. While his story is interesting, I would like to just focus on this one product. Classen was born in New York and, like so many Easterners, got caught in the lure of gold in California. While establishing a successful soda water business in San Francisco, he returned to his hometown several times.


In 1863 Classen left control of his Pacific Soda Works to his partner, John Rohe, and returned to New York for nearly two years. While there, he created another somewhat complementary product for his business in San Francisco. It wasn’t exactly the same and I am guessing he saw it as a potentially new market product. He devised the bottles and designed labels for the product which he copyrighted to prevent protection from possible counterfitting. On November 12, 1865, he received federal protection for his Anchor Brand sparkling cider.


Embossed as noted above, the bottles appear very similar to soda water bottles of the day, with the biggest exception being a more refined top. A big question remains about whether the bottles were designed for single use. Was the cider a product of the East or were the bottles filled in the West? The labels are very clear that it was a product of New York for the California market. This seems a little incredulous with regard to the expense involved, especially if the bottles were for single use. Of course, he may have shipped the bottles while empty along with barrels of cider, and bottled the product at his soda works in San Francisco. The answer is not clear.


This label was submitted to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California as an example of his federally protected copyright. While it is true that Classen did not avail himself of the recently adopted trade mark law for California, however; there was no federal trade mark protection until 1870. It was not unusual for proprietors to use federal copyright laws for interstate protection since California trade marks were only enforceable within the State. Copyrights provided interstate protection. He apparently knew the law well for Classen had already received a trade mark in 1863 for his Pacific Soda Works bottles, which he never planned for use beyond the State boundary.


The sparkling cider project was apparently not successful as it was short-lived. No newspaper advertisements were located for the project which was a kiss of death. Nineteenth-century marketing depended heavily on reaching out to the public through papers. It is not clear when Classen became disillusioned with the soda water business, but by 1867 he exited the Pacific Soda Works and left it to his partner, John Rohe. Classen had already dabbled in the real estate business by this time and he saw a much better road to success. For the following twenty years, he became a successful ‘capitalist’, and is even noted as a ‘stock broker' in the 1880 U.S. census for San Francisco. Unfortunately, he let most of his wealth slip, and by the time he died, on September 9, 1891, he had little left. His wife was forced to take up residence in the “Old People’s Home of San Francisco”, where she slipped into oblivion in 1905.


The dissolution notice of the partnership of the Pacific Soda Works. Rohe became the sole owner but closed the business after a few years and then became a trustee of the newly formed Bay City Soda Water Company, . . .a corporation.


Thursday, June 22, 2023



Small town soda water works in California seldom used embossed bottles as far back as the 1870’s. One exception is the river town of Colusa, the governmental seat of Colusa County. Located on the Sacramento River, it was a shipping port for an extensive agricultural region in the central Sacramento Valley of California.

Little is known about the original proprietors of the works. The primary player was Jonathan Leonard Poulson. He seemed to prefer using only his initials, “J.L.” and his last name was commonly mis-spelled, which creates a challenge in researching the man. He was the son of  Henry “John” and Elizabeth Cox Poulson, born in Ohio on July 8, 1847, and like most men of his age Poulson served in the Civil War, as a private in Co G 178th Ohio Infantry. He enlisted August 26, 1864 and mustered out June 29, 1865, at Charlotte, North Carolina. Poulson then moved to Iowa for a few years and then relocated to California about 1869.

Poulson is first noted in California when documented in the 1871 Great Register for Yuba County, listed as a 23 year old farmer born in Ohio, and living in New York Township. Poulson is known to have been in Colusa at least by October 1874, when his name was listed in the local newspaper, noting that undelivered mail was waiting for him at the post office.(Weekly Colusa Sun, October 17, 1874). The Letter List was a common feature in newspapers alerting residents that mail needed to be retrieved. It was probably about this time that Poulson went to work as a driver for the Colusa to Chico stage line. The job was difficult with a variety of perils including stormy weather conditions, robberies, vehicular mishaps and passenger issues, not to mention long and tiring hours. For at least these reasons Poulson decided to switch professions. The local newspaper reported . . . . “Leon Poulson, of the Colusa Stage, who has been driving between Chico and Colusa for a considerable time, has resigned his position as knight of the ribbons, and will start a soda factory at Colusa”. (Chico Weekly Enterprise, March 16, 1877). “Knight of the ribbons” was a slang expression for a stage driver, implying a master of roads.

Poulson’s partner in this new venture was Asa Brower, born about 1843 in New York. Prior to partnering with Poulson in the soda water business he was described as a painter. (1870 U.S. Census for Grafton Twp., Woodland, California) 

The most significant newspaper item located that concerned the establishment of the Colusa Soda Works was printed in 1877.



The announcement of the beginnings of the Colusa Soda Works includes a description of the bottles recently blown for the bottling of soda water. (Weekly Colusa Sun, April 14, 1877)  The description most certainly fits the example pictured below.

From the newspaper information provided it appears the company’s soda bottles were blown about March or April of 1877. They were surely blown at the factory of the San Francisco & Pacific Glass Works.


The base mold of the Colusa Soda Works bottles was engraved with an unusual rayed design dividing the circle into eight segments, not found on other California soda bottles of this time period. Its meaning is unknown but probably just decorative.


For reasons that are not clear the partnership of Poulson & Brower came to an abrupt end about nine months later, at the end of December 1877.

The dissolution notice signaled the end of the partnership of Paulson and Brower at the Colusa Soda Works.

Asa Brower, is noted to have been a soda water manufacturer in Willows, Glenn County,  California (Weekly Colusa Sun, December 13, 1879). He is also noted in Colusa County in 1880.   (1880 U.S. census for Colusa County, Monroe Twp., line 43 and WoodlandCalifornia. (Yolo County, California, Great Register of Voters, 1882).

