W. Ritmeier’s California Wine Bitters

Provenance: Steven Hubbell Collection

Here is an excellent example of a Ritmeier’s California Wine Bitters in orange-amber. This is an applied top square though it can be found with a tooled mouth. You sometimes find this bottle in western collections with the word CALIFORNIA embossed on the bottle but it is actually a Milwaukee, Wisconsin brand. TW & Co. is embossed on the base and indicates the bottle was blown at the Pittsburgh glass house of Thomas Wightman & Co.

William Ritmeier was born sometime in 1834 in Hanover, Germany. He immigrated to the United States in 1866 and settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Milwaukee began to grow as a city as high numbers of immigrants, mainly German, made their way to Wisconsin from the 1840s to the mid-1890s. After 1848, hopes for a united Germany had failed, and revolutionary and radical Germans, known as the “Forty-Eighters,” turned their attention to the United States. Inexpensive farmland was also available for these early German pioneers.

On November 3, 1867, William married Emilie or Emily Schmitt. Ritmeier would then start his drug business sometime around 1871 at 328 Grove Avenue in Milwaukee. This was his place of business and home all the way up to the turn of the century.

In 1874, he started advertising his bitters and had a registered trade mark of an eagle perched on a bunch of grapes and grape leaves. A banner was in the eagle’s beak reading ‘California Wine.’ The word ‘Bitters’ anchored the graphics mark. He also received a trade mark for his Ritmeier’s German Essence of Life that same year. Another product, St. John’s White Lilly Balsam is noted within his two almanacs that were published. This 1882 advertisement below depicts a labeled bottle of Wm. Ritmeier’s California Wine Bitters.

A labeled example of Ritmeier’s C. W. Bitters is pictured at the top of this column in the scrolling images. The label states that it was formerly known as Ritmeier’s California Wine Bitters which may indicate some brand issues with the many other California Wine Bitters that were on the market. The same label says the bitters contain 35% alcohol by volume and that is was Guaranteed under the Pure Food and Drug Act., June 30, 1906. The bitters were marked as Good for all Diseases arising from derangement of the Stomach and a Remedy for Dyspepsia, Liver Complaint, and every species of Indigestion. The benefits would continue saying it was an Excellent Appetizer and a Good Blood Purifier. Pleasant to the taste, you were instructed to take two tablespoons three times a day. Wm Ritmeier’s signature was on each label guaranteed authenticity that he was the Sole Proprietor and Manufacturer.

At the turn of the century, William Ritmeier set up the Ritmeier Remedy Company, capitalized at $5,000. The Remedy Company was an offshoot of his pharmacy and was located up until 1910 at 376 National Avenue. Ritmeier had retired from active management of the pharmacy by 1901 when he sold his drug supply to Frank J. Kuehnmeunch, retaining the real estate as an investment. William Ritmeier died on Monday, July 10th, 1911 in Milwaukee at the age of 77.

The listing in Bitters Bottles by Carlyn Ring and Bill Ham is as follows:

R 67 WM. RITMEIER’S // f // CALIFORNIA / WINE BITTERS // f // // b // TW & Co.
9 ½ x 2 ¾ (6 ¾) 3/8
Square, Amber, LTC, Applied mouth and Tooled lip, Scarce
Drug Catalogs: 1878 CB & Co., 1887 MP, 1888 RS, 1896-7, and 1901-2 JP&K Co.
Also manufacturers of Ritmeier’s German Essence of Life.

Support Image:  “WM. RITMEIER’S – CALIFORNIA / WINE BITTERS”, (Ring/Ham, R-67), Wisconsin, ca. 1875 – 1885, reddish amber, 9”h, “TW&CO.”, on smooth base, applied tapered collar mouth. CONDITION: A few light scratches otherwise in perfect condition. The Ritmeier’s Drug Store was located at 328 Grove Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. – Jim Hagenbuch and Glass Works Auctions

Support Image: “WM. RITMEIER’S – CALIFORNIA / WINE BITTERS”, (Ring/Ham, R-67) 9”. Applied top. One of many California Wine Bitters. Rather crude texture and some nice bubbles that when put on the shelf, really shines. Grade 8.5 – Meyer Collection, Jeff Wichmann, American Bottle Auctions, Grapentine III Auction 43, Lot #842

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