Laurel Palace

Provenance: Richard T. Siri Collection

Our Laurel Palace bottle on display in the museum is named after a magnificent saloon that first opened at 2 o’clock on Wednesday, July 10, 1872 in San Francisco. With characteristic courtesy, ladies were allowed to enter first to see all the beauty that J. G. Kahman injected in his elaborate masterpiece saloon. On the following day, the official inauguration occurred with the general public.

Kahman, from Hanover, Germany, decided two years earlier to make his saloon the most elegant and superb of its kind in United States and Europe. The actual work commenced some seven months prior with the final fit-up costing more than $36,000. Under his direction and with his architect, they used the best California laurel wood, marble and glass that could be found. They had great chandeliers in each room, and an abundance of cabinetry, carvings, fresco paintings, plate glass and mirrors located everywhere. All accompanied by the best glassware and silverware. It must have made quite an impression on the general populace not accustomed to such opulence.

Our Laurel Palace bottle has the name of the establishment, the owner and the address embossed on the bottle. It is extremely rare with only two examples known to collectors. Both are represented in our museum. We can date the bottle to the opening of the saloon.

Kahman would die in 1879, though he had already sold his saloon. The saloon would continue for three decades or so under quite a few different proprietors until it was eventually destroyed in the great San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906.

Steve Abbott wrote in his The Schwartzonian article about legendary collector Ken Schwartz, in the January-February 2016 issue of Bottles and Extras:

A major fifth that almost escaped Ken was the extremely rare San Francisco fifth, Laurel Palace, J. G. Kahman. Only one of these was known to exist and that was in a major collection just north of San Francisco.

When the owner decided to leave the foggy coast for the high desert, he sold everything except for his Laurel Palace, which happened to be nearly the last bottle Ken needed to complete the top of his collection. But the price was steep, too steep for the sane, and Ken turned it down. For a while, he even made a joke of it, creating a Laurel Palace label, sticking it on a Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup bottle, and displaying it at shows. Egos being what they are, the price didn’t come down.

Then entered a “newbie,” who for some time had been handing out large sums for the California whiskies he wanted. And the “newbie” met the seller’s demand, then tried to trade the Laurel Palace to other collectors for something he wanted more. But there were no takers. Eventually, the “newbie” had to sell the Laurel Palace to the wise old fox Ken for about half of what the “newbie” paid for it.

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

Read: The Schwartzonian by Steve Abbott

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