According to “Difford’s Guide,” the relationship between the Booth family and gin can be traced back to the establishment of their London distillery in 1740.
The Booth family, who moved to London from north-east England, were established wine merchants as early as 1569. By 1740 they had added distilling to their already established brewing and wine interests and built a distillery at 55 Cowcross Street, Clerkenwell, London…
During the 19th century Sir Felix Booth set up another distillery at Brentford and grew the business into the largest distilling company in England…
After the death of the last male Booth family member in 1826, the firm became an independent limited company. In 1937, Booth’s joined the Distiller’s Company Ltd, the interests of which would evolve into part of the conglomerate we know today as Diageo.
Booth’s gin is not currently listed as a brand on Diageo’s web site, apparently having gone out of production just recently.
It’s not clear when Booth’s gin first began appearing in the United States. The earliest U. S. newspaper reference for Booth’s gin that I could find is in a December 4, 1871 story in the Buffalo Daily Courier highlighting a local business called P.J. Hanour’s. It mentioned that “Holland” gin and Booth’s “Old Tom” gin were both available by the case at Hanour’s. Based on this story, its safe to say that Booth’s “Old Tom” gin was certainly available in the U.S. by the early 1870’s.
The December, 1887 edition of Bonfort’s Wine and Spirit Circular listed the firm of Purdy & Nicholas as the U.S. agent for Booth & Co.’s “Old Tom” gin.
An import company, the business was a partnership of John F. Purdy and George Stevenson Nicholas. According to Purdy’s obituary the company was established in 1857, so while it’s not clear when their relationship with Booth’s began, it’s possible that Booth’s U. S. presence dates back that far.
Always located at 42 Beaver Street in lower Manhattan, Purdy & Nicholas was listed in the New York City directories from 1862 up until 1888. According to an item in the September 12, 1894 issue of the New York Times, the partnership was dissolved on September 1, 1888. Subsequently, Nicholas continued to run the business, first as a sole proprietor, then, sometime around 1908, as G. S. Nicholas & Co. and finally in 1919 as G.S. Nicholas & Son. Throughout this time the business remained listed at the Beaver Street address.
By the early 1900’s, in addition to “Old Tom” their Booth & Co. imports also included Booth’s “Dry” gin. A 1902 advertisement in Life Magazine named G. S. Nicholas as the sole agent for Booth’s Dry Gin.
And the brand was included in the company listing under gin, printed in the January 1, 1903 edition of the Wine & Spirit Bulletin.
By 1908 the brand name “High and Dry” gin began to appear in the U. S. as a Booth & Co. product. That year, the June 17 edition of “Printers Ink” announced that the firm of H.B. Humphrey had been hired to place advertisements for the brand.
A year later G. S. Nicholas & Co. included the Booth’s “High and Dry” brand along with Booth’s “Old Tom”in an advertisement published in the June 22, 1909 edition of the New York Times.
In 1919, the NYC Copartnership and Corporation Directory named G. S. Nicholas & Son as the agent for Booth Distillery, Ltd., confirming that their relationship remained intact right up to the start of National Prohibition.
Booth’s High & Dry gin continued to be available in the U. S. during Prohibition albeit illegally. One story in the (Wilmington Delaware) Evening Journal described a shipment that originated in Canada.
Eighteen days ago a fourteen ton, two-masted schooner cleared from the little port of St Pierre Miquelon, a French possession near Newfoundland, with a crew of seven and assorted choice liquors valued at upwards of $200,000 aboard.
Search of the schooner was made during the night. Bottles, cases and kegs of liquor were found in two hatches covered with bags of coal.
The small schooner is (now) berthed at a Delaware River pier in Philadelphia, heavily guarded. The cargo of liquor lies in concrete vaults of the U. S. Customs Department.
A list of the illegal cargo was provided in the story and it included “28 gallons of Booth’s High and Dry gin” and “62 cases of Booth’s High and Dry gin.”
