California Herb Bitters Dierker & Speck Pittsburgh Pa
California Herb Bitters
Dierker & Speck
C – 19.7
John Henry Dierker and Jacob J. Speck
Puce Fancy Square
Provenance: Chip Cable Collection
California Herb Bitters was manufactured and sold from about 1868 to 1876 by three successive and overlapping proprietors in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Each mold had a different proprietor’s name embossed on the bottle. First, it was Dierker & Speck; then Speck & Morrow, and finally, G. W. Frazier. What’s extraordinary is that each of the three bottles is extremely rare, with one known example each.
DIERKER & SPECK
Dierker & Speck were wholesale liquor merchants in business together from 1867 to 1869. The partners were John H. Dierker and Jacob J. Speck, located at No. 63 Smithfield Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Dierker brothers were long-time liquor merchants. Speck was a barkeeper before the partnership. During this brief period, they would sell California Herb Bitters with their last names embossed on one of the bottle panels. They advertised the bitters “For Ladies and Sick Room” and alternately referred to it as “The Golden Seal Wine Bitters” and said it was “made from the pure juice of the grape.”
This “fancy square” puce bottle is approximately 9 ½ inches tall with a smooth base and has an applied tapered collar mouth. Four recessed, arched, and chamfered vertical panels sit upon an articulated base. Each bottle corner is inset with a radiused support column within that aligns with the top of the panels. The shoulders are rounded, connecting to a squat tapered neck. The bottom indicates the misshapen characteristics of the square and has a large depressed circle (see image). The condition and character are excellent.
The sans serif embossed copy reads from shoulder to base ‘CALIFORNIA HERB BITTERS’ in two lines within the recessed first panel. The second panel is embossed ‘DIERKER & SPECK’ in one line. The third panel reads, ‘PITTSBURGH PA.’ The fourth panel is blank and is where a paper label would have been placed. To date, it is the only known example. The bottle is cataloged as C 19.7 in the working draft of Bitters Bottles Supplement 3.
There is a listing in the Pittsburg and Allegheny 1876 Centennial Year directory that reads, “California Herb Bitters is another distinctive proprietary medicine prepared by J. J. Speck & Co. This compound was established in 1868 by Dierker & Speck, and at present, the firm uses 35,000 bottles putting up the preparation and some three tons of certain California herbs.” The question arises that there may be a fourth bottle that was labeled or an embossed example that Jacob J. Speck put out.
The consigner of the museum “Dierker & Speck” example stated: “I was very excited to get the Dierker & Speck California Herb Bitters from Pittsburgh. The bottle was found in a shed in Ohio. The neat thing is this is the only one known and is the first listing for California Herb Bitters in the Pittsburgh directory. There are two others with different embossing. This bottle is completely different from the other two and is whittled and crude.”
SPECK & MORROW
In 1870, John H. Dierker left the Dierker & Speck business and Jacob J. Speck took on Joseph M. Morrow as a partner. They were listed until February 26, 1874, when a Dissolution Notice was posted in local newspapers stating that Speck & Morrow was dissolved by mutual consent. The business would continue as J. J. Speck & Co. located at the old stand, 145 and 146 Water Street, and 188 and 190 First Avenue in Pittsburgh. Another notice said that Morrow was elected Captain of a new military company in Connellsville about the same time.
During the early 1870s, Speck & Morrow would order and sell California Herb Bitters with their last names embossed on the bottle. Their bottle is 9 ½ inches tall, uses the same bottle form, has a smooth base, and an applied tapered collar mouth.
The sans serif embossed copy reads from shoulder to base ‘CALIFORNIA HERB BITTERS’ in two lines within the recessed first panel. The second panel is embossed ‘SPECK & MORROW’ in one line. The ampersand is crude, larger, and next to “Speck.” The third panel reads, ‘PITTSBURGH PA’. The “A” in “PA” is slightly raised and smaller. The fourth panel is blank and is where a paper label would have been placed. The bottle is cataloged as C 20.5 in Bitters Bottles Supplement 2. To date, it is the only known example.