 Asa died December 24, 1885, in MazatlanMexico, of yellow fever. (Sacramento Daily Union, January 27, 1886) He owned 6,000 shares of the Descubridora Mill located, near Guanacevi, Durango, Mexico,  and was probably there concerning his interest in the mine.

It is likely the embossed bottles continued to be used by the soda works under the new partnership of Poulson & Eller. No data was revealed about Eller. His name was often misspelled as Ellis. Later advertisements confirm the new partner’s name was Eller. Regardless, this second partnership was dissolved on August 21, 1878, with Eller leaving. (Weekly Colusa Sun, August 31, 1878) However: Eller retained an ownership interest in the soda factory property for awhile. As a single proprietor, Paulson began bottling his “Boston Champagne Cider” (Weekly Colusa Sun, October 5, 1878) and sold Bethesda Water as well.

 On December 14, 1878, a lamp exploded and started a fire that destroyed the works. It was mostly insured and Poulson had it rebuilt. It is not clear if he was still bottling his own soda water at this time or who actually owned the facility. George Shuggart was noted as a partner at this time, but probably only had a financial interest in the operation and was not a working partner. Shuggart was of African descent and upon his death the local paper stated, . . . “Mr. Shuggart, in the days before the Civil War was a slave in Missouri. In 1869, he was in Illinois when he received a message from his former master, asking him to return to Missouri.  He did so and came to California with the master.  They came to Colusa County and here it was that Shuggart stayed.  Since his arrival here he has never been out of the state and has only been outside the county’s limits six times. Mr. Shuggart has held the contract for sprinkling Colusa’s streets for thirty-eight years.  At one time he owned a soda works here. About a year after he bought it, a lamp in the house of the plant’s manager, Len Pohlson (sic), exploded and the soda works burned to the ground. (Colusa Herald, November 4, 1922)


The drawing of the Colusa Soda Works was published in Colusa County, California, Illustrations Descriptive of its Scenery…etc., by Will S. Green, published by Elliott & Moore, San Francisco. 1880  It was apparently subscribed when Poulson was operating without a partner, probably about 1879.

By about 1884 Poulson left Colusa, abandoning his wife, and moving to Vancouver, Washington. In 1886 Poulson’s wife, Sarah Ann Poulson, brought suit against him in the Sacramento Superior Court, on grounds of “willful desertion and neglect” and requested the court to reinstate her maiden name of “Brummett”. Poulson likely did not respond to this action and probably didn’t even see it in the newspaper since he went to Washington State. (The Record-Union, Sacramento, California, June 8, 1886) 

Poulson remarried in Portland, Oregon, to Annie May Betts in 1888, who was 29 years younger than he. Poulson died in April 1888. His new widowed wife then married Samuel Foraker in Vancouver, Washington, on September 25, 1900. She was 47 years younger than her new husband. Samuel died on March 17, 1915, in Vancouver, Washington, aged 91 years.  


The grave marker of Jonathan Leonard Poulson, spelled “Poulsen” on his stone. The simple marker is the typical free stone given to veterans which doesn’t even have his death date inscribed. It is located in the Old Vancouver City Cemetery, Vancouver, Clark County Washington.


A later graphic advertisement for the Colusa Soda Works after it purchased the relatively new crown cap closure equipment invented by William Painter in 1892. (Colusa Daily Sun, September 8, 1899)


Thomas Henry Polley (aka Polly) purchased the Works about 1884.


Rankin Blackburn purchased the Colusa Soda works from Thomas H. Polly in 1886.


John Blackburn purchased the Works from his father, Rankin Blackburn, in 1896. (Colusa Daily Sun, June 8, 1896)


Theodore Frederick Phillips purchased the Colusa Soda Works from John Blackburn in October 1898. Phillips died on January 3, 1912, and his widow finally sold it to the Woodland Ice and Bottling Works in 1930.




Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Not exactly a whiskey but... I'll bet a lot of it was consumed on this auspicious occasion!

This is an interesting piece which will appeal to many collectors of various genres. It is a dance card for the 4th annual ball at Wadsworth Nevada, in 1902. The card is dated Dec. 31, 1902, and is significant for one reason, it was Wadsworth’s swan song.

Wadsworth Nevada was originally a wide spot on the trail, located on the Truckee River. It was a stopping spot for weary settlers headed west. Later, during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, the Central Pacific (CP) selected this spot as being ideal for their repair shops. In 1868, they built a roundhouse, repair facilities, and a depot. Hotels, stores and saloons soon followed. A residential section also began to emerge.

All went well and the place thrived. In 1882 the CP elected to begin construction of new facilities (across the river) and by 1884, the relocation had been completed. 1884 was also significant because the original town site across the river burned to the ground. Things went well and the new town site continued to flourish for nearly twenty more years.

Clubs, lodges and fraternal organizations were popular and the Ladies Society of the BOF (I know not what this stands for) was one of the active groups. Lillian Flint was one of the members. On Dec. 31, 1902 Lillian attended the 4th annual ball.

There are many things about this dance card that make it unique. Check out the names of each dance! One of the other things that I noted is that Lillian dutifully wrote down each partner with whom she danced. That was until about half way through the evening. It would appear that either her feet gave out, or she had one too many libations, as the entries ceased with #7, a polka~


The date of this waltz (Dec 31, 1902) was significant. In 1902, the CP (by then the Southern Pacific - SP) had decided to realign their route and move their facilities, lock, stock and barrel, to their new company town, which we know today as Sparks.

The date of Dec. 31, 1902 was indeed Wadsworth’s swan song as the town emptied out as quickly as it had originally been built.