Friday, July 29, 2011

What to do, what to do?

Got a "bottle email" this morning. Well, actually a bunch, as usual... But one stood out. A request for help identifying a shard. I'm good at it. One of the few things that I'm really good at. Show me a chunk of a whiskey with a couple of letters and I'll nail it 99 out of 100 times; normally at first glance.

So what's so different about this email? It was from a professor emeritus of anthropology at one of the largest universities in California. That's what.

A moral dilemma if ever there was one. I read, and re-read the email. Most of you know my feelings about Oregon archeologists and anthropologists. But this person was from California; in fact my old alma mater... And it's still legal to dig in California. And so reason and a sense of duty kicked in.

Here's the "transcript" of the correspondence.

Dear colleague,

I recovered fragments of an embossed whiskey bottle at an archaeological site about 20 miles north of Fort Bragg, Mendocino County, California.

The site dates from late prehistoric up to circa. 1920.

The bottle is clear glass. I think the two fragments are from the same bottle.

What remains of the embossed lettering reads:

[Fragment #1]

..AR & CO.



[Fragment #2]



From these small clues, can you identify the brand name of the whiskey, and the name of the "Sole Agent"?

As a prehistoric archaeologist, I'm pretty much out of my league on historic bottles.

Many thanks for any help.

Txx Lxxxxxx

Txxxxx X. Lxxxxxx
Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus
Xxx Xxxx State University

I replied;


Thanks for the email. Always nice to hear from my old Alma Mater.

The bottle shard that you recovered was blown for the firm of A. Fenkhausen & Co of San Francisco, Ca. Here is a brief synopsis of the man, the company and the bottle.

Amandus Fenkhausen entered the wholesale liquor business in burgeoning San Francisco in 1861 as a dealer in "wines and liquors". He originally located the business at 322 Montgomery St. and resided on "Mason between Broadway and Vallejo". He also owned a saloon on Kearny St. for a couple of years during the same time period.

 In 1864 he decided to focus strictly on the wholesale end of the liquor business. In 1868 he partnered up with C.P. Gerichten, also a native German. The business relocated to 322 California St., did well and was sold to Wolters & Fecheimer in 1874.

Fenkhausen took a year sabbatical from the wholesale liquor business, after the sale of the company, and re-entered the fray in 1875, locating at the corner of Front and Sacramento Sts. in S.F. The business, at that time, was listed as A. Fenkhausen & Co. In 1878, he established a partnership with Herman Braunschweiger and opened a "store" located at 414 Front S.t (actually the same address previously recorded as "corner of Front and Sacramento Sts.). The1878 directory lists them as "retail liquor dealers", as well as "liquor - importers and wholesaler". It was during this time period that they became agents for Wm. H. Spears Old Pioneer Whiskey and commissioned a San Francisco glass works to have a mold cut and produce amber bottles with the picture of a California Grizzly Bear on the front. This bottle has become known as the "two name bear" and is exceedingly rare, with about a dozen undamaged examples documented to exist. It was only produced in amber glass and the tops were crudely applied. The examples that I've seen range in hue from nearly lemon yellow (dug Jacksonville, Oregon ca. 1980) to shades of orange and straight amber. All were crudely made and have strong strikes.

This partnership was also short lived, and was dissolved in 1881. Fenkhausen trademarked the "Old Pioneer" brand after the split, and continued to sell it in redesigned bottles that were embossed only with his name, "A. Fenkhausen & Co." where both names had been located previously. This was accomplished by repairing the old mold, as opposed to incurring the expense of entirely new mold, and the mold was used until the mid '80's when it wore out.

A new mold was commissioned in the mid 1880's and differs from the reworked mold; no slugged repair area. This variant also has an applied top and is seen in shades of amber. Approximately two dozen of these survive in collections. This mold was used until sometime in the mid1890's. In the mid nineties, Fenkhausen, along with a number of other German liquor wholesalers, commissioned the firm of Abramson Heunich to have a German glassworks cut a new mold and manufacture bottles in Europe. These differ from the domestically produced bottles in that they are of clear glass that has a slight straw caste. This undertone was the result of adding selenium dioxide as the decolorizing agent. They also have an applied top, and are generally quite crude with notable whittling.

Later yet, around the mid 90's, a new domestically produced mold of the picture bear was produced. It was generally blown in clear glass that utilized a manganese dioxide decolorizing agent that allows the glass to turn purple when exposed to UV radiation (ie: sunlight). There are over three dozen of this variant known to have survived. There are also roughly one half dozen examples of this mold variant in collections that were blown with amber glass. Both clear and amber versions of this mold were made using advanced production techniques, have tooled tops, and a depth of embossing that makes one think that the bear is ready to walk off the face of the bottle.

Fenkhausen also had a more generic bottle produced that allowed for paper labeling of products other than the flagship Old Pioneer brand. It is embossed simply, "A. Fenkhausen & Co. / large logo / San Francisco". The bottles were produced both domestically, and in Germany and date ca. mid 1890's . The last record that I could find in the Langley directories for Amandus Fenkhausen was 1893. He vanished into history with the publication of the 1894 edition.

 Attached please find photo documentation of most of these molds for your inspection and comparison. Please feel free to touch base if I can be of any further assistance.

Bruce Silva
Jacksonville, Or.

I'm hoping that this shared knowledge goes a ways toward furthering our stature as amateur archeologists and historians and, just maybe, paints us as something more than simple pot hunters in the "professional" circle.

Face it, we need all the positive image we can generate if we want to continue to breath life into our hobby~



  1. Boy, I sure hope you didn't put Txxx the prehistoric archaeologist on overload with all that information about someones garbage.

  2. I think your response will exceed any and all expectations set by the professor. Sharing our passion and knowledge with anyone who has a genuine interests is what it's all about. I know sveveral archaeologists and they are super cool. In fact 2 of them are in the San Diego Antique Bottle and Collectibles Club. They learn from us and we learn from them. Once we put our ego and biases aside, we end up realizing there are more good and well-intended folks out there than jerks and scoundrels. There are indeed some stuffy, pretentious, and viligant archs out there, but can't we say the same about bottle collectors and diggers?

    A friendly and positive attitude, as exhibited by the above email responce from K.G. is what might allow for a mutually beneficial existence between formal archaeologists and bot-ologists. Afterall, how would they get their information on old bottles if it weren't for the likes of authors like Thomas, Barnett, Markota, and Ring?

    J.F. Cutter Extra

  3. Were not that important.

  4. this is an awesome site I have been trying desperatley to find out about my pioneer whisky bottle. It looks like I may have the real deal due to this great information.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.