Alcohol by Mail, Early 20th Century Style

Like a good blogger, I have a constant list of ideas in a file somewhere: culinary books, ephemera, or collections to write about some day. Today’s feature has been on my list, probably since the day we got it (or very nearly). I forgot about it for a while, then put it on the list some months ago. It seems as good a day as any to look at an item about mail order booze…

The image above is a c.1910s mail order price list from Lowenbach Bros. At the time we acquired the item, tempted as I was to lose hours on a single sheet of paper, I resisted. Which is to say, I didn’t go down the genealogy road and attempt to identify or locate one or more actual Lowenbach brothers who may have been connected to the business. So, you can imagine how excited I was to do a little digging this morning for the first time in 4+ years and discover someone else was very interested in this family and had written about it on a blog devoted to the pre-Prohibition whiskey industry. So, if you want to learn about the Lowenbach family, which included three generations, check out the post on “Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men.” It’s worth noting that the referenced blog post points the origins of the business being even closer to Blacksburg than Alexandria–it was in Harrisonburg!

(Hmm, what? Where were we? I may have been a bit distracted by the discovery of that blog…)

Anyway, our collection consists of this single mail order flyer. If you’re a cocktail historian or fan, many or all of the brands listed may seem unfamiliar. While there are certain brands and distillery locations that have been around for the long haul (a version of Old Crow, for example, has been around since the 1830s, though it’s had many evolutions). There were also plenty of more short-lived ones, too. And, as we know, Prohibition took a lot of business out of the running–including the Lowenbach Bros. I suspect this price list dates to the early 1910s, as the company was shut down by the ban and didn’t reopen afterward (at least not under the same or a similar name). I also love that the flyer includes bottled cocktails in three kinds from three different companies. Bottled cocktails have been around since the early days and while some version of them has always been on the shelves, there was a distinct decline in the latter half of the 20th century. Interest in them is on the rise again, as well as in barrel-aged cocktails. I feel like the Lowenbachs would have been behind that trend, too. After all barrels have always been integral to distilling and transporting alcohol.

I digitized the item for the post and since the whole collection is this one item, I was able to add to our digital collection site. You can look at it in on the web here: https://digitalsc.lib.vt.edu/items/show/6946. You can also read the finding aid online for the collection, too (though it may be time to re-visit it and add a bit more).

Items like this may seem odd or out of place, but they can still give us some great insight into cocktail culture and alcohol history. We’re here all summer, if you need some cocktail (or culinary) inspiration or just want to dig through some fun ephemera. You never know what you might find!

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Richmond-Area Event

If you happen to live or be in the Richmond area anytime soon, there’s a GREAT exhibit at the Library of Virginia you should check out! Teetotalers & Moonshiners: Prohibition in Virginia, Distilled is all about the history of prohibition in our state (which, believe me, is fascinating!). You can read a bit more about it online. It’s on display through December 5, 2017.

“How Good Ale is Brewed” (and why we’re celebrating it!)

April 7th is one of my favorite cocktail-related anniversaries: This year, it’s the 84th anniversary of the passage of the Cullen-Harrison Act. It’s more correct to say it’s a beer-related anniversary and, even more officially, National Beer Day! You can read my two previous posts about the act here and here. I’ll keep piggy-backing on previous posts, but the one sentence version is that the Cullen-Harrison Act was a 1933 piece of Congressional legislation that provided for the sale of beer (or wine!) with an alcohol content of 3.2%. In honor of the occasion, I found a 1902, pre-Prohibition booklet called “How Good Ale is Brewed.”

I like the noble introduction this item, that can be found on page 2 (transcribed below): 

The objects of this pamphlet are: First, by means of actual photographs, to illustrate the progress and success of one of the most important industries of New England–a progress which is none the less interesting because its moral is, “Whatever you do, do it well”: and, second, to give a general description of the methods which have been (and are being) employed by one of the famous breweries of the world to obtain perfection both in brewing and in bottling.

This pamphlet was a new find on the shelves for me, and it’s a great, photograph-laden tour of the brewery and the brewing process. Most of the pages include several images, like these examples!

My favorite page was the last one that includes the label art from the brewery and a nice description of the beers the company produced at the time.  (Please note the “Nourishing Stout” which was “highly recommended by the medical faculty in all cases of weakness or during convalescence.” ) Much like the bitters and patent medicines, beer also had a place in medical history!

