“BB” (Bluthenthal & Bickart) Extra Superior Whiskey (Four Aces Whiskey)

 

The initials “B-B” embossed on the subject bottle represent the last name of proprietors Aaron Bluthenthal and Monroe L. Bickart. Their business, Bluthenthal and Bickart, was established in Atlanta, Georgia  sometime in the 1880’s. First listed in the 1887 edition of the Atlanta city directory with an address of 46 Marietta Street, the entry was included under the heading “Changes, Corrections and New Names Received Too Late for Regular Insertion.” This leads me to believe that 1887 was likely their first year of operation. In further support of this assumption, the earliest newspaper advertisements that I can find began appearing the following year in several October, November and December, 1888 editions of the Atlanta Constitution. Calling themselves “wholesale liquors and direct importers,” this initial advertisement included a second Atlanta address, possibly a retail location, on South Forsyth Street.

Another early Constitution advertisement, this one in their November 12, 1889 edition, pointed out that you could pick up your Cuban cigars there as well.

What put B & B on the map however was certainly their liquor business. This full page advertisement that appeared in the Georgia Pharmaceutical Association’s 1892 Annual Meeting Report, mentioned that they were associated with three distilleries at the time; two in Kentucky and one in Georgia.

The advertisement went on to mention whiskey brands Canadian Club, Old Oscar Pepper and Four Aces, all of which were advertised in the Atlanta Constitution during the 1890’s. Typical advertisements for “Canadian Club,” and “Old Oscar Pepper,” are shown below.

 

The company’s “Four Aces” brand made its appearance sometime in the early 1890’s. While it didn’t mention “Four Aces” by name, this initial advertisement that appeared in several March, 1891 editions of the Atlanta Constitution, left little doubt as to what image they wanted you to associate with their “Extra Superior Whiskey.”.

Within a year or so they were referring to it as “Four Aces” whiskey in their Atlanta Constitution advertisements.

four aces beats everything – our “four aces” whisky likewise beats everything:

More than just liquor dealers, the growth of B & B’s  business through the early 1890’s  is evidenced by two items that appeared in the Atlanta Constitution in the late spring of 1892. The first, published on May 19th discussed their import business.

One of the largest packages of sherry wine that was ever brought to the south, was landed through the Atlanta custom house yesterday. It is a “double butt” of extra pale, dry Manzanilla, coming direct from Cadiz, Spain to the Messrs. Bluthenthal & Bickart of this city. The capacity of the cask is over three hundred gallons, and its weight is about three thousand seven hundred pounds. It took a large double wagon to haul it from the car. The package is so enormous that it is quite an object of interest to everybody, nothing like it having been seen heretofore.

The Messrs. B & B are very enterprising merchants, and in their thrift and energy, have achieved a brilliant success in the wine and spirit trade. The importing business is one of the most important branches of their line, and they have a great many foreign connections, and buy all their European wines, gins, brandies, etc., direct from the first hands. Messrs.B & B have done a great deal to enhance the receipts of the Atlanta custom house, and to place this port in a good comparative position with the other southern ports of entry.

The second item, published a month later on June 15th, announced that they were in the beer business as well. It also suggests they likely had some influence on the Constitution’s copy writer.

Messrs. Bluthenthal & Bickart familiarly known as “B & B.,” have just received the agency of Schlitz’s famous Milwaukee beer, and are making arrangements to supply the people with it throughout this part of the country.

These gentlemen are pushing, energetic and active, and since coming to Atlanta have made a splendid business record. Now that they have absolute control of this brand of beer, it is reasonable to suppose, and is confidently predicted, that the sale of the Schlitz goods will be greatly increased.

That same month Bluthenthal & Bickart’s name was prominent in this June 19, 1892 Schlitz advertisement in the Atlanta Constitution.

Sometime in the early 1890’s they also established an Ohio branch located at 220 E. Front Street in Cincinnati.

By the turn of the century B & B was the largest dealer of its kind in Georgia, with its business extending throughout the south and as far north as Washington D. C. Notwithstanding, by 1907 the business was being threatened by Georgia’s upcoming prohibition legislation. The situation at the time was succinctly summed up in this quote by Bluthenthal’s son, Felix, that appeared in an August 3, 1907 Baltimore Sun story.

