John S. Bowman Jewel Old Bourbon

Provenance: Richard T. Siri Collection

The Jewel Old Bourbon bottle made by John S. Bowman is extremely rare. John L. 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, sometime around 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 in 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 on March 28, 1892.

Bowman became a prolific brand designator in his cigar business and trade-marked 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 trade-mark (No. 808) on February 14, 1882, for his cigar trade. With this trade-mark, 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 the 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;

Support: Primary research by Eric McGuire.

Support: Reference to Whiskey Bottles of the Old West by John L. Thomas, 2002

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