Gavin J. W. Gibb, San Francisco, California
Aquamarine Umbrella Inkwell
Provenance: Eric McGuire Collection
Besides Virginia City embossed ink bottles, the Gibb umbrella ink could be the only early Western ink embossed with the proprietor’s name. There is no documented evidence to support this, but there are favorable odds that it was blown at a San Francisco glasshouse.
The earliest west coast listing found for Gavin Gibb was in the 1863 San Francisco Directory. Born in Philadelphia in 1840, Gavin Jardin Watson Gibb still living in Philadelphia in 1860 and showed up cross-country in San Francisco shortly after. The 1863 city directory noted that he was selling paints and oils and offering his services as a painter. Gibb named his business the Pacific Color Works during the first few years. Known for obtaining his color sources from minerals found throughout California and Nevada, he invested in a mill and the equipment for producing paints. In June 1866, Gibb was forced to file for bankruptcy. The Daily Alta California reported on June 19, 1866, the following:
INSOLVENCY. Gaven (sic) J. W. Gibb filed his petition for the benefit of the insolvent law. He started a paint mill on January 2 last, with a capital of $5,000; lost $3,800 by a sale of the mill under execution; $900 by bad debts, and $450 by the depreciation of merchandise, besides paying $1,550 for rent and personal and family expenses. His debts amount to about $5,500 and he has no assets.
After a few years of hiatus, Gibb is noted in the 1868 San Francisco Directory as a sign painter at 633 Market Street. He then took a partner in 1869, then known as Gibb & Koch—sign painters, and by 1871 Gibb worked alone as a sign and ornamental painter. By 1872, he partnered with Hiram B. Melendy as sign painters, importers, and manufacturers of paints, oils, and varnishes. The following year the partnership was reorganized and called Gavin J. W. Gibb and Co. By 1874, Melendy had left Gibb, and his company was shortened to Gibb & Co.
While maintaining the same company name of Gibb & Co., in 1875, Gavin Gibb partnered with Albert M. Shields, and Gibb no longer advertised sign painting. As in previous years, this partnership did not last very long. In December 1875, Shields left the company. The end of his business was just around the corner when Gibb was forced to sell nearly all his stock in January 1876 and adjudged bankrupt in December 1876. Gibb never recovered from the assigned sale.
In his last few years, Gibb was hired out as a sign painter and even tried his hand at manufacturing window shades. The final chapter in the life of Gavin J. W. Gibb closed on March 22, 1879, when he died in San Francisco of “apoplexy.” His grave marker is at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Colma, San Mateo County, California. Gibb’s wife, Emma Josephine Holt, lived on until 1930 and died in Alameda County. The last of their five children died in 1966 in Berkeley.
Our aquamarine museum example is rather crude and eight-sided. It was dug by the consignor many years ago in San Francisco. The bottle is rare with a handful known in collections. On one panel, ‘GIBB’ is embossed from shoulder to base in a serif typestyle. The mouth is sheared and the base is smooth.
Following the upturns and downturns of Gibb’s business life, it is challenging to insert a logical time for when he produced his umbrella inkwell-style bottle. One observation is that the bottle may not have held ink but was used for paint. This is not unusual, for there is precedent for labeled examples of the same style of bottle used for paints by other merchants. It is safe to determine that the bottle was produced between 1863 and 1875. Any tighter time assignment would be speculation unless more information comes to light.
Primary Image: Gibb umbrella inkwell imaged by Eric McGuire, FOHBC Virtual Museum West Coast Studio.
Support: Reference to Gibb, Western Bottle News, Eric McGuire, October 2019
Support: Reference to Ink Bottles and Inkwells, William F. Covill, Jr., 1971
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