Thursday, June 30, 2011

Plate misalignment for R167 5ct Documentary Battleship



Dave Thompson sent in this R167 block of four showing the columns to be vertically misaligned.  Black lines have been drawn on the horizontal across the top edge of the stamps that shows the stamps on the right to be aligned below the stamps on the left.  The inset below shows the misalignment more dramatically. 


Is this an example of siderographers being sloppy or something else?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Washington Subtypes



Dave Thompson sends in this scan of a recent Ebay purchase in which the seller misidentified the stamp type.  Which type do you think this is?

Postage stamp collectors get the triangle types and especially the types of triangle 3 often confused; I would think that it happens even more often in revenue collections. Both the Kilmer illegal provisionals and the officially overprinted IR versions of this 2 cent Washington postage stamp have these identification problems.  The 1898 collector needs to be familiar with the differences between type 3 and 4 especially.

R155's parent stamp type is Scott #267

R155A's parent stamp type is Scott #267

There is a great online resource for making the identification of these stamps simple.  The webiste 1847 USA has a great identifier page that you can find at the link provided.  A screen shot of some of the resources available is attached below:



Thanks to Dave for pointing out this resource.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

R192A $5 Commerce Documentary: No Numeral and No Varnish

R192a $5 Green Documentary

Dave Thompson sent in this scan of an R192, MNH, with no surcharged numeral.  The Scott catalog lists the stamp with a separate value for the missing surchage.  It does not mention, though, the missing varnish, which the stamp does not appear to have as well.

The granularity of Scott listings among the revenues and the 1898s has always left something to be desired. In this case, the catalog does not distinguish by value or by numbering the presence or lack of varnish.

Cancel for June 28: T. D. & Brother

T.  D.  &  BRO.
JUN   28   1899
W-B.,  PA.

Help needed in identifying this cancel in full.  Who is T.D.?  And what was he doing in Wilkes-Barre?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Cancel for June 27: Bi-Metallic Bank

BI - METALLIC
JUN  27  1899
B  A  N  K.

R175 5 dollar documentary


The Bi-Metallic Bank was so named in the late 19th century when bi-metallism had become a major national political issue.  Bi-mettalism as a standard had been dropped during the Civil War, and the United States issued "greenbacks," unbacked paper currency.  In 1792, the US had passed the Coinage Act designating a ratio in value between gold and silver of 15:1, and the value of the dollar was supported by either of these metals at this fixed rate.  After the Civil War, the Fourth Coinage Act was passsed, resuming a metallic standard for the dollar, but for gold only. 

The Fourth Coinage Act angered proponents of monetary silver.  Silver proponents included populist politicians like William Jennings Bryan (the Cross of Gold speech), and silver mine owners.  William McKinley ran on a gold only standard, defeating the Bryan free silverites in the Presidential election of 1896.

The Bi-Metallic bank was based in Cripple Creek Colorado, and its owner, David Moffat, also a railroad baron, was pro-silver.

David Moffat


Bi-Metallic Bank in 1896 after its destruction in a labor riot.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Auctions, Ebay Lot: R155 Cancelled July 1, 1898


The G. C. M.
July
1
1898
NEW YORK


This stamp just sold on Ebay today for $36.  A great cancel on the first day of use, July 1, 1898.

Chappell/Joyce vs Joyce/Buford: The American Medicine Company

Here is a second example contrasting the 1950s compiled list of proprietary printed cancels by Chappell/Joyce with the late 20th century version from the Joyce/Buford collections.  The American Medicine Company has two cancels listed by Joyce/Chappell:
Joyce/Chappell cancel list



AMERICAN
SEPT.  15  1899.
MEDICINE


The Joyce/Buford data has only one additional cancel added: an invert of the December 15 cancel.  However, the example above shows there is a stamp undocumented in the J/B list.  The stamp above has a period after the month; the September 15 date below has a note that its known copies have no period after the month. 

