John S. Bowman Jewel Old Bourbon

Provenance: Richard T. Siri Collection

The Jewel Old Bourbon bottle made by John S. Bowman is extremely rare. Thomas in Whiskey Bottles of the Old West notes that the first known Bowman was dug near Silver Peak, Nevada in 1969. Not many examples have shown up since. The bottle is a fifth and has an applied mouth. Our museum example is in extraordinary condition and begs to tell a story.

Bowman also had his name on one of two variants of Jewel Bitters. You can see that bottle in the Bitters Gallery.

Born in Schmidmuhlen, Bavaria, Germany about 1830, John Schmerl Bowman arrived in California in the 1850s. He initially established a cigar and tobacco store in Marysville, California, about 1857. He sold out about 1860 and returned to Europe where he married his wife. Bowman then returned to California about 1866 and opened another cigar and tobacco store in San Francisco at 128 Pacific Street.

By 1868, his partnership began with Louis Liebes and dissolved in November 1874. On January 1, 1877, Joseph Coblentz, formerly of the partnership of Levy & Coblentz of Los Angeles, was admitted to John S. Bowman & Co. as a partner. He undoubtedly brought his expertise of the liquor business with him, which added a new layer to Bowman’s activities.

At the beginning of 1890, the partnership admitted Boaz David Pike, which also witnessed John S. Bowman’s transition into a newly chosen profession. He had acquired a substantial estate and chose to become a lender of money, primarily on real estate deals where the properties to be purchased were used as collateral to secure the loans. Coblentz & Pike continued with their liquor and tobacco business until April 1897 when Coblentz died and Pike was left with a business having a $100,000 liability. Bowman’s first advertisement for lending money is noted in the San Francisco Call, March 28, 1892.

Bowman became a prolific brand designator in his cigar business and trademarked a number of different names for his cigars. While in partnership with Louis Liebes he chose to honor the San Francisco philanthropist, James Lick, with a cigar in his name, receiving California Trade Mark No. 276 on July 30, 1874.

Bowman filed another California trademark (No. 808) on February 14, 1882, for his cigar trade. With this trademark, he chose to honor Lieutenant George W. DeLong. The ship Jeannette left San Francisco on July 8, 1879, on its quest to find a passage to the North Pole. The ship was captained by George W. DeLong, a seasoned Naval Academy graduate. Many of the expedition’s thirty-three members were lost, as the Jeannette became ice-bound and sank on June 13, 1880. The men moved to three smaller on-board boats, and the boat containing Capt. DeLong landed at the northern mouth of the Lena River in Siberia, with most of them suffering from severe frostbite. They were not heard from again. A relief party located the graves of DeLong and shipmates which were excavated in March 1883 and returned to New York on February 13, 1884.

It is puzzling that even though Bowman took great care to protect the trade names of his tobacco products, no record has been found that would treat Jewel Old Bourbon in the same fashion. While the embossed fifth proclaims that Bowman was sole agent, it is not known if he owned the brand.

One of the brothers of Joseph Coblentz was Felix Coblentz. He was in the employ of John S. Bowman and Co. as a traveling salesman. Felix had lived in Santa Cruz for a number of years and once had a store there. The local newspaper chose to include a story about him as it relates to his work as a liquor and tobacco salesman. It is such a rare glimpse at the life of a traveling liquor salesman in the West that it is included herewith;

One of the most popular commercial travelers on the road is Felix Coblentz, formerly engaged in business in this city. He represents the firm of John S. Bowman & Co., a prominent wholesale cigar and liquor firm of San Francisco. To be a successful traveler requires considerable business ability, a knowledge of the human character and a wide circle of acquaintances. All of these Felix possesses in an eminent degree. The best evidence of his popularity among those who deal in the articles which he sells is that they generally give him the preference over other travelers when in need of anything. Felix is now in town, and a reporter, who is a friend of his, had a chat with him Thursday morning.

“Business,” said he, “is looking up some on this coast, although times have been pretty hard. I regard Santa Cruz as the prettiest place in the State, and business is as good here as in any other place.”

“How long are you on the road?”

“I’ve been traveling for eight years, and know every nook and corner in the Territories, California, Nevada and Texas. I’ve been as far east as Chicago in the interests of the firm I represent. How many times have I been over this State? I’ve been up and down this State over twenty times. A trip lasts from twenty-five to forty days. Last year I was six months on the road, and spent nearly four months in Europe, where I went on pleasure and to visit my old home. This year I expect to be on the road ten months, at least. On an average, I spent about two months, off and on, of the year at home in San Francisco. I have been very fortunate during my travels, never having been robbed and meeting with only one accident, which occurred in Arizona when I was thrown out of a stage. But my most memorable experience was about two weeks ago. I had a narrow escape then, I tell you. I was lost in a snow storm between Elko and Tuscarora. The snow was so deep that the horses couldn’t pull the sleigh, and a blinding snow storm raged so violently that the driver, who had driven over the road for six years, lost his way. For 42 hours we were without anything to eat or drink. All I had were two, two-bit cigars, and I told the driver we might as well smoke them as, perhaps, they would be the last we would ever enjoy. We pulled sagebrush out from under the snow, struck a match and lighted a fire. Fortunately, I was heavily wrapped in buffalo robes, or else I might have frozen. The storm, however, suddenly calmed down, enabling us to go pursue our way. I tell you it was a rough experience, which I don’t want any more in mine. As a compensation for what I suffered the stage company presented me with an annual pass over all their roads. While in Arizona recently, I was within fifteen miles of where the Apaches had murdered three or four persons. This was between Bowie Station and Solomonsville. No, I wasn’t anxious to meet any Apaches, and I wasn’t anxious to sell them any goods in my line. If an Apache meets any one on the road he isn’t at all particular about taking everything a fellow has. One of the most disagreeable trips is to Globe City, which is twenty-eight miles from Silver King. The trail is not more than twelve inches wide, and cut through the rocks. On one side are hanging rocks, that look as if they were about to fall, on the other side is a deep precipice. The distance between Silver King and Globe City has to be traversed on mule-back. If possible I always avoid this trip, as it takes me a week to recover from it.

“By the way,” remarked Coblentz, “I have a friend here with me who is a prominent light in Salt Lake City. He is known there as Bishop West. In view of the indictments being now found at Salt Lake against polygamists he finds it convenient to take a trip to this coast for the benefit of his health. Besides this the atmosphere of Salt Lake does not agree with him at present. I am trying to induce the Bishop to lecture here before he leaves for Monterey, but don’t think I’ll be able to do so, as he is naturally very modest and awfully shy.” “How many females call him husband, did you say?” queried the reporter, rather surprised that a polygamist should be accused of modesty. “I believe he has ten or fifteen for whom he has to provide. If he could find a cottage large enough in this city to accommodate his large and growing family he might rent it, but he does not feel like renting a hotel for them to stay in , as he would undoubtedly have to do were he to bring all of his family here. The Bishop has to write so many letters home to his anxious better-halves that this portion of his husbandly duty occupies all of his spare time. He is a very devoted husband, and his letters consequently are lengthy.”

Santa Cruz Sentinel, January 8, 1886

Support: Primary research by Eric McGuire

Support: Reference to Whiskey Bottles of the Old West by John L. Thomas

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