Tea Cup Extra Old Bourbon

Provenance: Richard Siri Collection

Without a doubt, the “Tea Cup Extra Old Bourbon” tooled-top fifth is a favorite with collectors. Why wouldn’t it be with such an intriguing name and visual look with the embossed “teacup” image on the face of the bottle? The labels on bottles that came later actually pictured a rustic old couple huddled and sipping whiskey from a cup. Back then, whiskey was advertised as a medicinal product under temperance eyes. This picture whiskey bottle is found only in light amber glass and is air vented at the shoulder. Very few examples exist.

See the museum example of a later, fully-labeled Tea Cup No. 1 Whiskey.

James Shea, was born in Skibbereen, County Cork, Ireland. James left Ireland and arrived in San Francisco by way of Cape Horn. His fiance, Annie Shipsey, was born on Cape Clear Island which lies southwest of County Cork in Ireland. She traveled from Ireland to San Francisco via the Isthmus of Panama and the couple was married in San Francisco in the 1850s. They lived on Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco. This must have been a huge change in life for the couple.

Shea’s original name was James Sheehy and Sheehy was the name used by his brothers in commerce in Watsonville, California. He applied for citizenship under the name James Sheehy, then changed his name to Shea when he formed Shea, Hussey & Co. in 1868. As you might imagine, this upset the Sheehy brothers.

In 1871, Shea, Bocqueraz & McKee was formed. They were the successors to Sullivan & Cashman and Shea & Hussey Co. Hussey was now gone and Shea was in business with three new partners who were the Bocqueraz brothers and Robert McKee. Antoine and Leon Bocqueraz were immigrants from Europe and McKee had a history dealing with San Francisco liquor concerns. They were located at the corner of Front and Jackson Streets and were the Sole Agents for Golden and Tea-Kettle Bourbon in the western states and territories. Interestingly enough, they were located next door to Myer J. Newmark and Max Gruenberg who were whiskey wholesalers and competitors. See museum example, Old Judge Bourbon – Newmark, Gruenberg & Co.

In 1885, McKee died and several years later the firm changed its name to Shea, Bocqueraz & Co. The Tea Cup Bourbon brand originated on April 1, 1891, with Shea, Bocqueraz & Co. listed as sole proprietors. You can see on the billhead below, “Proprietors of the Celebrated Brands of Golden & Tea Cup Whiskies.”

The name Tea Cup Bourbon is clearly a reference to Tea Kettle Bourbon from earlier days. You can see both trademarks below. The Wilsons surmised that the brand was probably of low quality given the dearth of bottles bearing the name, perhaps an indication that it was a rectifier’s concoction.

Tea Cup Bourbon was advertised heavily, as witnessed by the number of shot glasses and signs that survive to this day. The company also used the brand names “Astor,” “Carlton (dry gin),” “Golden,” “Roanoke,” “Roanoke Rye – Honey & Horehound,” “Springfield,” “Tea Cup,” “Tea Cup Extra Old Bourbon Whiskey,” and “Tea Kettle.”

After the great San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906, the marsh adjacent to the Shea, Bocqueraz & Co. waterfront address was used for debris and was later completely filled in for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. It is now considered the Wharf in San Francisco. Shea, Bocqueraz survived all the way until 1919 when they shut down due to the looming National Prohibition.

Primary Image: Tea Cup Extra Old Bourbon imaged on location by Alan DeMaison, FOHBC Virtual Museum Midwest Studio

Support: Reference to What’s In a Name? For James Shea, a Lot by Jack Sullivan

Support: Reference to the Wilsons (p. 131) previously suggested that James Shea was originally a Boston liquor dealer, but a descendant (great grand-daughter Peggy) provided the true story and images according to Pre-Pro.com

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

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