This bar decanter dates from the first decade of the twentieth century. Peter Cooper Rye was a product of the rectifying company of Dreyfuss, Weil & Co. of Paducah, Kentucky. Paducah, Kentucky has a rich heritage in the spirits industry. The city is on the banks of the Ohio River and attracted a fairly large Jewish community in the late 19th century. Isaac Wolfe Bernheim first came to Paducah in the 1870s to work for his cousin, who was a Dreyfuss, in the spirits industry. Eventually he was joined by his brother Bernard Bernheim and they founded Bernheim Bros. in that city. In time, they outgrew Paducah and moved to Louisville, Kentucky with its better transportation and communication networks, but the city of Paducah still had plenty of spirit of companies within its city limits.
By 1909, the Mida’s Financial Index Directory of Wholesale Liquor Dealers, Distillers, Importers, Wine Growers has several companies listed in Paducah. Dreyfuss, Weil & Co. is listed as rectifiers with a value rating of “C” or 100,000 to 125,000 dollars. Also in the city in 1909 were Friedmann, Keller & Co. who owned the Early Times Distillery in Nelson County, Kentucky; Geo. H. Goodman Company; Loeb, Bloom & Co.; Old Terrell Distillery, A. Sid. Terrell, Prop. DSP 34, 2nd District Kentucky; Paducah Distilleries Co. and H. Weil & Sons. This is an impressive number of businesses considering that Paducah did not have the railroad connections that Louisville, Bardstown, Frankfort, Lawrenceburg and Lexington had. The city depended upon the Ohio River and steamboats to ship the whiskey to market.
Dreyfuss, Weil & Co. started life as Dreyfuss & Weil with the Old Dixie brand in 1892. In 1906 they became Dreyfuss, Weil & Co. and this decanter dates to that period between 1906 and Prohibition. Mida’s National Register of Trademarks of 1900 does not list the Peter Cooper Rye so it was either created after 1900 or was such a minor brand that it was never registered as a trademark. This bar decanter is the only time I have seen the brand so I suspect that it is the latter. “Peter Cooper” may have been a local person of some prominence and the brand was sold only in Paducah and the surrounding area – a regional brand in today’s terminology.
In the late 19th century, there were few opportunities for Jews in Europe and many of them came to Kentucky and settled along the Ohio River in cities such as Louisville and Paducah. The liquor industry was a business many Jewish immigrants entered. They started as whiskey merchants or rectifiers, but many grew their businesses and purchased distilleries to make their whiskey. Many of these Jewish owned businesses grew to be worth many millions of dollars and had distribution throughout the United States. Prohibition forced them all to close down and they did not come back after repeal. However, with repeal, a second wave of Jewish owned companies came into existence such as Schenley and Heaven Hill.
This Peter Cooper Rye bar decanter is a piece of history that wants to tell its story. The story is one of Jewish immigrants settling in Kentucky along the Ohio River. It is the story of rectifying companies with regional brands. Finally, it is the story of pre-Prohibition businesses that were lost and mostly forgotten after the repeal of Prohibition. All stories worth discovering and telling.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller
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