ANOTHER "GREAT FEATURE ARTICLE" FROM THE PAGES OF
ANTIQUE BOTTLE AND GLASS COLLECTOR MAGAZINE
THE MAGAZINE OF THE ANTIQUE BOTTLE COLLECTING HOBBY
"In Search of
By Matt Bramblett
June 1997 in a small coastal plain town in South Carolina,
whiskey flasks were held again for the first time in 100 years.
Rather than whiskey, the bottles were marked Dispensary. As a
South Carolina Dispensary collector for about 15 years at the
time, this embossing was not a surprise. For South Carolina in
the 1890s with dry counties and a strong temperance
movement, the term Dispensary, with its medicinal connotation,
went down a lot smoother than hard whiskey.
As a native South Carolinian, the South Carolina Dispensary bottle search is my passion. These bottles make up the majority of my collection. Due to the intriguing history of the Dispensary system, wide variety of Dispensary bottles, and rarity of many Dispensary bottles, these bottles are highly sought after. These facts made this dig tremendously wonderful. Before I go into the specifics of the dig, a brief explanation of the South Carolina Dispensary system is in order.
The South Carolina Dispensary system began in 1893 when Governor Ben Tillman established a state-run monopoly on liquor sales in the state. The system lasted until 1907. During this period, all liquor was passed through the State system. Most of the bottles used by the State were marked either "SC Dispensary" or "South Carolina Dispensary." Until approximately 1900, the bottles included an embossed Palmetto Palm Tree, the State Tree (Photo 2). Again, temperance pressure was applied with the opinion that the State Tree should not be on a liquor bottle. The tree was then replaced with a monogram of SCD (Photo 3).
The most sought after Dispensary bottles are the ones with the palmetto tree, particularly the amber colored ones (Photo 2). The monogram Dispensary bottles are more common, but they are still quite collectable. While some of the bottles do not have bottle makers marks, many of them have the maker such as CLFG Co (CL Flaccus Glass Company, Pittsburgh, PA ), CG Co. (Carolina Glass, Columbia, SC), P Brothers (Packham Brothers, Baltimore, MD), EP Jr. & Co. (E. Packham Jr. & Company, Baltimore), Dixie (Tullahoma, GA), and others. The shape of the bottles and the makers mark are important to Dispensary collectors and determines their value. Dispensary bottle prices range from $25 for clear half-pint monogram embossed flasks with a common mark to thousands of dollars for amber quart palmetto tree embossed bottles.
The Dispensary Dig
The Dispensary pit dig was the type of bottle dig that keeps you searching in the hot or cold, rain, or even snow. Fortunately, the Dispensary dig was in the sunshine, but it was a bit hot that early June day. My father Richard Bramblett and I started to search the property with an 1850s house early in the morning. Because the house and yard were undergoing renovation, the owner granted us permission for the bottle search. The Sanborn fire insurance map from 1894 showed a single dwelling, stable, and structure marked "shed" but no privies were depicted. Normally, the probe rod used to search for buried trash signals the bottle digger by crunching through coal, ash, rusty metal, or old bricks. On occasion, when the bottles are plentiful, the probe rod hits something hard with a higher pitch. I have learned this sound means a bottle and know not to force the probe through it. The first three probe holes in the Dispensary pit gave the sweet higher pitched sound of glass.
Our shovels hit the ground and removed the surface leaf litter, roots, and sand. At just six inches below grade, the first bottle revealed is a pint size monogram Dispensary flask this is going to be good (Photo 3). Then, more and more Dispensary bottle surfaced. The pit was difficult to dig for two reasons the tight spacing of the bottles and a large and gnarled tree over the side of the hole. Obviously, this did not deter us, and the pit was only approximately 3 feet deep.
At times, five or more Dispensary bottles could be seen in the hole a neck, the top, a corner, the side. Many of the bottles were stacked on top on each other with no more than a few grains of sand between them that managed to sift down after a 100 years of rain showers. The placement of the bottles sparked some of those enthusiastic expressions of bottle excitement such as "they are stacked in there like a cord of wood" or "there is a whole nest of em here."
The Dispensary pit contained a total of 145 intact Dispensary bottles my best dig ever! Of these bottles, 110 were in near mint to mint condition. Because about _ of the bottles were embossed with the palmetto tree and the other _ of the bottles were embossed with the SCD monogram, I believe that the pit was used in the period between 1898 and 1902. The bottles in the pit included _ pint, pint, and quart sizes for both the palmetto tree and monogram styles. In addition to the Dispensary bottles, there were approximately 100 other unembossed whiskey bottles. This is evidence that some Dispensary bottles were label only or that bootlegging was alive and well during the Dispensary period.
I imagine the Dispensary pit as a gathering place for locals who liked to sip whiskey and talk about the latest cotton or tobacco prices or other small town topics. When finished, the bottle was gently placed in the shallow pit on top of the previous "empties." This would explain why the majority of the bottles were not broken. I think that the gathering did not want to draw unwanted attention to the drinking place by breaking glass. That could have upset a nagging wife, a teetotaler neighbor, or possibly a constable. Whatever the reason, most of the bottles were whole! A grouping of other Dispensary bottles found in the pit is shown in Photo 4.
Most of the Dispensary flasks were in the Jo-Jo style, which is similar to a pumpkinseed flask. The Jo-Jo flasks taper at both the top and the bottom. The variety available in just SC Dispensary palmetto tree Jo-Jo flasks is illustrated in Photo 5 which shows various tree embossings from four different glass manufacturers. The trees range from bold to week and some hardly resemble a palmetto tree at all. I believe that it is the variety of embossings and bottle styles that make Dispensaries highly collectable. Many collectors get into the intricacies of the tree patterns even if they differ only by a single tree frond or the way that the crossed logs at the base of the tree appear.
Since I finished digging the Dispensary pit, I have not found a similar cache of Dispensary bottles and I will probably not come across this many bottles so tightly packed again.
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