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Archive for October, 2009

A Grand Old Journal: Pacific Wine & Spirit Review

Posted by winelibrarian on October 25, 2009

A Grand Old Journal: Pacific Wine & Spirit Review

by Marvin Collins

(Reprinted from the Wayward Tendrils Quarterly, Vol.19 No.4, October 2009, with the kind permission of the author)

[We welcome another contribution to our Quarterly from our indefatigable researcher of California’s wine history and its cast of memorable characters. In this piece Marvin provides a look at one of the most important resources for wine industry history, and its new life on-line. — Ed.]

GOOD NEWS IS HERE for seekers of California’s vinous history—the legendary journal Pacific Wine & Spirit Review has been digitized and is appearing on a computer screen near you. After a twenty-four-year effort to make the journal more readily available to wine history researchers, the almost complete run held by the San Francisco Public Library has gone on-line.

Pacific Wine & Spirit Review—A Short History

SAN FRANCISCO CREATED A SINGLE ongoing trade journal dedicated to viticultural matters, but it was not monothematic at first blush. It began as  the San Francisco Merchant, whose initial issue was published March 7, 1879, by founding journalist Alexander D. Bell.  The masthead proudly proclaimed that the “Merchant is devoted to the Productions, Manufactures and Commerce of the Pacific Coast.”  Besides the vine and wine, the paper covered wheat, sugar, wool, tobacco, molasses, rice, salmon, canned goods, coffee and tea, and touched on some aspects of mining.

Some of the regional newspapers serving the various wine districts dedicated space to the rapidly emerging industry— St. Helena Star, Napa Reporter, San Jose Mercury, among others—and Publisher Bell, collecting stories from these sources and government reports, assembled them into categories by industry. Bell, at various times, was also connected with the Vancouver Times, and San Francisco’s Chronicle, Bulletin, and  Post.  Rising wine expert and celebrated journalist Charles A. Wetmore moved in the same circle of pressmen, and the two became close collaborators.  Through Wetmore, the Chief Executive Officer of the State Viticultural Commission, the Merchant became the voice of the Commission; some was first-hand reportage and some was culled from the daily newspapers and re-edited with Bell’s commentary. The paper printed/published several reports of special committees and annual conventions, covered their meetings, and promoted Commission publications.  Bell and the Merchant also published Wetmore’s Propagation of the Vine (1880) and distributed ex-Board Secretary John Bleasdale’s translation of Portuguese Viscount Villa Maior’s The Viniculture of Claret (1884).

By 1883 Bell had redefined the thrust of his journal to cover almost exclusively the interests of the wine makers and grape growers  of California.  He still filled space during slow news weeks with reminis-cences of Civil War battles and reports on the California real estate boom, but when he wrote that the Merchant “is a careful digest of all matters of interest to the Grape Growers,” the paper’s true slant stood clear.

In May, the St. Helena Star recognized the changing content with a fine commendation of Bell and his work:

The SF Merchant has recently changed its form to a quarto, and made further mechanical and literary changes that render it one of the handsomest and most valuable weekly journals published on this Coast.  To the wide-awake merchant and trader this publication has become a necessity, yet its usefulness has been extended into another field— that of viniculture— and the vinegrowers will find the Merchant abounding in information concerning the grape vine, and everything pertaining to its cultivation.  The editor, A.D. Bell, is a frequent visitor to Napa valley, being deeply interested in the success of grape growing in California.  The first number [April 27, 1883] of his paper [revised format, with larger viticultural emphasis] contains a complete report of the proceedings of the Napa Grapegrowers Convention, April 19, 1883, taken down at the time in short hand, which fills seven pages in small type of the Merchant.  Every vine grower in Napa valley should send for a copy.

Without an economic history of the Merchant, we cannot know if it was financially sustainable.  The paper changed hands in July of 1884 and Alexander Bell withdrew from its editorship.  He remained active in his field; in 1890 he founded the Butchers’ Gazette, and advocated the establishing of stockyards in San Francisco similar to the eastern yards.  Bell, a  native of England, passed away December 21, 1910, in Ala-meda, California, at the age of 84, after a lifetime of pioneering journalism on the west coast.