Joyce/Buford data:

American Medicine Company 
New York, NY  
Type P 1               CJ Type 1                
5/8c       SEPT. 15, 1898.  Black      R             No Pd after Month
                DEC. 15, 1898.    Black      R            
                DEC. 15, 1898.    Black      R             Invert


This is a much simpler contrast that the one for Abbott Alkaloidal.  But there are still issues to resolve.  There is no substitute for actually handling or seeing the stamps in person to try to resolve the difference between the list at the top of this post, the list at the bottom, and the one example that I have in my possession in between.  There is lots of work to do and lots to share.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Abbott Alkaloidal Handstamps and Joyce/Buford Lists


In yesterday's Abbott Alkaloidal post, I mentioned that the Joyce/Buford data contains listings for handstamps for most companies.  The handstamp list was not posted or discussed yesterday.  But last night, Bob Hohertz sent in the scan above of a handstamp cancel from Abbott Alkaloidal.  So I figure it is a good idea to show the J/B handstamp data (UBCJ stands for "Unlisted by Chappell Joyce):

Type H 1               UBCJ                                     
1/8c       DEC 10 1898        Violet    R            
3/8c       DEC 24 1898        Violet    R            
Type H 2               UBCJ                                     
1/4c       FEB 3 1899           Violet    R            
                MAR 14 1900      Violet    R            
3/8c       FEB 3 1899           Violet    R            
                AUG 2 1900         Violet    R            
                AUG 10 1900      Blue       R            
                JAN 29 1901        Violet    HH         
5/8c       SEP 25 1899         Violet    R            
                JAN 18 1900        Violet    R             This is the stamp shown above
                FEB 20 1900         Violet    HH         
                MAR 14 1900      Violet    HH         
                JULY 10 1900       Violet    HH         
                SEP 26 1900         Violet    HH         
                NOV 12 1900      Violet    HH         
1c            APR 7 1900          Violet    R            
                APR 26 1900        Violet    R            
1 1/4c    APR 11 1899        Violet    R            
                JUL 5 1899           Violet    R            
                SEP 12 1899         Violet    R            
                SEP 25 1899         Violet    R             Double
                OCT 26 1899        Violet    R            
                NOV 24 1899      Violet    R            
                JAN 20 1900        Violet    R            
                JAN 26 1900        Violet    R            
                JUN 22 1900        Violet    HH         
                AUG 27 1900      Violet    HH         
                SEP 24 1900         Violet    HH         
                OCT 5 1900          Violet    HH         
                OCT 9 1900          Violet    HH         
                NOV 6 1900         Violet    HH         
                MAY 13 1901      Violet    HH         
2c            NOV 7 1899         Blue       R            
                26-Feb  Violet    R             No Year
2 1/2c    FEB 1 1899           Violet    R            
                APR 17 1899        Blue       R            
                SEP 21 1899         Blue       R            
                JAN 18 1900        Blue       R            
                MAR 14 1900      Blue       R            
                JUN 12 1900        Blue       HH         
                SEP 1 1900           Violet    HH         
                SEP 13 1900         Blue       HH         
                JAN 7 1901          Violet    HH         
5c            SEP 19 1899         Violet    R            
                DEC 20 1899        Blue       R            
                JUN 12 1900        Violet    R            
                JUN 20 1900        Blue       R            
                NOV 5 1900         Violet    R            
As you might know, the website Battleship Revenues is far more authoritative on proprietary handstamps than anything you are ever likely to find on this site, and I recommend that anyone interested in the subject purchase a copy of The Battleship Desk Reference (BDR), or make use of the online database that draws from the BDR.

The Chappell/Joyce list occasionally includes handstamps, as defined originally by Clarence Chappell.  Joyce maintained the same protocol of including the handstamps in his list of companies that printed private dies and printed cancels for the updated 1950s list.  For example, listings for Antikamnia include several handstamp types prior to the listings for printed cancels, such that Chappell/Joyce lists Antikamnia handstamps for types 1 through 4, and does not begin to list printed cancels until type 5.  I have always found this situation very confusing, and apparently, by the time the Joyce/Buford data was put into form, so did its maker find the combined handstamp and printed types confusing.  Hence, the printed cancels in the Joyce/Buford data receive their own type "P" designation, leading to labels of types P1, P2..., and handstamps receive a similar designation with an "H".