Apparently Booth’s “High & Dry,” in addition to being smuggled in, was also being counterfeited in this country. A story in the April 7, 1928 edition of the Decatur (Illinois) Herald referred to one illegal operation as the “Decatur Branch” of the Booth Distillery, complete with a still, bottles and labels.
Police Friday raided the “local branch” of a London, England, distillery: makers of Booth’s “High and Dry” Gin, and other fine imported liquors. A new 50-gallon still was confiscated.
Swooping down on the cottage in 2129 North Church Street, they found John Alexander and his wife Sadie, in charge of the premises with 80 gallons of raw alcohol ready to be converted into choice imported liquors.
Bottles, labels, corks and seals were ready. Recipes for mixing a widely assorted list of liquors were found.
Booth’s London distillery, as described by the labels for use on the “imported” dry gin, made in Decatur, was established in 1740. The British lion appears on the label as a trade mark. The label is a work of art, printed in four colors.
Another label found is intended to give the information that the liquor manufactured in Decatur’s branch of Booth’s English distillery is imported by the “Henry Hollander Co., Inc.” under a special permit. Caution is given that it has been permitted in this country for medicinal purposes only and that “sale for use for other purposes will cause heavy penalties to be inflicted.”
The still was in the basement. It gave appearance of being recently installed. Under order of Chief Ed Wills, it was wrecked.
After Prohibition ended, Booth’s “High & Dry” gin began to be produced in the U.S. by Park & Tillford Distiller’s of New York City. The “High & Dry” label from the 1930’s included the following:
product of U.S.A. distilled and bottled by Park & Tillford Distillers, Inc. at New York, N.Y., under the supervision of Booth Distillers, Ld, London.
Other 1930’s advertisements explained that reducing the price by eliminating the import tax was the reasoning behind the change.
This is the same gin when imported retails $3.50 to $4.00 per fifth bottle. But it is now being distilled by the Park and Tillford distillers in New York City by the Booth’s distillers of London, England, same formula, same gin, but eliminating import tax, thereby bringing the price down compared to ordinary gin.
This advertisement from 1935 bore this out, listing the price of a fifth at $1.45.
By the mid-1950’s, Booth’s “High & Dry” gin was being produced in Linden New Jersey by the Distillers Co., Ltd.; W. A. Taylor & Co., was named as their sole distributor in the U.S and the bottle design had completely changed but this 1959 advertisement showed that their marketing strategy had remained pretty consistent.
They still stressed their English heritage.
It is good to know that when you buy Booth’s “High & Dry” Gin in the United States you are getting gin made according to the same formula as the Booth’s “High & Dry” purveyed in Britain. It is the only gin distilled in U.S.A. under the supervision of famous Booth Distilleries, Ltd., in London, England. Give Booth’s a try.
And price was still a major factor.
The bottle I found is square-shaped, machine made and includes “High & Dry Gin,” the British lion trademark, “Booth’s Distillery London England” all embossed on one face. It doesn’t include the typical post-prohibition embossed phrase (federal law forbids the sale or reuse of this bottle).
As a result the bottle was most likely manufactured after 1908 when the brand “High & Dry” began to appear in the U.S and before the end of National Prohibition.
This is further supported by the embossing: “B & CO.LD.,” found on the base of the bottle.
Originally I thought that this stood for Booth & Co., however, I now think it represents “Bagley & Co., Ltd.,” an English glass house, that was in business from 1898 to 1962. According to the U.S. Society of Historical Architecture they were one of the first users of automated bottle machinery in England and probably had the capability of making machine-made narrow-mouthed bottles as early as 1907. The company manufactured bottles from 1898 to the late 1920’s or early 1930’s after which they ceased bottle production and focused on tableware.
The range of production between 1908 and the early 1930’s means that the bottle could have been legally imported by G.S. Nicholas or it could have entered the country illegally during Prohibition.