Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters

Provenance: Ferdinand Meyer V Collection

Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters is a dramatic example of a figural cabin bottle with a story. With the number of great examples that have been found in mining camps, privies, and shipwrecks, a Kelly’s is extremely desirable for all bitters and figural collectors alike. Just about every serious collector wants a ‘Kelly’s” cabin at some point. The bottles also come in a stunning range of colors.

See a wonderful green example of a Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters in the Virtual Museum Bitters Gallery from the Dave Kyle collection.

Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters is about two partners who dodged Federal taxes as they produced a whiskey and called it a bitters. These partners were in the thick of the Great Whiskey Ring that involved President Grant in 1875. This scandal pretty much ended the Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters brand.

The Partners

John H. Garnhart began a wholesale liquor business in 1854. He was a whiskey man by trade and a “rectifier” who took raw spirits, added other ingredients, and sold them. Among the spirituous products, he apparently concocted with James B. Kelly’s collaboration, was a product called Old Cabin Bitters in 1862. Garnhart then partnered with James B. Kelly (J. B. Kelly & Co.) of New York in 1863. This collaboration made the Kelly brand famous. Within one month of operation, the Old Cabin Bitters name was changed to Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters. This places the Old Cabin Bitters bottle slightly ahead of the Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters bottle time-wise.

Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters was marketed all over the United States. The bitters were bottled in New York and St. Louis and have been found throughout the United States including Colorado, Montana, and Texas. There is some thought that the bottles were made at the Whitney Glass Works in Glassboro, New Jersey.

On March 22, 1870, John Garnhart was issued a design patent 3,936 on his bottle. It seems another bottle very similar to his design turned up early in 1870. This bottle was embossed Holtzermann’s Patent Stomach Bitters. The bottle was very much like Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters in shape, form, and detail. The Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters lasted until 1874 when quite a few bitters and whiskey manufacturers went out of business due to a great scandal.

A National Scandal

The exposure of the Great Whiskey Ring of 1875 rocked Washington D.C. and indeed the entire country like few national scandals before or since. On May 10, Federal agents stormed into the offices of nine St. Louis distilleries, seized illicit whiskey and box loads of records, and arrested their proprietors. Simultaneous arrests occurred in Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Chicago. Ultimately, indictments were issued against 240 whiskey-makers, government officials, and others; 110 were found guilty. Most of them went to jail. Thus ended a massive scheme to defraud the U.S. of excise taxes on distilled spirits. The fallout from the raids would roil the Nation for months and reach right into the White House.

When the May 10 raid occurred, Garnhart was one of those arrested. His company disappeared forever from St. Louis city directories. For one year, Adler, Furst & Co. was listed in directories as “successor to J. H. Garnhart & Co.”, then it too disappeared.

The Carlyn Ring and W.C. Ham listings in Bitters Bottles is as follows:

K 21 // s // KELLY’S / OLD CABIN / BITTERS // PATENTED ( au ) // 1863 //
KELLY’S / OLD CABIN / BITTERS // PATENTED ( au ) / 1863 //
L … Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters, J. B. Kelly & Co., New York

9 5/8 x 3 3/8 x 2 ¾ (5 ¼)
Cabin rectangular, LTC, Applied mouth, Amber – Common; Yellow, Yellow-olive, Yellow-green, and Deep olive-green, Rare. Mint-green, Extremely rare. Known with metallic pontil mark
Daily Illinois State Register (Springfield, Illinois), July 3, 1864
Drug Catalogs: 1872 Melliers and 1878 CB&Co.
Design Patent No. 3,926 dated March 22, 1870, by John H. Garnhart of St. Louis.
A number of specimens were dug in Montana, Texas, and Colorado. The Riverboat Bertrand bound for Ft. Benton, Montana, sunk north of Omaha in 1865. It was raised in 1968. Many cases of bottles were discovered. Among the salvaged artifacts were cases of Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters, including a significant number of green examples, as well as Drake’sPlantation Bitters, Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters, Schroeder’s Bitters, and Schroeder’s Spice Bitters.

K 22 // s // KELLY’S / OLD CABIN / BITTERS // PATD / MARCH / 1870 // KELLY’S / OLD CABIN / BITTERS // sp //
Lettering finer in PATENTED 1863 on the preceding listing.
Garnhart and Kelly, St. Louis, Missouri
9 ¼ x 3 ½  x 2 ¾ (5 ¼)
Cabin rectangular, LTC, Applied mouth, Amber – Scarce; Yellow, Green, Very rare. Known with metallic pontil mark.

Primary Image: Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters imaged on location by the FOHBC Virtual Museum midwest studio led by Alan DeMaison.

Support Image: Auction Lot 35: “Kelly’s / Old Cabin / Bitters / Patented / 1863” Figural Bitters Bottle, America, 1860-1880. Rectangular log cabin form, deep chocolate amber, applied sloping collared mouth – smooth base, ht. 9 inches. R/H #K-21 An attractive example with a crisp mold impression. Fine condition. – Norman C. Heckler & Company, Auction #141

Support: Reference to Bitters Bottles and the use of illustration by Carlyn Ring and W. C. Ham.

Support Image: Apple green Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters – American Bottle Auctions

Support Image: Medium green Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters – Bitters Bottles Supplement 2

Support: Reference to Log Cabin Series – Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters

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