As Bob Mustacich has demonstrated at Battleship Revenues, the field of proprietary handstamp cancels is nearly an inexhaustible one for the collector.  These space will look at these cancels on occasion, but not as a matter of regular practice.


Cancel for June 25: G & P

G.  &  P.
JUN
25
1900
Haverhill, Mass.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Chappell/Joyce vs Joyce/Buford: Abbott Alkaloidal Company

This past Tuesday, I raised the difficulties posed in trying to update the Chappell/Joyce Printed Cancels list in view of new data presented in the Joyce/Buford data sets.  In this post I examine that difficulty with the first company listed in the Chappell/Joyce list:  Abbott Alkaloidal. 

Abbott Alkaloidal is the predecessor of Abbott Laboratories, an S&P 500 component, and a very large 21st century pharmaceutical firm.  But whatever its future success after the pure food and drug laws of the early 20th century, the mid-20th century Chappell/Joyce list of Abbott Alkaloidal's printed cancels was not so successful or complete.  To wit:


The Chappell/Joyce entry for Abbott Alkaloidal shows the existence of a single, 1c proprietary, cancelled on September 19, 1898.  To understand the problem, here are the the cancels documented to exist in the newer Joyce/Buford spreadsheets:


The above list comes from the Joyce/Buford spreadsheet files.  And it shows far more than one printed cancel produced by Abbott Alkaloidal.  Obviously, sometime after the 1950s, a whole bunch more Abbott Alkaloidal cancels came to light for the compiler of this second list.  The compiler labels the cancels as type P1, or printed type 1, as the same lists also include handstamp types labeled as H1, 2, 3...  In addition, the label CJ Type 1 refers to the Chappell Joyce type from the 1950s list.

I only have three examples of these cancels to display in this post:


 

 

It is clear to me that merely posting the C/J lists against the J/B is a useful activity.  Over time, more complete listings with color examples like those above can be made available.  But this is merely the first company to be reviewed this way.  I think I will revisit some of the companies already posted on this site, like Hobron or Anglo American Drug, and see what the J/B lists have in store. 

Those posts are coming soon.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Another Repeat Offender

It isn't all that unusual to see proprietary stamps used to pay the 1898 check tax, and it is likely that if someone did it on one check, they would have done it on more than one. In the case of M.F. Riley, of Woodstown, New Jersey ,we have the evidence, and an interesting progression.

First, we have check 242, written on July 30, 1898, with two one-cent proprietary battleships used to pay the tax. It was not cashed until August 16, when the bank added a two-cent documentary battleship.



Second, Riley used a two-cent proprietary battleship on check 243, also written on July 30. There is no indication as to when it was cashed, but presumably prior to August 16 or the bank would have added a proper stamp as they did to check 242.



Riley wrote check 252 on August 10, using a pair of one-cent proprietaries, and it apparently was cashed without a documentary stamp having been added.


We know that the bank was adding proper stamps by August 16, and we can deduce that they had notified Mr. Riley on that day that they were doing so, as he wrote check 256, added two one-cent proprietaries, dated them the 16th, and then added a two-cent I.R. overprint over top of them.



An alternative scenario would be that Mr. Richman took the check to the bank and was told that the stamps wouldn't be accepted, so he returned it to Riley, who added and pre-dated the documentary revenue. However it worked, it is likely that Riley began using documentary stamps on or about August 16.

It appears that most or all of the Riley checks of this period were saved. If anyone can help fill in the period prior to check 242 through, say, check 260, it would be interesting to have a detailed record of the reform of a repeat offender.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Proprietary Printed Cancels

Its been quite awhile since this site has considered proprietary printed cancels.  For a period, going back over one year ago,  I began to survey the cancels in Henry Tolman's former collection against the Chappell/Joyce list of proprietary printed cancels.  But then came along a new data set, one that was generated from the former collection of Morton Dean Joyce.  That collection was purchased by Bill Buford.  It is now in the hands of yet another collector.  However, the data set, minus the "Ds", was overwhelming.  The amount of material, including new varieties, compared to the published Chappell/Joyce list, is massive. 

