The following was originally published in The Western Collector, Vol VII, No. 5, dated May 1969.
This article appears here with the permission of Cecil Munsey.
THE WESTERN COLLECTOR, Volume VII, No. 5
Edited by Cecil Munsey,
"Bininger", a name quite familiar to the pioneer bottle collector of around the turn of the century, is not so familiar to today's collector. The reason for this is probably that because of their beauty and historical significance most Bininger bottles were gathered in the early years of the hobby and seldom change hands. The collector of today very seldom has the opportunity to obtain one of these classic American bottles; therefore, they are little discussed.
The story of the family who inspired the Bininger bottles, in itself, is a fine example of the American dream, that is, "rags to riches" through ingenuity and hard work. Abraham, the founder of the Bininger family in this country left his home in Switzerland as a lad of fourteen to come to America with his parents in 1734. The ship was within two days sail of its port of Savannah when Abraham's parents died and were buried at sea. Abraham was alone except for friends he had made on the voyage. These included the celebrated clergyman, John Wesley, who strongly influenced Abraham's life. The boy was educated in the Moravian tenants and settled near Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where he began preaching. He married and became the father of six children. The family moved to New York City eventually where the Reverend Bininger helped to erect the city's first Methodist church on John Street.
The family later moved upstate into Camden Valley, Washington County, New York. Remaining in Bininger hands into the late 19th century, the family mansion was built there in 1760. That same year Abraham, the eldest son, was sent to New York City to begin apprenticeship in the tanner and leather dresser trade. He worked at it for seven years but did not like the business and at the "seasoned" age of 21 decided to quit. He began working as a day laborer and a short time later married Kate Embury, the sister of a close friend.
"Miss Kate" was described as "… a beautiful, buxom girl, and as smart as a steel trap." After she became Mrs. Bininger, she soon discovered that it was difficult for a man to support a family with the earnings of a day laborer. She started adding to the family income by taking in laundry. A short while later the ambitious lady convinced her husband to purchase a large table to be placed outside the door of their home — a little shanty. While washing, she would keep an eye out the window on this table and the merchandise she offered for sale. At first she sold only a few cakes, cookies, sugarplums and related items. These were supplied daily from a basket carried by a lad who peddled such things. In the early years of New York City the largest bakeries sent out their apprentices to peddle and cry the luxuries of the oven. Ironically, the name of the young peddler involved in this story was John Jacob Astor who was then 18 or 20 years old and had recently arrived in America.
Before long Mrs. Bininger had added cabbages, fruits, tobacco, snuff and other items to her table. As the grocery selling prospered Abraham gradually gave up his other work and concentrated on this growing enterprise. He frequently was called upon to purchase seven pounds of sugar a day and carry it home to be retailed out by the "pennyworth". Up to this time all his stock of groceries was carried on his own back, but an important change occurred. Abraham's youngest brother, Isaac, opened a store in Camden Valley after the Revolutionary War. While Abraham had no formal education, Isaac was a shrewd businessman and had been well educated. Isaac's store was the most extensive one between Albany and Montreal. So busy did he become that he sent to New York for his brother to come up and share in his business. Abraham left Kate in charge of their little shop and joined Isaac in partnership. A while later the brothers decided that Abraham should return to New York and sell or barter away the produce, pot ashes and other products received and buy goods to expand the stock of the Camden Valley store. This may be said to be the foundation of the great Bininger house … "dealers in groceries, wines, and liquors of every description."
After being in business together for several years, Isaac and Abraham dissolved their partnership. On his own Abraham opened a very prosperous grocery store in New York City's Maiden Lane which operated for several years. He then bought property on the west side of Broadway (1859) where his son, Jacob, continued the business. His grandson, Abraham, established an additional store on Liberty Street. Meanwhile, Isaac's family continued in business in New York under the leadership of Isaac's son, A. (Abraham) M. Bininger.
An interesting "skeleton" in the Bininger family closet concerns William Bininger, another grandson of Abraham and Kate. He had been educated in a manner similar to his great-grandfather, Abraham, and intended to become a Moravian minister. His prospects were bright when in a wild moment he fell in love with a beautiful girl who lived on Liberty Street just around the corner from the Bininger store on Broadway. She had but one fault — she was poor. William's mother did not consider the match a suitable one and deliberately went to work to end it. William was an obedient son and he felt he should mind his parents. He bade farewell to his lady-love and sailed for Europe. Dispirited and disheartened, William died of a broken heart in France. His body was placed in a "pipe of old Cognac", the cask marked A. Bininger & Co., New York, and shipped by a vessel bound for the city. The vessel was wrecked off the New York coast, but the pipe and contents were picked up and eventually reached its destination.
Before he died, William made his will and gave every dollar he was or would be worth (for it was before his father, Jacob, died) to the beautiful but poor girl he loved. His fortune was then worth about $100,000, a goodly sum in those days. When his mother learned of his death and of the will, she was most angry. Previously, she would not acknowledge acquaintance with the poor girl her son loved. But as soon as she became her son's heiress, Mrs. Bininger sought her out, invited her to their magnificent residence on Chambers Street where Jacob Bininger lived in splendid style, and coaxed and wheedled the girl to take only $20,000 and relinquish all claims upon the Bininger property.
By the 1860's no merchants in the United States had such a fine stock of choice wines, liquors, cigars and related items as did the Biningers. While groceries were still sold, the greater part of the income was derived from coffee, tea and above all, "invigorating spirits" of all kinds. An A.M. Bininger advertisement in an 1861 Norwich, Connecticut newspaper states that Bininger's Old London Dock Gin, genuine Cognac, Sherry, Port Madeira, 1849 Reserve Bourbon, and Wheat Tonic were sold by all the druggists in Norwich.
Out of the old stock arose two distinct houses continuing the same kind of business: A. M. Bininger, son of Isaac who began selling in the country and later moved into New York City. His main store was located at No. 19 Broad Street from 1860 to 1863 and at 375 Broadway from 1863 to 1865. A. Bininger, grandson of Abraham, who simultaneously operated a similar store on Liberty Street. The house of A. M. Bininger & Co. used much newspaper advertising to promote the sale of its products. The house of A. Bininger did not advertise widely, being content with sales primarily in their home territory.
For the antique bottle collector, glass bottles embossed A. M. Bininger & Co. can be found with much greater frequency than A. Bininger ones. All contained liquor of one kind or the other. The bottles are found both with pontil marks and smooth bases. The most active production years were 1850 to 1875. A wealth of shapes and colors awaits the patient seeker! Included are square bottles, clocks, cannons, barrels and handled jugs in amber, aqua, green and puce. In addition there exist two pontil marked, amber, handled jugs with no embossing but identified by a paper label as being Bininger products. (The label on one jug is marked Old Kentucky Bourbon and depicts a colored picture of a coat of arms showing children with a scythe topped by a design showing rye. The label on the other jug is marked Bininger's Pioneer Bourbon and shows a colored picture of a sitting Indian dressed in buckskin holding a gun in front of a campfire.) While others may turn up in the future, the following is a check list of known embossed Bininger bottles:
References and further reading: