The New York City wine and liquor business 0f Isaac Goldberg began in the mid to late 1880’s at a single Manhattan location. By the time National Prohibition was enacted it had grown to include store locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx as well as a Brooklyn distribution center.
According to 1910 census records Goldberg, a Russian Jew, immigrated to the United States in 1885. He was first listed in the New York City directories in 1888 with the occupation “wines,” at 138 1/2 Division Street in Manhattan. At the time he was associated with his brother-in-law, Phillip S. Spero of Philadelphia, manufacturing wine for religious purposes.
In 1889 Spero was on trial in Philadelphia for selling the wine, some of which had fermented and contained 16% alcohol, without a license. The coverage of the trial in the May 19, 1889 edition of The (New York) Sun included some background and the early history of the business.
Phillip S. Spero of 701 South Sixth Street was yesterday brought into the Old Court House and tried before Judge Finletter on the charge of selling Passover wine without a license. Spero is a Russian Hebrew and has been in this country only three years. He is in partnership with his brother-in-law, Mr. Isaac Goldberg of New York City, engaged in the manufacture of what the Hebrews call “raisin wine” or “Passover wine,” which is used in the Hebrew-Russian ceremony three times on their Sabbath (Saturdays) and during the whole time of the Passover. The cannons of the church require that the wine be unfermented.
Lawyer Singer of the firm of Furth & Singer, represented the defendant. He called the accused, who testified through interpreter Samson, that he had been in the country only three years, and that he formerly lived with his father in England, from whom he obtained the recipe for making the wine. He had made it in England after his father died, and when he came to this country he formed a partnership with his brother-in-law, Isaac Goldberg of New York, for the purpose of manufacturing and selling this wine to the Russian Hebrews in New York and Philadelphia. He said the wine was not intoxicating, and he had no intention of breaking the law.
His brother-in law, Goldberg, next took the stand and told how the wine was made. He said it was made of California grapes, raisins, sugar, blackberries and water. He did not know whether it fermented or not.
The jury found Spero guilty but recommended mercy. The Sun story went on to say:
Mr. Singer, counsel for the defendant, made an appeal to the court for mercy on the ground that the law had not been violated knowingly or with any intent to break the law. He stated that the defendant had given up the business after the arrest, and if the Judge would discharge him on his good behavior there would be no further cause of complaint.
Assuming Spero held to his word, this marked the end of the business in Philadelphia, however, it was apparently just the start in New York where it would continue up until the start of National Prohibition.
As early as 1890 Goldberg’s clientele had certainly begun to expand beyond New York’s Russian-Hebrew community. That year he was listed at 7 Allen Street, with an occupation that now included both “wine” and “liquor.” The next year he relocated to 133 East Broadway where he remained listed as a wholesale liquor dealer through 1901.
In 1902 he moved his operation to 171 East Broadway and the following year he listed his second Manhattan location, a store at 3 Clinton Street. By the end of the decade he had added another Manhattan store at 1390 Fifth Avenue (1905), as well as two in Brooklyn; one at 1691 Pitkin Avenue (1907) and the other at 28 Graham Avenue (1909). Each of these branch stores was located at an intersection corner in an obvious effort to maximize street-level visibility.
Goldberg’s business was unique in that a significant portion of his work force was deaf. A March 18, 1907 story picked up by several different U. S. newspapers provided some details.
Isaac Goldberg, a wholesale liquor dealer of 171 East Broadway, who is prominent in charitable movements on the lower East Side, says he has solved one problem of labor.
In his bottling department the entire force of workmen are mutes and Goldberg says that they accomplish three times as much work and are 50 percent less troublesome than twice their number of ordinary workmen. Goldberg inaugurated the reform several weeks ago. About six weeks ago, Hyman Sadolsky, 16 year old, mute, went into Goldberg’s place and asked for assistance. He made known to the proprietor that he was anxious to get employment, and Goldberg resolved to try him. He was put to work in the bottling department where conversation is detrimental to the best interests of the establishment.
After the boy had been there a week Goldberg found that he did a great deal more work than anybody else in the shop, and resolved to get more like him. There was some trouble at first between the boy and the other employees, but as a vacancy occurred it was filled with a deaf mute, until finally the entire department was operated by mutes, there being fifteen in all.
Referred to as the “Lead Pencil Club,” another story, this one published in the July 5, 1907 edition of the The Sun, related the meaning behind their name.
The reason for the name the “Lead Pencil Club” is that everyone goes about his business with a lead pencil behind his ear and carries a book. When the boss wants to send a messenger in a hurry somewhere he puts down a few words on a piece of paper and if the workman wants to ask a question down comes his pencil and he writes a question on a piece of paper.
The group even had its own internal organization within the business and was certainly treated with respect. The July 5th Sun story drives home both points with the following description of their 4th of July festivities.
The Lead Pencil Club, which is made up of deaf mutes who are employed in Isaac Goldberg’s wholesale wine and liquor store at 171 East Broadway, celebrated the Fourth quietly.
Twenty of these deaf mutes started the day by a feast in the basement of the store. At the head of the table sat the president, Abraham Eiseberg, and Sam Rosenberg, the vice-president, who read the Declaration of Independence by signs. When he showed them by signs and motions July 4, 1776, all the deaf mutes raised flags and waved them.
After the feast the deaf mutes went to Staten Island for a baseball game with the employees of Goldberg who can talk. The deaf mutes of Goldberg beat the employees who can talk by a score of 8 to 1.
It appears that the business peaked in the early-teens having added two locations in the Bronx at 878 Prospect Avenue and 1575 Washington Avenue as well as what was referred to as a distribution department on 41st Street in Brooklyn. It was around this time that the business incorporated in New York as I. Goldberg, Inc., with $100,000 capital. The 1915 N.Y.C. Copartnership and Corporation Directory named Isaac president, with sons Joseph, Samuel and Shepard named vice president, treasurer and secretary, respectively. Two years later Shepard was listed as the president and Isaac was no longer included in the company listing having either passed away or retired.
Prohibition almost certainly put an end to the business at which time the sons apparently scattered. On October 24, 1918 the New York Times published an announcement that two of Isaac’s sons, Shepard and Samuel, had incorporated a food product company under the name I. Goldberg’s Sons using the 171 East Broadway address. I Goldberg, Inc. remained listed at the Pitkin Avenue address but by 1920 their occupation was changed to “drugs.”
The bottle I found is a mouth blown fifth or quart. The main body includes eight flat panels deisgned to accommodate embossing. Five of these panels include the company name, I. Goldberg as well as the company’s three Manhattan locations (171 E. Broadway, Houston cor. Clinton St. and 5th Ave. cor. 115th St.) and two Brooklyn locations (Pitkin cor. Rockaway Ave. and Graham cor. Debevoise St.). This dates the bottle’s manufacture to no earlier than 1909 when they began including their second Brooklyn location, Graham Avenue, in the Brooklyn directories.
Three panels on the bottle are vacant suggesting that it was made before the first Bronx location was listed in the directories, sometime around 1913. This narrows the bottle’s manufacture to the roughly five year period between 1909 and 1913.
On a final note, the bottle also includes an embossed statement on the shoulder indicating that the company was established in 1873.
It’s likely that Goldberg took some marketing liberties utilizing this 1873 date, as he’s apparently referencing back to the wine making days of Phillip Spero and his father in England.