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The ABBOTTS: C. W. Abbott & Co.

C. W. Abbott & Co.

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C. W. ABBOTT & CO. HAND STAMPED CANCELS

Bitters are defined as brews of various liquors and pungently flavored plant extracts that have been produced since prehistoric times. From that hallowed “time immemorial,” they have been extolled as possessing medicinal power to calm digestive ailments, particularly those discomforts resulting from overstuffed stomachs abused by feasting and banqueting. C. W. Abbott & Co. began to produce its Abbott’s Bitters in 1872. Cornelius W. Abbott, whose name graced the business after 1876, was the son of the founder of the business, Cornelius F. Abbott. F had begun the company in 1865 and remained an active partner until his death in1894. W, born in 1855, entered his father’s business at the tender age of 17, and stepped to the helm of the bitters business not long after his 21st birthday.

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1900s C. W. ABBOTT COVER DESIGNS FOR USE BY ITS RETAILERS

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1914 C. W. ABBOTT & CO. INVOICE

With their bitters selling well, the Baltimore Abbotts established themselves as part of that city’s upper crust. A contemporary thumbnail sketch of C W Abbott – contained in one of those abundant compilations of local notables that remain to us as a token of the confidence reposed in the pillars of America’s burgeoning capitalistic society of the Gilded Age – laid great stress on the imposing antecedents from which he sprang, speculating on his titled forebearers in England and tracing his ancestry in the United States directly back to one George Abbot who settled in Rowley, MA sometime between 1620 and his death in 1647. According to this portrait, C W prized quality over quantity, eschewing opportunities to expand his business unless he could guarantee the distinctiveness of his product, and was “straight and clean” in all his business transactions, affirming that “[c]ontact with his fellow man stirred up his ambition to build a good business character. The rest [of his success] has been a matter of growth.” Perhaps the most surprising fact revealed about C W in the sketch was that he was an Independent rather than a Republican. That forgivable aberration is explained by a last reference to his quirky Puritan forefathers, although the author hastened to assure the readers that even though the name Abbott derived from the Roman Catholic title abbot, the present Abbott was as staunch as his predecessors in his profession of Protestant beliefs. C W kept producing his Bitters until his death in 1932.

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C. W. ABBOTT

Perhaps the greatest wonder of Abbott’s Bitters is that they achieved their greatest fame long after the age of nostrums and patent medicines, when their piquant flavor made them the perfect mixer for Manhattan cocktails. Because of their great utility to bartenders, these bitters continued to be produced well into the 1950s. Surviving bottles retaining their original content are so prized among cocktail connoisseurs that modern websites discuss the precise spectrographic analysis of bitters’ samples of various ages with an eye to recreating the original formula now buried deep in the “sands of time,” as well as trumpeting, like moon rocket launches, each new attempt to recreate the precise Abbott’s Bitters taste.

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VARIOUS VERSIONS  OF C. W. ABBOTT’S BITTERS BOTTLE

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1946 C. W. ABBOTT AD

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C. W. ABBOTT ADVERTISING ITEMS

DRINK PARAPHANALIA

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DRINK MUDDLER

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CORKSCREW

However much C W Abbott stove to cooperate with his fellow men to attain a favorable business reputation, court records make plain that he spent an enormous amount of time and energy in litigation defending his right to market his Bitters as he chose. At the beginning, Abbott’s advertising featured them as Abbott’s Angostura Bitters. The matter of whose bitters were the genuine “Angostura Bitters” became a matter of repeated pointed legal clashes between Abbott’s and J W Wuppermann in the period between 1880 and 1905.

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THERMOMETERS

© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2014

 

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