So I decided to withdraw for awhile.  Instead, I've focused on Richard Fullerton's short list of documentary printed cancels, a much easier task to master.  That pursuit has led to an article published in the American Revenuer, and many posts on this site.  Many collectors have shared information and scans, and their help is appreciated.

But it is time to wade back into the major sea of proprietary printed cancels.  This time around, though, I'm not targeting the update of a list of these cancels for any time soon.  This project, in order to feel like a hobby rather than a pain-the-arse, will have to be taken slowly, and with plenty of diversions and distractions to make it seem not so much like I am conducting an inventory exercise at a Walmart.  The stamps, even if I had all of them, don't have bar codes. 

The On Beyond Holcombe series has so far told the stories of proprietary medicine firms that used handstamp cancels, and has kept proprietary battleships alive on this site for the past few months.  During those months I've begun to look at the Joyce/Buford data, the +50 year old Chappell data, and the few stamps that I have access to from the Tolman collection.  And there is lots to write about, without preparing endless lists which would largely draw from the Joyce/Buford data.  Either way, though, there are lists to be prepared, but I'm only going to work on them as I find the pursuit interesting and fun.  Little by little, with the help of readers of this column, the lists can be modernized and explored, and made whole with color scans and stories of the firms that used the stamps and cancels. 

So stay tuned. 



Rare printed cancel; note in Tolman's hand

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Documentary Printed Cancels Update

The search for 1898 documentary printed cancels hasn’t led to many collectors volunteering scans of their stamps. I suspect there just aren’t many collectors out there of this material. There probably aren’t that many new discoveries to be made either, as this is a reasonably well travelled field by collectors like Harold Field, Clarence Chappell, and Morton Dean Joyce, and accomplished dealers like Richard Friedberg.

But this hasn’t meant there haven’t been a few surprises. Via Frank Sente, Tim Kohler provides evidence of a second Windsor County Clerk cancel, this one by Karl Pember, to go along with a J R. Pember cancel that can be found in Frank Sente's collection and mine. Neither of the stamps made it into Chappell’s or Fullerton’s lists of documentary printed cancels.


Two recent purchases made on Ebay have been great finds.

The first is a Provident Savings Life cancel on an R173. Sold as an individual lot, the stamp sold for about five bucks, and had no more than two or three bidders. Clearly, this sort of item does not have a big market. But for me it adds to a collection of these cancels that includes cancels on R172 and R174. I suspect there are other values that have these cancels, including R170. But as few have ever targeted these items for collecting (no mentions by Chappell or Fullerton), they are orphans and can be found cheaply. Good for some of us!



Now the second Ebay purchase is an even bigger deal, mostly since the cancel is listed by Chappell and Fullerton and received a rank of 4 by Richard Friedberg on his “scarcity index” published in a 1995 edition of Linn’s Stamp News. Better yet, the Ebay lot included three copies of the cancels, with the stamps all on their original documents.



This stamp, and the two other copies that came along with it, were not hidden by the seller, but were pictured in plain view by the seller. But they were hard to spot.


The above screen capture is how the Ebay browser looking through the US revenue listings would have seen this lot. Unremarkable revenue documents, with a common New York stock transfer stamp the most prominent item, dominated the scan of the lot. In the center, though, appear three 1 cent 1898 documentaries, on Adams Express waybills. At first glance my eyes caught a pattern on all three stamps of an arced cancel of some sort. The enlarged image made it clear that the stamps were the printed cancels of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway, and that they were on Adams Express documents for shipments heading to Philadelphia. The appearance of one of these stamps would have been a surprise, but three, all on document?

The search continues...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Auctions: RN-X Paper Samples Booklet

The sample booklet referred to in the previous two posts just sold for $1600. 

What is in the Sample Books?

