Wormser Bros. San Francisco

Provenance: Steven Hubbell Collection

Most antique bottle collectors believe that this figural barrel-contained a bitters product. In most cases, if a proprietor had a liquor like bourbon or whiskey, he would use a traditional long neck cylinder bottle in quarts and fifths and use a smaller pint and half-pint flask for lesser amounts.

If the proprietor had medicinal bitters to market, he would most likely use a figural barrel, cabin, or square bottle. The irony is that these products, whether it was whiskey or bitters, contained a large amount of alcohol. It is all about marketing and who you are selling to. Unfortunately, we have no advertising to confirm this bitters assertion though it is recorded that an example with a partial label was found in Nevada. We have not seen this example.

Our subject bottle has an applied tapered top and a smooth base and is embossed ‘WORMSER BROS. SAN FRANCISCO’. There is a barrel bunghole or bulls-eye motif centered between the copy. It has a 4-3-3-4 ring design. The glass is typically in shades of amber and yellow-amber. The bottle was made for a very short period of time and was considered extremely rare until a group of bottles was found in Virginia City, Nevada, some years ago. After this find, seven other examples, all amber, and one citron green were found near the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon.

Most Wormser barrel examples show very little crudity though a couple of examples have had some pretty good whittle to the glass. It is thought that there are between 25 and 30 of the Wormser Brothers barrels in collections.

Isaac Wormser was born in May 1821 near Stuttgart in Württemberg, Germany. As a youth, he received a common education and learned the trade of a cloth weaver. He came to America in 1842, first settling in New York City, but soon went on to Kentucky where he remained for about four years. He then went on to Chicago for a few years and worked,

In 1850, Isaac Wormser came to California with his brother Lewis and established a general merchandise store called Wormser & Brother in Stockton, where they prospered and made a considerable amount of money.

In 1854, the two brothers were joined by a third brother Simon, and together they started a wholesale liquor business called Wormser Brothers in San Francisco. They were initially located at First and Battery Streets and later in their own building at the corner of California and Front Streets, where they did an extensive business for many years and accumulated a large fortune.

In October of 1867, during Simon’s management of the firm, the company trademarked the “Golden Sheaf” brand of whiskey. At this time they were listed as importers and jobbers in wines and liquors. They were also the consul for Württemberg, Germany. Simon was living in town and Isaac was living in Württemberg. By 1872, the Wormser Brothers business was sold to the firm of Braeg, Frank and Dallemand.

In the latter part of 1854, Isaac Wormser visited Germany and married a woman named Louisa. He remained in Württemberg and retired from active business. He eventually returned to California to retain the Presidency of the Golden Gate Distilling Company which filed for articles of incorporation for the purpose of carrying on a wholesale liquor business. The directors of the company were J. A. Spencer, George Miller, Henry Ebbinghausen, Isaac and Samuel I. Wormser. The 1891 San Francisco Directory puts the firm at 207 Battery. His later years were devoted almost entirely to charitable work. He died suddenly on October 26, 1894, in Monterey, California.

Pictured below is an amber pint+ Fine Old Cognac – Wormser Bros. S. F. flask from the Steven Hubbell Collection. See this example and others in the FOHBC Spirits Gallery.

The listing in Bitters Bottles Supplement 2 for the figural barrel is as follows

W 162.5 WORMSER BROS (au) / motif bullseye / SAN FRANCISCO // c //
9 ¾ x 3 (7 ¾)
Barrel, 4-3-3-4,
Amber, Yellow-amber, Citron
Example with partial whiskey label found in Nevada.
See W 162.5 in Bitters Bottles. Color update.

Support: Reference to Bitters Bottles Supplement 2 by Carlyn Ring, Bill Ham, and Ferdinand Meyer V

Support Images: Color run image from Jeff Wichmann and American Bottle Auctions. Amber example from the Meyer collection. Citron green example from the Mlasko collection.

Support Image: Lot 1052: Wormser Brothers, Barrel Bitters Bottle (San Francisco, California) Spectacular light to medium Amber, gem mint example of the Wormser barrel. – Fred Holabird, Holabird Western Americana Collections

Support Image: Three Wormser barrels – Dave Kyle collection

See More Bitters

Bitters Gallery

Click on a bitters bottle below!

Featured Stories

FOHBC Virtual Museum: Now Open Free 2020

Free Entry!

With COVID-19 canceling many events, bottle shows, and public gatherings and closing the museums that many of

Read More


Scroll to Top