Nevada Backbar Letter
01 October 2016
This letter is in response to the “Unicorns and Rainbows” opinion that certain bottles mentioned in an article entitled “Nevada Backbar Bottle Bonanza” (FOHBC magazine “Bottles and Extras, September-October 2016 edition, page 33) are not genuine, legitimate Nevada bottles. I include my personal research on a select handful.
Columbia Club Rye – C. Thomas
This bottle came from the Columbia Club in Pioneer, Nevada. That the Columbia Club existed is evidenced by a rare Columbia Club, Pioneer, Nevada, 12 ½ cent trade token. Additionally, an article printed in the May 7, 1909 edition of the Reno Gazette-Journal mentions a “disastrous fire in Pioneer, Nevada” in which the Columbia Club was among businesses suffering loss. Charles Thomas is listed in the 1910 U.S. Federal Census living in Pioneer (Springdale district), Nevada as the manager of a department store, which makes sense because the fire in 1909 destroyed the saloon.
The final, and most compelling evidence, is a photo (found in the UNLV digital library on line) from the Charles Thomas and Perry photo collection showing Charles Thomas standing in front of the Columbia Club in Pioneer with the handwritten notation “He is always the same.” This bottle has been examined thoroughly by many collectors and has been deemed to be genuine.
Manhattan XXXX – J. E. Connor
The author left out one distinctive marking on this bottle that helps greatly in its identification. The name “J. E. Connor” is enameled below the “Manhattan XXXX” on this backbar. Joseph E. Connor was a hotel and saloon owner in Manhattan, Nevada, as evidenced by RL Polk’s Nevada State Gazeteer and Business Directory, First Edition (1907-1908) and further supported by the 1910 U.S. Federal Census.
He continued to reside in Manhattan through 1920, as evidenced by the U.S. Federal Census, and is still in the hotel business in addition to being co-owner of the Manhattan Water Company (documented in the Appendix to Journals of Senate and Assembly of the State of Nevada and Report of the Railroad and Public Service Commissions of Nevada). This bottle has been examined thoroughly by many collectors and has been deemed to be genuine.
This particular bottle was found in Austin, Nevada in the burned out ruins of the International Hotel. When the hotel burned local resident Gail Williams, then a young girl, recovered it from the site and asked the owner if she could have it. He replied “Yes, if you promise never to bring it back.”
Many years later a bottle show was being held in Austin and although the International was not on display, show goers heard of its existence there in town. Gail was subsequently pressured by so many collectors that she put the bottle in a closet in her home and refused to answer the door when they knocked. The bottle was however, ultimately sold. Her nephew is a close friend of mine and I was permitted to view the bottle several years before it was sold. The story of the bottle’s discovery was relayed to me directly by Gail Williams, the then-owner. Its provenance is impeccable and is well-known among Nevada collectors.
Belmont W. B.
There are actually two Belmont backbars: Belmont W. B. and Belmont W. B. & S. My research documents the second bottle. W. B. & S. stands for (Thomas) Warburton, (Frank) Brotherton and (Carl) Schaefer. These merchants are well-known to Nye County, Nevada researchers. Warburton was a hotel owner in Belmont as well as a deputy sheriff, the county assessor and treasurer, a school trustee, deputy postmaster, and a member of the IOOF Nevada grand lodge. Brotherton served as Belmont’s postmaster, was the county clerk, a clerk in the judicial district court, and was also a member of the IOOF Nevada grand lodge. Schaefer, Brotherton’s brother-in-law, was a general merchant in Belmont.
There are many, many billheads, receipts and ephemera that document the trio’s partnerships. They were brother Masons and active in both the IOOF and Silver Party and Republican groups. At one time, Thomas Warburton owned a hotel. This bottle, however, is from the period when the trio dealt in general merchandise. In a shrewd business move, when Brotherton served as Belmont’s postmaster he moved the post office into the general merchandise store.
That they dealt in whiskey and bottled spirits is evidenced by a letter from a resident of Jefferson, Nevada requesting “a bottle of good whiskey be sent by stage”. Over-the-counter drink sales are proven by an extremely rare “Frank Brotherton, Belmont, Nevada 12 ½ cent drink or cigar” token. The W. B. & S. bottle was found in the 1950s in Belmont by a person who lived in both Belmont and Tonopah. It was subsequently purchased by Willie Manzini of Austin, Nevada. This Belmont, Nevada backbar bottle’s provenance is impeccable and certainly has not been faked.
In conclusion, it is always good to chronicle the ownership, custody or location of any historical object, including bottles. Establishing that history, whenever possible, through contextual and circumstantial evidence helps authenticate the item. We’re fortunate that we have so many research aids at our fingertips through the internet. I hope my comments above have alleviated any concerns about the authenticity of four important Nevada backbars.