Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters

Provenance: Ferdinand Meyer V collection

The Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters is a dramatic example of a figural cabin bottle with a story. With a 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.

Kelly’s is also 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 and this scandal pretty much ended the Kelly’s era.

John H. Garnhart began a wholesale liquor business in 1854. He was a whiskey man by trade. He was 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 Old Cabin Bitters.

In 1862, Garnhart put out Old Cabin Bitters. Garnhart partnered with James B. Kelly 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 the Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters. This pretty much places the Old Cabin Bitters slightly ahead of a Kelly’s time-wise.

The Kelly products were marketed all over the United States. They were bottled in New York and St. Louis and have been found throughout the United States including Colorado, Montana and Texas. According to Steve Sewell, the bottles were made at the Whitney Glass Works in Glassboro New Jersey. (Confirmation required)

On March 22, 1870, John Garnhart was issued 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 with the following Holtzermann’s Patent Stomach Bitters. The bottle like the Kelly’s was in the shape of and very similar in detail to their bottle. 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.

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. My research has failed to determine the fate of Kelly but his Cabin Bitters brand vanished about the same time.

The Carlyn Ring and W.C. Ham listings in Bitters Bottles are 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 3/4 (5 1/4)
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, including a significant number of green examples, as well as Drake’s plantation 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 PATENDED 1863 on preceeding listing.
Garnhart and Kelly, St. Louis, Missouri
9 1/4 x 3 1/2 x 2 3/4 (5 1/4)
Cabin rectangular, LTC, Applied mouth, Amber – Scarce; Yellow, Green, Very rare. Known with metallic pontil mark

Read More: Log Cabin Series – Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters

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