Concerning the sample book at auction in the Siegel Rarities of the World Sale, I asked Scott Trepel if he could scan a page or two for me if it wouldn't damage the book, but he replied that it was too fragile to do that. That's understandable.

If you want to see some cut-down samples from one of those books, read on.


A one-cent imprint on a wallpaper-like background.



One-cent imprint on dark blue, foil-surface paper.



Two-cent imprint on dark red foil-surface.



Two-cent imprint on red leather-like paper.



The one-cent imprints have one repeated plate flaw, and one that occurs on some copies, but not all. The chunk out at the top occurs on all that I have seen, while the dot in the numeral occurs on two, but not all.


The two-cent imprints also have a flaw at top, stray lines at bottom right of the rightmost small "2", and a large chunk of the bottom scroll missing on the bottom left side on three copies in my collection. However, the item below does not show any of these flaws. If it was not from one of the books, why would anyone print it on moire paper? Very elaborate printer's waste?



There are a number of questions concerning the imprints on clearly unsuitable paper. First, who created the books? The Bureau of Engraving and Printing certainly did not need to "sell" the designs to the selected security printers who printed them. Since there was so little time to come up with designs in the first place, it is difficult to believe that the books were prepared to convince government officials to adopt them - all the work in printing and preparing them would hardly have been necessary. Surely a sample on plain paper would have sufficed.

On the other hand, it is unlikely that the Bureau would have sent flawed dies to any one of the twenty-eight printers that were selected to apply imprints in the first year. Unless, and this is far fetched, the Bureau required each to print up something like this in order to get a contract - but again, there was so little time between passage of the revenue law and appearance of the first imprints - less than a month - that it is difficult to believe that the Bureau would have had time to do anything like this.

Somewhere I got the idea that there were two of these books in existence some years ago, plus at least one cut up. (I know one is cut up - I have chunks of it - and perhaps from two different ones?) Since some of the imprints seem to have flaws that others don't, do ones from different books show different flaws, and perhaps somewhat different papers? That's why I would love to have been able to see a page from this book. It might have cleared up this question, and given us a clue to just why these books exist (assuming more than one still does.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Auctions: Sample Booklet of Revenue Stamped Paper for RNX4 and RNX7, Siegel Rarities of the World Sale, June 18, 2011

1c and 2c Orange RNX stamped paper sample book.
194 pages of different colors and paper types, each with a 1c and 2c impression

In tomorrow's Siegel Rarities of the World auction the above lot is up for sale.  It doesn't look like much, and there isn't a peak of what is inside, but from the description the item is fascinating and possibly unique.  Bob Hohertz might be able to tell us if he has ever seen one of these.  Either way, it is certainly rare.  The lot estimate is between $2000 - $3000.

The lot description:

1c, 2c Orange, 1898 Spanish American War Revenue Stamped Paper Series, Sample Book (RN-X4 var, RN-X7 var). 3 x 15-3/4 in. intact sample book containing 194 sample pages, stamps printed in the correct color but each printed on a different type or color of paper, papers range from normal to colored glazed with many quite dramatic, bound at lefthand side and with attractive cardboard cover, the cover with few small flaws

VERY FINE. A BEAUTIFUL INTACT SAMPLE BOOK SHOWING THE ONE-CENT AND 2-CENT ORANGE DESIGNS OF THE LAST REVENUE STAMPED PAPER ISSUE ON A PHENOMENAL RANGE OF PAPERS.

Each page contains two impressions: one of the 1c and one of the 2c. This sample book was likely prepared to solicit business.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cancel for June 14: P. A. Hewitt, Auditor of the Dayton & Union Railroad


P. A. H.
JUN  14  1901

According to Henry Tolman, PA Hewitt was the Auditor of the Dayton & Union Railroad at the time of this cancel.  While I have no reason to doubt Tolman, I have yet to find any independent verification.  From the postcard below, though, we know that Hewitt was an Auditor for the Big 4.  He held this position in 1890 and perhaps beyond.  By 1901, if Tolman is correct, he had become the auditor for the smaller Dayton & Union.