If you’ve never heard of the Frank Jones Brewery before, don’t feel bad. While it had a long run in one form or another (1854-1947), the Frank Jones Brewery, like many others in the alcohol business, was crushed (like an empty beer can?) by Prohibition. It closed its doors when New Hampshire as a state banned booze in 1917 (many counties already had restrictions in place). While a brewery reopened on the site after Prohibition ended, it wasn’t called the same thing. From 1933 to 1937, it was the Eldridge Brewing Company of Portsmouth, named for a former rival of Jones’. After that, the brewery reverted to the Frank Jones Brewery (whose recipe the owners had been using all along) and the name of standard ale was renamed “Frank Jones Ale.” Pre-Prohibition, the brewery was widely available and a strong competitor with brews from other large New England and northeast cities. Later, though, it lost some of its market. There is an interesting history of the brewery online that explains all this in more detail for the curious.  Frank Jones himself, in addition to his reputation as a brewer, was also known as a politician. He was a Portsmouth mayor, a New Hampshire Congressman, and failed gubernatorial candidate in the last third of the 19th century. He was born (b. 1832) and raised in New Hampshire and actually died the year this booklet was published (1902).

On National Beer Day, a pamphlet like this reminds us to give a little tip of the hat (or clink of the glass) to Mssrs. Cullen and Harrison and the demise of the Volstead Act, without which we wouldn’t be collecting these cocktail and beer history materials today!

Beer Me! (After all, it’s National Beer Day!)

Today is National Beer Day–And, for good reason! It’s the 83rd anniversary of the Cullen-Harrison Act, which was enacted on March 21 and signed by FDR on March 22. This 1933 piece of Congressional legislation provided for the sale of beer (or wine!) with an alcohol content of 3.2%. Last year, we talked about the act in a bit more detail, and I won’t go back into it today. The important part is that it signaled a change in the air (and the glasses) throughout the nation. So, this week, I found two pieces of beer-related ephemera. While we aren’t entirely sure when they are from, it’s definitely after 1933, so both of these pamphlets owe their legacy to Mssrs. Cullen and Harrison.

The first is “Carling: The Story of Brewing,” from the Carling Brewing Company in Ohio (not to be confused with the larger, multi-national Carling Brewery), which began in 1934. See, it all comes back to Prohibition–and, in this case, the inability to sell cars during the Depression. The building had been a car manufacturing plant that proved less-than-successful in the early 1930s and the plant was converted to a brewery instead, under the name Brewery Corp. of America. The name changed to the Carling Brewing Company in 1954, suggesting that our pamphlet hails from the mid-1950s or later. It’s a short pamphlet about the process of brewing and is essentially like a modern “FAQ” section on beer.

Our second pamphlet also likely comes from the 1950s, “Food for Entertaining: Better with Beer.” Published by the American Can Company, it includes meal plans that go well with beer and recipes for many of the dishes (some of which are beer-based). The corporate emphasis here is on the can and its design and in fact, the recipes and advice all generically reference using “beer” or “ale,” without a nod to a particular brand or style. As long as you’re buying something, I guess?

While your archivist/blogger is off at a conference next week, presenting and taking in the food/cocktails of a city I’ve never visited before, you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy a post I’m preparing this week about a newly-acquired piece of advertising ephemera (I must be on an ephemeral roll?) for a very different sort of beverage.

For today, though, don’t forget to raise a glass to the forward-thinking of two men and the beginning of the end of Prohibition. Cheers!

Celebrate Repeal Day in 2015 with a 1933 Cocktail Guide

Repeal Day is on almost here! 82 years ago on Saturday (December 5th), the 21st amendment was ratified, giving America back the legal right to transport and import (and consume!) alcohol.

THE 21ST AMENDMENT
RATIFIED DECEMBER 5, 1933
SECTION 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

SECTION 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use there in of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

SECTION 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

It also means this is a time of year when I always put up a feature about something relating to cocktail history, something I started back in 2012 (search “repeal day” on the blog and you’ll find the three previous posts, as well as some others discussing the history of Prohibition).

For many Americans, December 5, 1933, was an exciting day. For others, it was a defeat. But, of course, the division of opinions was the cause of prohibition laws in individual states before 1919, as well as the era we call Prohibition with a capital “P.” During a 1932 campaign speech, FDR said

However we may differ as to method, we all agree that temperance is one of the cardinal virtues. In dealing with the great social problems in my own State, such as the care of the wards of the States, and in combating crime, I have had to consider most earnestly this question of temperance…But the methods adopted since the World War with the purpose of achieving a greater temperance by the forcing of Prohibition have been accompanied in most parts of the country by complete and tragic failure. I need not point out to you that general encouragement of lawlessness has resulted; that corruption, hypocrisy, crime and disorder have emerged, and that instead of restricting, we have extended the spread of intemperance.

One of the major lessons of Prohibition was that attempts to completely remove a vice from society can actually have the opposite effect, as FDR noted. It was equally important to him, though, that after the repeal of the 18th amendment, we not go back to the old ways. The late edition of the New York Times on Wednesday, December 6, 1933, had a front page article, “Prohibition Repeal Is Ratified at 5:32 P.M.; Roosevelt Asks Nation to Bar the Saloon; New York Celebrates With Quiet Restraint.” While refusing to pass federal legislation on the matter, FDR’s concern was that the repeal not result in an excessive return to the old ways. More specifically, he “asked personally for what he and his party had declined to make the subject of Federal mandate — that saloons be barred from the country…’I ask especially,’ he said, ‘that no State shall, by law or otherwise, authorize the return of the saloon, either in its old form or in some modern guise.'”

While his request wouldn’t be honored very long and bars were quick to return, after December 5th, the question of temperance and intemperance was back in the hands of the individual. And, to be quite honest, without Prohibition, the cocktail wouldn’t have evolved the way it did. After 1933, cocktails continued to develop, moving from something one had while out to something one could make at home, as ingredients were suddenly available and Prohibition-influences had expanded the idea of a cocktail and created the idea of a “mixed drink.”

There’s plenty more to say on this and more history to share, but I have promised you a feature item. We’ll save further history for another day. In the meantime, here’s some advice for The Home Bartender (1933),  whether you were mixing before December 5 that year, or not. 🙂

Driscoll has an introductory note to his little volume, which states,

The Author of this book, J. F. Driscoll, an old timer, is well experienced and versed in his profession. He has spent over twenty years in the U. S. A. and Old Mexico, as bartender, Buffet Bar, Oyster Bar, Sandwich Bar Man, and also as Waiter…He therefore knows and understands the wishes and complete desires of the American Public, those who frequent Alcoholic and Non-alcoholic drinking and dining emporiums, places that cater to the better class….I therefore hope this book agrees with your heartiest and most considerate approval…

Driscoll, like many other bartenders, appears to have spent at least part of Prohibition abroad–in this case, working in, as he puts it, “Tia Juana.” His diversity of employment is reflected by a diverse knowledge of cocktails, punches, wines, syrups, and non-alcoholic drinks. At the same time, The Home Bartender was likely published before December 5, 1933, and as a result, it’s a nod to the one place a person could legally consume alcohol…providing they hadn’t transported or imported it. (I’ll leave that puzzle to be solved another day.) So, get creative with something unfamiliar (a brandy float!) or mix up your favorite classic cocktail (toddy season is nearly upon us!) this Saturday. Cheers!

Forty Famous Cocktails: A Recipe Card with a Twist

This week’s feature is a cocktail item that we acquired back in 2013. About that time, I planned to write a post about it, but first I was waiting for it to come back from cataloging. Then I cam across it again, but I had written a recent post about another cocktail item, so the timing was wrong again. Two weeks ago, I pulled it from the shelves to display at an event in Special Collections and was reminded it was tucked away. Somehow, this week, the timing felt right. I’m happy to present Forty Famous Cocktails, probably published in the 1930s, either during Prohibition, or shortly after the ban was lifted.

As you can tell, Forty Famous Cocktails isn’t a traditional publication. It’s not a book (though it is in our catalog) and it’s not exactly a piece of ephemera that belongs Cocktail Ephemera Collection (which I hadn’t started building just yet). Rather, it’s a two-sided sleeve within a two-sided card. The outside sleeve features some outlandish caricatures with strategic spaces. (You can click on the any of the images above for a closer look.) In two the images above, when the inner card is flush,  you’ll see phrases, images, bottle labels, and even eyes on the bartender, depending on which side you’re viewing. In the other two images above, you get a better sense of how the card is actually used. As you pull the inner card up, you can see a drink name appear under the word “Orders” on each side. Moving across card, appearing on bottles and in paintings, you can see the ingredients and the instructions for the drink.

Historic cocktail books are great and I love all of the ones in our collection. Seriously, you can’t ever ask me to pick a favorite–you either get a different answer every time, or just a strange look while I’m unable to make a decision. However, I think cocktail ephemera and interactive items like this one, which often times weren’t designed to live long lives (you can see some damage at the top of our card!), are equally important to cocktail and social history, too.  (Note the directions for the Harvard state “Shake well and down with Yale.”) They can offer comedic or practical insight into the view of alcohol at a given era and a sense of what was popular. While Forty Famous Cocktails does contain recipes for still-popular drinks like the Whiskey Sour or Side Car, it also includes drinks rare (if ever) heard of today. When we bought this item in 2013, it was the first time I’d seen a reference to the Nassau Beach or the Serpent’s Tooth (I have seen recipes for the latter since, dating from roughly the same time period, but still not the former).

Our copy measures 29 x 19 cm, but there was another “edition,” for lack of better word, that was produced at about half the size, so I know there are other ones out there. However, scans can’t do this item justice, so if you’d like to see more, you may need to pay us a visit. We’ll be here and while we can’t promise you a friendly bartender with a cool cocktail waiting, we can promise you some friendly archivists, some cool cocktail history, and maybe even a little mixology advice.

 

Beer: Before and After (Prohibition, that is)

Tuesday (April 7) was National Beer Day–and not just for any old reason, I assure you. April 7, 1933, was the day the Cullen-Harrison Act went into effect. “What’s the Cullen-Harrison Act?” you might (rightly) ask. Enacted on March 21 and signed by FDR on March 22, this 1933 piece of Congressional legislation provided for the sale of beer (or wine!) with an alcohol content of 3.2%. Although it was no guarantee that beer or wine would suddenly be available on April 7 (individual states had to pass further laws granting the sale), it did signal the beginning of the end of Prohibition in the America (the 21st Amendment would be passed in December 1933).

Back in 2011, while going through some unprocessed materials, I found a single letter. At the time, it seemed mildly interesting, but other projects had priority. Before long, though, we were acquiring materials on the history of the cocktail and Prohibition, and the letter eventually popped back in my head. Written in 1909 by the president and secretary/treasurer of the Virginia Brewing Company, it was a plea not to pass legislation that would ban the manufacture of beer in Roanoke.

Virginia Brewing Company Letter, 1909

Although Virginia did pass Prohibition legislation a full three years before the Volstead Act and the 18th Amendment, banning sale and transport of alcohol in 1920, in 1909, the Scholz business, it seems, remained safe. The Virginia Prohibition Commission was formed in 1916 to enforce the Virginia Prohibition Act, giving the Virginia Brewing Company a 5-year reprieve. (Side note: The Library of Virginia has a great page with information about the Virginia Prohibition Commission and the records the library houses.)

The Virginia Brewing Company (for which there is a GREAT short history online that helped me out!), as the letter suggests, was well established in the Roanoke area. It began in 1889, started up by none other than the Louis A. Scholz on the letterhead. Louis (1863-1934) immigrated to the United States in 1882 from Germany. After starting out in Baltimore, he eventually settled in the Roanoke area and raised at least three children with his wife, Henrietta. In 1916, the brewery closed. Louis found work (the 1920 census lists him as the manager of a bottleworks) elsewhere, until Prohibition blew over. He planned to re-open the Virginia Brewing Company, but died before the new plant was complete. A new owner opened it in 1936, however, and it stayed open until 1958 under the original name, and as the Mountain Brewing Company from 1958-1959.

Louis’s brother Henry (abt. 1866-1924) came to the United States in 1890, specifically to help his brother start the business. He and his wife, Louisa, had at least two children. In 1920, according the census, Henry appears to have been owner of “moving picture co” in Roanoke. (He had actually co-owned the theater since 1913).  A little further digging revealed this to be the first American Theatre, located, at the time, on S. Jefferson Street. However, Henry had his hand in MANY businesses in the Roanoke area during his life there, including the raising of Roanoke baseball team to join the Virginia League, the movie theater, and one of the first newsstands in the city.

What was supposed to be a short paragraph on the two brothers and their brewery has taken me down a rabbit-hole of discovery. Between census records and Roanoke City history, I’ve found far more than I expected about this fascinating family, invested more time than planned (which is always the way), and I still held back some information!) While it may not be relevant to this particular letter and its request for support, it DOES remind me of the fun of my job (there’s still more to be found) and it reminds all of us that culinary, cocktail, and food history don’t exist in a vacuum. The Scholz brothers were more than just brewers in the picture of early 20th century Roanoke history, and our one short letter shouldn’t fool you. Prost! (That’s German for “Cheers!”)