Charles R. Buckland

THE NEXT PROPRIETOR OF THE SF MERCHANT was the peripatetic journalist Charles R. Buckland, who came to the masthead July 18, 1884, as both editor and proprietor.  He continued to publish a journal of 16 pages on alternate Fridays and  fervently hoped “contributors and advertisers would continue to favor the magazine.”  Annual subscriptions cost $3. It is probable that Alexander Bell made some professional enemies during his reign. Buckland tacitly admitted as much when he wrote in his lead editorial “this change has been made on the recom-mendation of many of its [Merchant’s] supporters who think it will gain rather than lose its popularity.”

Buckland had worked as a journalist in his native Tasmania before moving to San Francisco.  Prior to taking on the SF Merchant, Buckland, a friend of Claus Spreckels, had briefly edited Spreckels’ Pacific Commercial Advertiser in Honolulu.  He published a well-written story on August 20, 1883, about police raids on two local Chinese opium dens; it turned out to have been plagiarized from the May 12th issue of Frank Leslie’s Weekly which described a similar raid in New York City.  By September 3rd, Buckland had left the Advertiser, and moved to the Honolulu Bulletin. His connection to Spreckels remained strong, and he gave ample space to the Hawaiian sugar and banana trades, as well as running in each issue a finely illustrated full-page ad for Spreckels’ California Sugar Refinery.  It is possible that Spreckels was the fiduciary angel behind Buckland’s ascendancy.  (The sugar king and his son John later bought the San Francisco Call to spite Michael de Young of the hated S. F. Chronicle, which had published a damaging investigative series exposing the exploitation of workers on Hawaiian sugar plantations.)

A new player came in from the wings in March of 1886.  “Col.” E.C. Hughes owned a successful San Francisco commercial printing and publishing house at 511 Sansome Street, a competitor of the more well-remembered H.H. Bancroft Company. His steam-powered press printed government and technical manuals, corporate bylaws and reports, travel guides, commemorative speeches, and literary works.

Hughes offered more capital than Buckland could earn from magazine sales alone. The first issue under the Hughes proprietorship appeared March 12, 1886.  Charles R. Buckland was retained as Editor and the office of the Merchant moved to Sansome street.

The last issue of the Merchant published by Hughes was March 1, 1889.  The motto that had opened Buckland’s editorial tenure at the Merchant was the all encompassing “Devoted to Viniculture, Olive Culture and other Productions, Manufactures, and Commerce of the Pacific Coast.” Soon it was condensed to a snappy “The Only Viticultural Paper in the State.”

True to his Tasmanian origin, Buckland was appointed the acting resident agent of the New Zealand government in San Francisco in 1886, a Vice-Consul without portfolio.  After he left the Merchant, he made his way to New York by 1898 where, while on the editorial staff of the New York Commercial, he addressed the New York Merchants’ Association in April on “The Opportunities for American Merchants and Manufacturers in Venezuela.” Buckland’s life history made him uniquely ideal to promote the glories of United States commerce in the Pacific Basin.

Name Changes

R. M. WOOD & COMPANY PURCHASED THE MERCHANT from E.C. Hughes in March 1889, and published it as the SF Merchant through April 12, 1889.  The name was changed for a brief run as the Merchant and Viticulturist, April 26, 1889 to February 22, 1890.  Wood changed the name a second time to the Pacific Wine & Spirit Review for the issue of March 8, 1890.

On March 29, 1889, R.M. Wood & Co., stated that they were making editorial changes to the Merchant in order to write more content in treatment of local matters and to publish less material reprinted from other journals.  They intended to print full and accurate reports of the meetings of the Board of State Viticultural Commissioners and the Grape-Growers and Wine-Makers Association.

“Still Growing—The change of name to PW&SR has been contemplated for some time, the former title being discarded because it was not deemed appropriate to the field occupied by the paper.  With this issue closes Volume 23 and enters upon the 12th year.  It was twice enlarged in the past year and now carries 24 pages.”  Current prices of Kentucky Bourbon in the warehouse and distillery, tax paid and in bond, had been added, and quotations of rye whiskies were to be added in the next issue.

Winfield Scott’s name appeared with Wood’s on the masthead January 26, 1891.  They wrote that “the PW&SR is the only paper of its class west of Chicago.  It circulates among the wine makers and brandy distillers of California, the wholesale wine and spirit trade of the Pacific Coast, and the importers, distillers and jobbers of the Eastern states.”