The CCC&StL Railway, the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway, was known as the Big 4.


Dayton & Union Railroad pass from 1867.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cancel for June 13: Central Equipment Company


CENTRAL EQUIPMENT CO.
JUN
13
1899


From The Official Railway Equipment Register of 1901:


There is not much out there on the Central Equipment Company, but the little bits of information in the Register listing above are intriguing.  What did the "American Distributing Company" haul, and how was it and the CE Co. associated with the Vandalia Line?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

On Beyond Holcombe: Gilbert Brothers & Company

Editors Note: Malcolm A. Goldstein is a contributing blogger for 1898 Revenues. This post is part of a continuing column on the companies that used proprietary battleships.


On April 30, 2011, a post on this site featured a check written to Gilbert Brothers of Baltimore.  The check was special because 4 half cent gray documentary stamps were used to pay the 2 cent check tax.  The post encouraged Malcom Goldstein to begin research on Gilbert Brothers:


It is a cold early February, 1903 day in Superior Court of the City of Baltimore, MD.  The plaintiff, a Dr. (!!?) George Brehm of Rolandville, MD has alleged in his complaint that he went blind on July 27, 1898 two days after drinking three bottles of Jamaica ginger, a popular tonic, manufactured by the Baltimore drug wholesaler and manufacturer, Gilbert Brothers & Co. He states that he bought the bottles from a storekeeper on Elliot’s Island, Dorchester County, where he then lived. He seeks $30,000 damages.


Brehm’s is but one of five such claims, in aggregate seeking over $100,000 damages, pending against Gilbert Brothers & Co., owned by defendants, the brothers John J. and William E. Gilbert. A year earlier, another plaintiff, one Henry W. Jackson, of Keswick, Albemarle County, Virginia, had commenced trial in the same Superior Court of his $25,000 claim of blindness caused by drinking in 1899 the same Jamaica ginger manufactured by Gilbert Brothers & Co. Suddenly, at the opening of the third day of trial on Saturday, May 17, 1902 (a municipal service available on Saturday - how different the world really was!), Jackson withdrew his lawsuit and immediately filed a new one seeking $50,000, alleging an even broader basis for the wrongs committed by the Gilberts. In this trial, both Brehm’s attempt to introduce Jackson’s testimony from the earlier trial and his attempt to introduce his own expert chemist’s analysis of Gilbert’s Jamaica ginger done two years after Brehm’s blindness occurred have been thwarted by the trial judge. Yet that judge has not made the Gilberts’ victory a certainty, for he has also rejected the Gilberts’ motion to have him dismiss the case as a matter of law at the close of Brehm’s evidence (which would have had the effect of denying the jury the opportunity to make findings of fact). He has ruled against the Gilberts and in favor of Brehm that the facts alleged, if found true by the jury, might constitute a tort, or legal wrong, rather than accepting the Gilberts’ claim that Brehm’s facts, even if accepted as true, in no way constitute a legal wrong. (If the meaning of the prior sentence doesn’t immediately register, read it again, and it will gradually make sense. Such distinctions were, and remain, the essence of legal maneuvering, which ever warms the stony cold cockles of lawyers’ hearts.)


The so called “Wood Alcohol” cases have “excited great interest” throughout the drug, medical and ophthalmic worlds, which been watching and commenting in the trade journals on their progress for several years now. As the matter swiftly draws to a jury determination of liability, the facts have been fully marshaled. One journal reports a former employee has testified on Brehm’s behalf that the formula for the Gilberts’ Jamaica ginger during the period between 1897 and 1900 contained 30 percent wood alcohol, as well as 50 percent grain alcohol and 20 percent water. All articles agree that Brehm’s ophthalmologist and druggist have testified that wood alcohol - in pure form called “Columbian spirits” - is far more poisonous than grain alcohol, is never intended for human consumption and, in fact, is the only cause of plaintiff’s blindness.


