The Centennial 1776 Tonic Bitters from Philadelphia?
10 November 2015
Jeff Wichmann has some super nice bottles in his American Bottle Auctions | Auction 62 that is now underway. I thought it was just a matter of time, and bottles, before another auction would take place from Jeff’s shop in Sacramento. Most, if not all of these items seem to be new consignments, as I do not remember seeing them when I visited in September of this year.
One lot you bitters collectors might want to pay attention to is the Centennial 1776 Tonic Bitters. This is an odd bottle that I have only seen once before, and that was at an auction in June 2010 that Jeff also conducted. That bottle is now comfortably resting on a shelf in Houston. If this bottle is truly from Philadelphia, that is weird and too easy. So what goes?
The Carlyn Ring and W.C. Ham listing in Bitters Bottles is as follows:
C 115 CENTENNIAL 1776 TONIC BITTERS
CENTENNIAL // 1776 // TONIC BITTERS // f // f // f //
9 5/8 x 3 (6 1/2)
Six sided (five 1 1/4 inch panels and one 2 1/4 inch panel), Aqua, ARM
Applied mouth, Extremely rare
Buchanan and Stephen, 388 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Jeff’s description of the first example he sold:
According to ABA, a gentleman and his wife who have had it for a number of years, consigned this fine piece. The bottle came as a great surprise, as it is not only a rare bottle, but the form is unique in many minds with the six sides culminating in a dome with an applied ring on the neck. Probably made in 1876. Example dug near Leadville, Colorado
Jeff’s description of the example now at auction:
CENTENNIAL TONIC BITTERS 1776. C-115. Applied band and smooth base 8 ¾”. We mentioned at the beginning of the bitters listings that we had some rare bottles and nothing is rarer than this unusual bottle. Although there is more than one bottle that commemorates the hundred years after the independence, you’d think there’d be a lot more. The bottle came as a great surprise, having sold the other only known variant as it is not only a rare bottle, but also the form is unique in our minds with the six sides culminating in a dome with an applied ring on the neck. We’re thinking this bottle could have been made in 1876, what do you think? If you like rarity and the unusual, this one might be for you. Grades a 9.0 with some haze. We know, with a little professional cleaning, this bottle would really shine. We can certainly help in that regard.
If you notice, the Ring & Ham listing for this extremely rare bottle says, “Buchanan and Stephen, 388 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania”. I wonder where they got this information as I can not find any listings for Buchanan & Stephen in Philadelphia on or around 1876 which one might suspect inspired the name of this brand?
Now both of Jeff’s listings have western connections like, “Example dug near Leadville, Colorado” for the 2010 example and just the fact that he is auctioning a second example in Sacramento. Who knows, maybe it was consigned from the east?
When I search online, I find no Philadelphia connections with the exception of the very ‘Philadelphia like’ name, “Centennial 1776 Tonic Bitters”. Of course, on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies were a new nation, the United States of America, and no longer part of the British Empire. The 100 year anniversary or centennial would have been 1876.
As you might imagine there were tons of events, products and references to our Centennial in 1876 just like the Bicentennial in 1976. With bitters, there are lots of Centennial brands, some listed and some not listed, in the Ring & Ham Bitters Bottles books.
Within the original Ring & Ham, Bitters Bottles I see a C 112 Centennial Bitters made by E. A. Jaujou in San Francisco, California. There is also a listing for a C 113 Centennial Bitters put out by Paul Reinhert & Company, 494 Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. And yet another listing for C 114 Centennial Bitters put out by Dr. Peter Van Ingen in Brooklyn New York. His trademark #2326 was dated March, 1875 and he said his product was in use since 1843! Boy was this guy ahead of the curve.
On my own, I found an advertisement for Centennial Bitters sold by A. C. Hopkins & Company in Indianapolis in 1876. You can see an ad in the Select Listings below.
Next, I find an advertisement for Centennial Bitters sold by Messrs. Champigny & Fink in New Orleans (see ad below) in 1878.
I then find a listing for a Centennial Tonic Bitters that was sold by Hunt, Rankin & Lamar and D. B. Plumb & Co. in Georgia around 1878 to 1880. You can see two advertisements below. The 1776 was not mentioned in the brand name. Was this our bottle?
a compound consisting of water and 30 per cent alcohol medicated with a few bitter herbs and rock candy
Next there is a man named Theodore Keuchman who was a druggist in Muscatine, Iowa who was arrested in 1911 and tried in 1912 for selling labeled bottles of Centennial Tonic Bitters with 30% alcohol content, bitter herbs and rock candy. The suit was brought by anti-saloon owners and temperance members for the state. In Ring & Ham, this is C 116 L Centennial Tonic Bitters. This was a labeled amber square.
There was also a C 117 Centennial Tea Bitters from Newark, New Jersey in 1877 and a C 117.7 Centennial Wine Bitters made by J. H. Robinson in Tunhannock, Pennsylvania.