The law is so drastic and sweeping that there is no possible escape for the liquor dealer but to leave the State. While there had been local opposition in several counties of the State for some time, no one dreamed a few months ago that there was any strong sentiment throughout the State for prohibition. However, during the past few months such a temperance wave has swept over the State that it could not be counteracted.

At the time, Felix Bluthenthal was in Baltimore scouting out a new location for the business. Within two weeks, an August 20, 1907 story in the Atlanta Constitution announced that the firm had selected a site and was fully committed to Baltimore.

Driven from its home by the prohibition legislation in the State of Georgia, the large wholesale liquor house of Bluthenthal & Bickart, of Atlanta, Ga., has decided to move to Baltimore, and has made a long term lease with the trustees of the Johns Hopkins Hospital for the large building in course of construction at the corner of Exchange Place and South Street…

It will be occupied in its entirety by the liquor firm, which will make the building the largest whisky warehouse in the city…All of the heads of the departments are to be moved to Baltimore, with their families, making about forty people in all. The company will need 100 local employees, most of whom will be women and girls.

The importance of the acquisition to Baltimore cannot be overestimated. Last year the products of the firm exceeded $1,000,000 and indications this year are that this figure will be surpassed. Baltimore is now to be the distributing point for this immense production and the effect will be felt in all branches of trade.

In January they were in the process of moving when a January 11, 1908 story in the Baltimore Sun provided this description of their new home.

Messrs. Bluthenthal & Bickart, the wholesale whisky dealers, who were compelled to leave Atlanta Ga., because of the passage of the prohibition law, are occupying their new quarters at the southeast corner of Lombard and South Streets.

While some finishing touches are to be made to the handsome structure which has just been built, Mr. Monroe L. Bickart, of the firm says the firm is now ready to take care of all orders…

The building is six stories, of fire-proof material, and contains 50,000 square feet. The main offices of the firm are on the first floor. They will be fitted in handsome quartered oak. The bottling department is on the second floor. It is supplied with every modern device needed for the business. The third and fourth floors contain 32 large tanks in which whiskies are put through the blending processes. The tanks vary in size from 1,000 to 2,000 gallons each. All mixing is done with filtered air. The air is pumped through water and is free from impurities before it reaches the blending tanks.

The storage room and the room for aging whiskies will be on the top floor. The basement has been planned so that it can easily be transformed into a wine vault. The finest wines carried in stock by the firm will be placed in this vault…The firm will employ in all departments about 150 persons.

Around the same time, their Cincinnati branch disappeared from the Ohio directories so it appears that the company opted to consolidate both operations in Baltimore. That year the Baltimore directory listed Aaron Bluthenthal as president and his son Felix as vice-president. Monroe Bickart was named secretary and treasurer.  

This photograph of their Baltimore home, circa 1910, is courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society.

Almost immediately after they were settled, B & B newspaper advertisements for their “Mark Rogers” brand began appearing in the Baltimore Sun. The ads referred to the address of their new building as simply “the great big house,” Baltimore.

Over the next several years, an unscientific review of their newspaper advertisements suggests that their market had expanded up the east coast, reaching as far north as the New England states of Massachusetts and Connecticut.

In 1910 the company made what the Washington Post described as:

One of the biggest whisky deals ever made in America.

The July 30, 1910 edition of the Baltimore Sun described the deal like this.

The conditional sale of about 15,000 barrels of whisky by Messrs. Charles A. Webb, Sullivan Pitts and S. Johnson Poe, receivers of the Roxbury Company, to Bluthenthal & Bickart, the well known liquor dealers for about $345,000 is said to be the largest sale of its kind yet made in this city. The whisky is to be paid for in cash upon the ratification of the sale by the United States Court.

The purchasers are to have the right to use the name of the Roxbury Distilling Company and the brand Roxbury in bottling the whisky in bond.

Shortly afterwards, newspaper advertisements for Roxbury Rye can be found along the entire east coast and throughout much of the midwest. Remaining optimistic with regard to prohibition, as late as May 31, 1914 the company was advertising for a salesman in the Boston Globe.