And yet, another account indicates that the Gilberts have not only conceded Brehm’s percentage makeup of the mixture, but have also crowed that 65,376 bottles of that very product had been sold during the same period. The medical experts employed by the Gilberts have contradicted Brehm’s, arguing that “Columbian spirits” are no more poisonous than grain alcohol. One testified that he had consumed an ounce twice a day, as well as feeding a teaspoon to his cat every day for a month, and neither he nor the cat had suffered harm. Another testified that he had consumed one and one-half ounces within a span of three hours without any difficulty. To cinch the defense’s argument, William E. Gilbert himself takes the stand. He testifies both he and his family tried the formula before it was sold to the public and, moreover, that the concoction is intended to be a medicine not a beverage. To contradict his statement, Brehm then introduces into evidence, over the angry objection of the Gilberts, the Gilberts’ Jamaica ginger tonic bottle itself, whose label asserts that the preparation is a “delightful beverage in the hot summer months.”

Now the Gilberts make a final dramatic gesture to confirm their Jamaica ginger is not poisonous. With jurors and spectators watching, William coolly drinks an ounce of “Columbian spirits” and, again, repeats his performance one and one half hours later. All are aghast. Commentators report that while the Jamaica ginger “was freely diluted with water,” “no ill effects were experienced.” (The court journal officially records that two ounces of water were added to the “Columbian spirits” in each instance.) The evidence closes, and after the judge’s inevitable drone about the law it must apply to the facts it will determine, the jury retires to deliberate whether the Gilberts have blinded Brehm with their Jamaica ginger tonic made from wood alcohol.


As they deliberate, let us examine the rest of the history of Gilbert Brothers & Co. The 1903 trial was probably the most striking event in the jumbled detritus of recorded coincidences and happenings from which we now attempt to reconstruct its history. Actually, a recent posting on this blog, spotlighting a check sent to Gilbert Brothers & Co in 1899, served to call this article into existence. As the cancels displayed (courtesy of Robert Mustacich) demonstrate, at the turn of the Twentieth Century, Gilbert Brothers & Co. was among a number of large and thriving drug businesses located in Baltimore. While the roots of several of today’s largest pharmaceutical companies, can be traced to its local competitors, such as Sharp & Dohme and Merck & Co. (both possible future subjects of this column), Gilbert Brothers & Co. and its owners left no comparable mark.



With respect to the Gilberts themselves, possibly because of such events as the “Wood Alcohol” trial, they were not profiled in the local “who’s who” compilations of Baltimore’s cherished and influential sons. Oddly enough, lists of awarded municipal contracts published in contemporaneous building trades journals, do indicate that William E. Gilbert was mayor of Laurel, Maryland around 1907. John J. Gilbert entirely lacks even that present definition, but his furniture collection - including illustrations and vivid descriptions of scrutoires (combination bookcase and foldout desk), looking glasses and a scalloped dressing table, all obviously selected at much expense with great discrimination - was prominently featured in a compendium called Colonial Furniture In America published by one Luke Vincent Lockwood in 1913. The scalloped dressing table again drew comment in “The Architectural Record” magazine, on the occasion of the Lockwood book’s being enlarged and updated in 1921. For the rest, all that can be said is that John J. Gilbert died in 1923 and left a considerable fortune, $25,000 of which went to William.

The remainder of the corporate history of Gilbert Brothers & Co. can be inferred from oblique references found in various records currently available. The earliest extant almanacs are dated 1870, which roughly indicates the time of the company’s establishment. In 1892, the minutes of the National Wholesale Druggists’ Association reveal that the company participated on the “Box and Cartage” Committee that recommended wholesale druggists break out and list separately an additional charge for packing and handling of goods instead of building the cost into the price of the drugs themselves. In 1889 or 1895, the company registered its trademark for what appears to have been its most popular product, Yager’s Cream Chloroform Liniment. In 1895, it trademarked a headache remedy called “Anti-Fag.” Alfred E. Mealy, another officer of Gilbert Brothers & Co., is listed as the holder of a patent, also issued in 1895, for the display box for “Anti-Fag.” Mealy, now as similarly anonymous as the Gilberts, later became president of the company, and also died in 1923, after forty years of faithful service.



