Nonpareil

Provenance: Stephen Hubbell Collection

Our museum example of a Nonpareil bottle is interesting for a number of reasons. We know it contained whiskey so we can place it in the spirits gallery, but on what shelf, and with what grouping? John L. Thomas in Whiskey Bottles of the Old West categorized the spirit bottles in his book in two sections; the Fifths and Flasks. He put the Nonpareil in the Flask section and called it a Handled Whiskey Jug, saying there just wasn’t any other place to put it. At any rate, it is a gorgeous bottle that always comes in red amber with an abundance of crudity and character. Typically the handles are missing which is understandable. It is one of the only western handled whiskey jugs of this era.

The handled jug is embossed NONPAREIL which is French meaning unparalleled, as in unequaled quality and excellence. The words TRADE MARK flank embossed antlers on a stag head. Beneath the head is embossed copy reading KOLB & DENHARD, SAN FRANCISO. As noted above, it is handled. The bottles were probably produced in Europe, as many of the other “German Connection” fifths were. The bottles are exceptionally rare, with somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen known.

In 1889, Herman A. Denhard is listed as both living and working with his brother John as a butcher and pork packers in San Francisco. Previously he had been a cigar dealer. He was also associated with the firm of Kohler and VanBergen, who were major liquor wholesalers in the city. At this time Edward A. Kolb married Emma Denhard in 1888 who was most likely Herman’s sister. This relationship probably cemented the relationship and assisted in building the partnership of Kolb and Denhard in their liquor business, which debuted in 1890.

The outfit was originally located at 420-426 Montgomery Street in the heart of the downtown business district. Kolb & Denhard wasted no time in registering the firm with the State of California. On June 28, 1890, the firm trademarked its new flagship brand, Non Pareil with the State. Their logo was a stag with antlers. Initially, they advertised somewhat generically for California and imported wines, brandies, and liquors. Shortly thereafter they embarked on an advertising campaign in the California Wine and Spirits Review, which ran for nearly ten straight years pushing their flagship Non Pareil brand. A mold was commissioned and the bottles were blown, filled and marketed. Kolb & Denhard weren’t bashful about their pricing structure. After all, if you wanted Non Pareil, you had best be willing to pay for it. The fifths listed for $2.50 which in this era was high when most whiskey sold for a dollar a bottle. During this period, their three primary brands were Nonpareil, Old Joe Tracy, and Old Tom Parker.

See: Old Tom Parker (E. A. Kolb Co.) on an adjacent museum shelf

Support: Primary research provided by Bruce Silva and Western Whiskey Gazette.

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

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