Nevertheless, by the late teens the ads had dried up and Bluthenthal & Bickart was no longer listed in the Baltimore directories, a victim of national prohibition.

While prohibition put an end to Bluthenthal & Bickart, the “Four Aces” brand managed to survive when Canada’s British Columbia Distillery Company acquired rights to the name sometime in the late 1920’s.

Not surprisingly, by the early 1930’s the brand was making its way back into the United States, albeit illegally, as evidenced by this dramatic episode described in an April 11, 1931 Chicago Tribune story.

Boston Mass.. April 10. – Five men on a scuttled speed boat were captured under machine gun fire in Nantucket Sound, it was revealed today when coast guard patrol boat S-13 brought captives and liquor to the Woods Hole coast guard house.

The capture followed a mile chase during which two rounds, 78 shots, were sent by the pursuing guardsmen, disabling the fleeing craft. The scuttling followed.

The five were on the speed boat Hit Her, a twin screw craft that was a sister ship of her captor, the former rum runner Tramp.

More than 800 cases of Four Aces whisky and a quantity of other liquor valued at $25,000 were aboard the craft, coastguardsmen reported.

As prohibition came to an end the British Columbia Distillery Company registered the “Four Aces” name with the U. S. Patent office and they began distribution legally in the United States.

According to court documents (California Wine & Liquor Corporation vs. William Zakon & Sons, Inc., Supreme Jusicial Court of Massachusetts) U. S. distribution was originally split between two companies.  Much of the country was handled by the Standard Wine and Liquor Company who was described in one 1940 news item as “one of the largest liquor distributers in the middle west.” The exception was the New England States, whose rights were held by the California Wine & Liquor Corporation. In spite of their name, they were located at 43 – 47 Lansdowne Street in Boston as evidenced by this November 23, 1934 advertisement in the Boston Globe.

Bottles produced during this time appear for sale quite regularly on the internet.

Two years later, still located on Lansdowne Street, this May 5, 1937 advertisement suggested that the California Wine & Liquor Corporation had reorganized under the name of the “Four Aces Liquor Corporation.”

Soon after, a September 14, 1937 story in the Boston Globe announced the Four Aces Liquor Corporation had just introduced a blended whisky under the “Four Aces” name to go along with the bonded whiskey.

INTRODUCE FOUR ACES BLENDED WHISKY HERE

George Kravit, treasurer of the Four Aces Liquor Corporation, said yesterday that in addition to Four Aces bonded whisky, it has placed on the market Four Aces blended whisky, a blend of straight whisky. The blend is aged in the wood and is all whisky. It is on sale at leading package stores, clubs, taverns and restaurants…The Four Aces Liquor Corporation is at 43 Lansdowne St., Boston.

Bottles associated with their blended whisky have also recently appeared for sale on the internet.

After this I completely lose track. Sometime in the late 1930’s the Four Aces Liquor Corporation disappeared from the Boston directories and was replaced at the Lansdowne address with another liquor business called United Liquors, Ltd. While it’s possible that United Liquors took over distribution of the “Four Aces” brands in New England, I’ve been unable to make a definite connection.

Similarly, I’ve been unable to definitively connect the Standard Wine and Liquor Company with the “Four Aces” brands in other parts of the country. That being said, the “Four Aces” name continued to appear in liquor store sponsored newspaper advertisements up through the early 1970’s. In fact, this 1972 advertisement in Troy, New York’s Times Record indicated that at some point the brand name was expanded to include Vodka and Gin as well as Whiskey.

The bottle I found is mouth blown with a tooled brandy (or mineral?) finish. The embossed insignia just below the shoulder matches exactly the insignia displayed in the March 1891 Atlanta Constitution advertisement.

 

A labeled example of the bottle is displayed on a tin advertising sign recently offered for sale on the internet.

 

On a final note: Unlike others presented on this site, this bottle was not found in the Long Island bays. Instead, it belonged to John, the brother of one of my wife’s life long friends. An avid collector, John passed away several years ago. This post is dedicated to his memory…God Bless.