Through the years, the references to Gilbert Brothers & Co. are scattershot. One trade journal mentions fire damage to the company’s plant in 1899, and another a 1904 suit by a retailer against Gilbert Brothers & Co. and other local wholesalers accusing them of price fixing (although the journal confidently predicted that the suit would never come to trial). In 1906, the U.S. government counted Gilbert Brothers & Co. large and important enough to name it as a defendant in its industry-wide price fixing suit against both the wholesale and retail druggists and their associations. This suit, settled without a trial by entry of a consent decree in 1907, certainly made illegal (and perhaps ended once and for all) the “drug cartel’s” many direct and indirect schemes to set and maintain retail drug and patent medicine prices by barring trade with wholesalers and retailers who wanted to sell these products at a discount. Another extant document reveals that on June 1, 1909, the Treasury Department issued one of its periodic circulars - with the strict admonition to its revenue collectors to place a copy in the hands of each druggist in their districts - ruling that Gilbert Brothers & Co.’s Rejuvenating Iron and Herb Juice was “insufficiently medicated” to permit its sale as a beverage without a special additional tax, even if sold as a medicine - one tonic among many on a very long list of such “alcoholic medicinal preparations” similarly treated in the Department’s bulletin. In other words, if a druggist wanted to sell that “Juice,” even as medicine, he had to have a liquor license above and beyond his druggist’s certificate.

Over the years, ads for products of Gilbert Brothers & Co. seem to have been most regularly published in the Southern Planter, a farming journal. The remedy most often featured was Yager’s Cream Chloroform Liniment, described as a “soothing external remedy for man or beast,” although in its many ads the company also recommended its Sarsaparilla with Celery for such conditions as eczema and baldness, and its Honey-Tolu for coughs. Standards must have gradually tightened over the years after the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act, but even in the early 1930s, the company - as many other wholesalers and manufacturers also did at the time - still forfeited to the Food and Drug Administration at least one shipment of patent medicines which was seized as misbranded after it shipped “in interstate commerce” from Maryland to New York. After that last record of official action against it, Gilbert Brothers & Co. seems to vanish from currently available sources.




However, even without Gilbert Brothers & Co., Yager’s Liniment (now sans “Cream Chloroform”) can still be obtained on-line, apparently now manufactured by one Oakhurst Company of Levittown, NY, which has gathered to itself a number of famous old patent medicines (or at least the rights to the use of their names). There are no ambiguities about the current incarnation of the liniment: camphor and turpentine oil are disclosed as the active ingredients. Such old-fashioned “external remedies” seem to have the greatest lasting power, since they don’t raise questions of internal poisoning such as the one presented in the “Wood Alcohol” cases.

And those jury deliberations, too, ultimately proved to be inconclusive. After fourteen days, the jury, confused and conflicted by the discrepancies between Brehm’s and the Gilberts’ expert witnesses, and, no doubt, impressed by William E. Gilbert’s sweeping gulp of a gesture, remained hung. The judge discharged it without its reaching a verdict. Shortly thereafter, a drug trade journal succinctly reported that all five cases were settled privately out of court. The amounts of the settlements, like so much else about Gilbert Brothers & Co., were not reported.

Two digressions, in the nature of footnotes, add current relevance to the story of Gilbert Brothers & Co. First, on the question of what quantity of wood alcohol makes it dangerous for human consumption, no less august and hoary an authority than Wikipedia itself today declares flatly that “[o]ne sip [of wood alcohol] (as little as 10 ml) can cause permanent blindness by destruction of the optic nerve and 30 ml is potentially fatal” (referencing a 2007 scientific article). Makes one wonder what William E. Gilbert was drinking that cold February day in 1903, and whether John J. was trying to repay him all those many years later with the $25,000 bequest! Second, the 1930s scandal caused by the plague of paralysis visited upon impoverished drinkers quaffing Jamaica ginger tonic tainted with a different chemical in their quest for a cheap whiskey substitute, is a major subplot of the book, and current movie, Water For Elephants by Sarah Gruen. History class for this period dismissed!