Thursday, February 1, 2024

                                            UDOLPHO  WOLFE


There are times when unexpected information pops up that is encountered when least expected. About 15 years ago I found the following pages in a book that most collectors of antique bottles may find interesting.

I published it in our local bottle club newsletter, which was read by only a handful of people.  I believe that there are enough collectors who are familiar with the bottled product of this man that it would have a general interest.

The name of our subject is Udolpho Wolfe, a Virginia born businessman who moved to New York and made a huge fortune selling gin.  His secret was two-fold.  Udolpho gave his gin a new name, “schnapps”, which was apparently a colloquial word for gin that was commonly used in Holland.  His other secret was advertising.  Udolpho’s advertisements appeared virtually all over the world, which was a huge expense but paid off handsomely.

Udolpho’s will left his substantial company to David H. Burke, his brother-in-law, and partner in the firm at the time of Udolpho’s death on September 14, 1869.  Burke, and others, acted as executors of Udolpho’s estate for two years until Udolpho’s only son, Joel Wolfe, reached a majority age, who then took charge of the company.

There is really no need to include pictures of his bottle here, since most collectors have seen many examples.  The earliest specimens are pontiled and the latest are machine made. While the story of the man and his bottles deserves an expanded treatise, the following recollections of him, by a fellow businessman, and New Yorker, printed in 1885, gives some fascinating insight into his life.

The following biographical sketch explains the reason for the subtle difference in the appearance of the Australian Udolpho Wolfe bottles compared with those of the U.S.  Wolfe’s manufacturing and bottling house in Hamburg, Germany, serviced all parts of the world except the United States.  The schnapps destined for the American market was distilled in Schiedam, Holland, and shipped in bulk to be bottled only for the U.S. market.  On the subject of litigation it should be noted that Wolfe’s schnapps was possibly the most imitated bottled product known.  As a result a great amount of information on his schnapps and his imitators reside in numerous legal and court documents scattered around the U.S. and the world.  One day it would make a great research project for someone.

*Note:  In several places a unit of measurement called a “pipe” is referred to below.  One pipe equals approximately 126 gallons.

 Just one of the many lawsuits presented to the Wolfe company is presented in the article below. Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), October 28, 1884

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