G. W. Frazier
The third California Herb Bitters is the “George W. Frazier” variant. Documents refer to him as a doctor and colonel. He rails against patent medicine quacks and says he is putting out the bitters to dispel any irregularities with fraudulent advertising.
The bottle shape and embossing are similar to the “Dierker & Speck” and “Speck & Morrow” variants. The bottom has a depressed circle (see image). The condition and character are excellent. The sans serif embossed copy reads from shoulder to base ‘CALIFORNIA HERB BITTERS’ in two lines within the recessed first panel. The second panel is embossed ‘G. W. FRAZIER’ in one line. The third panel reads, ‘PITTSBURGH PA’. The “A” in “PA” is smaller. The fourth panel is blank and is where a paper label would have been placed. The bottle is cataloged as C 20 in Bitters Bottles and Bitters Bottles Supplement 2. To date, it is the only known example.
See the museum example of the “California Herb Bitters G. W. Frazier Pittsburgh Pa” bottle.
What’s confusing is that Frazier was advertising and selling his California Herb Bitters exclusively in 1871, which directly overlaps with Speck & Morrow in Pittsburgh.
A very telling paragraph in the Boston Globe in June 1874 states, “The people of the United States have been humbugged with all kinds of patent medicines, quacks, and imposters, for the past few years, in a most shameful manner. The writer of the following is one of the victims and wishes to present a very plain case. The demand from my friends and others hearing about these Bitters became very great. I removed from Pennsylvania, my native state, to Cleveland, O. and commenced to putting them up for sale, calling them FRAZIER’S ROOT BITTERS.” He goes on in his advertising to say that his Bitters would cure at least 50 ailments which somewhat opposes his position against quack medicine and false advertising noted above. He signed off his advertising as “G. W. Frazier, Discoverer, Cleveland, Ohio. Sold by all druggists and country storekeepers. Ask for Frazier’s Root Bidders, and take no substitute.”
Frazier would order new bottles for his Root Bitters that looked entirely different than his Pittsburgh variant. It is possible that he ran afoul of copyright laws and had to leave the state and change the name of his bitters.
Primary Spinning Image: “California Herb Bitters Dierker & Speck Pittsburgh Pa” bottle imaged on location by Alan DeMaison, FOHBC Virtual Museum Midwest Studio.
Secondary Spinning Image: “California Herb Bitters G. W. Frazier Pittsburgh Pa” bottle imaged on location by Alan DeMaison, FOHBC Virtual Museum Midwest Studio.
Support Image: Auction Lot 151: “CALIFORNIA / HERB BITTERS – SPECK & MORROW – PITTSBURGH PA,” (unlisted), Pennsylvania, ca. 1865 – 1875, yellow amber semi-cabin, 9 1/2”h, smooth base, applied tapered collar mouth. Cleaned to its original luster but retains a few very tiny imperfections. Currently, the only known example! – Jim Hagenbuch, Glass Works Auctions, October 2016
Support Image: Auction Lot 241: “G. W. FRAZIER – CALIFORNIA / HERB BITTERS – PITTSBURGH, PA.”, (C-20), Pennsylvania, ca. 1865 – 1875, yellowish amber semi-cabin, 9 3/8”h, smooth base, applied mouth, about perfect (two tiny open surface bubbles). We auctioned this bottle in the year 2000. At that time, it was considered to be unique. We believe it still is today. – Jim Hagenbuch, Glass Works Auctions, February 2013
Support Image: Auction Lot 159: Aquamarine “Frazier’s Root Bitters for the Blood – Depot Cleveland, Ohio.” F-83, 7 ¾”, applied top. And yet another rare bitters, this one from Cleveland. Great condition and grades a 9.5. – Jeff Wichmann, American Bottle Auctions, November 2015
Support: Reference to The California Herb Bitters from Pittsburgh, Peachridgeglass.com, May 18, 2014.
Support: Reference to Bitters Bottles Supplement 3 by Ring, Ham & Meyer.
Support Image: Two California Herb Bitters bottles in a window. – Chip Cable
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