Scott would become well-known as the last Secretary of the State Viticultural Commission.  One of his final acts was an attempt to keep some of the rarest and most important volumes in the Board’s library out of the hands of the University of California, which was to absorb the assets of the Commission upon its dissolution on December 31st, 1895.  Scott used his editorial pulpit to snipe at the Berkeley professors, writing that “no one respects the work of that viticultural fraud, Professor Hilgard.”

Still there were ups and downs.  By 1897 the R.M. Wood Company, printers and publishers at 316 Battery Street, were in trouble.  Winfield Scott, president of the company filed a petition of insolvency on March 1st.   The debts amounted to $5,486.88 and the assets were estimated to be $5,115.31.  On March 8, 1897, Wood and Scott announced that the PW&SR had moved from Battery street to 402 Front street, Rooms 8 and 9, due to the sale of the job printing plant of R. M. Wood Co.  Winfield Scott remained the Editor and R. M. Wood the Manager. Subscriptions had lowered to $1.50 a year, singles went for 10 cents.

By 1900, Scott had left the magazine. Wood matured the PW&SR into an industry leader, a fitting western competitor to Bonfort’s Wine & Spirit Circular out of New York City.  The number of advertizing pages fattened the issues of the 1890s, and ballooned them to 82 pages in the early 1900s.  The content increasingly concerned building a national industry that could defeat the forces of prohibition.  Most of the early day struggles had been overcome, including the deadly phylloxera, as new, well-capitalized owners replanted destroyed vineyards with reliably resistant rootstocks.

Overall, even in today’s eyes, the journal is a thing of beauty, with handsome typefaces well-imprinted and memorable graphics in woodcuts and line drawings.  The issues of the early eighties are particularly rich with the sense of an industry pulling up its bootstraps.  Hardly a fortnight went by without a stirring manifesto by Charles Wetmore or Frederick Pohndorff proclaiming California the new Eden that would quickly surpass tired old Europe as the home of the grape and the olive.  Beyond inspiration, they provided detailed plans on just how to effect this transformation, at what angle to cut the vine graft, how to clean the vats for the coming season, how to ferment your wine to avoid the dreaded “milk sourness.”

Professor Hilgard was not yet the adversary, and he too would weigh-in on proper rootstocks and how to farm them.  Wine wasn’t just being tasted, it was being analyzed by chemists, and the tabulated results appeared in the pages of the Merchant/PWSR.  Fraudulence and adulteration were exposed from every quarter, even sometimes on the part of the advertiser, as the battle cry went up: “California wines under their own label!”

One hundred and twenty years on, the feeling of emergence is what strikes the reader, blow by counter-blow, and I for one, am grateful that these forebears stayed with it for as long as they did.  These ancient magazines hold a wonderful view into the past of California’s agricultural treasure.

The Digitizing of the PW&SR by Internet Archive

IN OCTOBER 1985, HISTORIAN WILLIAM F. HEINTZ wrote to U.C. Davis librarian John McConnell lamenting that no institution which owned copies of the SF Merchant/PW&SR had a complete file and none had committed their holdings to microfilm.  McConnell began the process of doing so to the Davis and Bancroft collections, but the end result was for the years 1906 to 1919.  The meaty years of the 1880s and 1890s remained out of reach.

Sonoma County Wine Library librarian Bo Simons played a significant role in the process that put the periodical on line.  In an open letter on the internet dated January 2009, Simons recounted the history:

San Francisco Public Library had a run that went from 1883 to the periodical’s final issue at the start of Prohibition in 1919. The problem was that these issues were beautifully but tightly bound, with no appreciable gutter. That meant that to microfilm this treasure, it would be necessary to destroy the bibliographic integrity of this one-of-a-kind archival treasure.

Then in October 2005 officers of the Wine Librarians Association, Secretary Gail Unzelman, Treasurer Callie Konno, and myself, the President, drove to San Francisco. We met with Susan Goldstein, City Archivist of San Francisco, at her offices on the 6th floor of the new San Francisco Public Library.  We explained our mission to make the PW&SR available. We thought there might be some new, less invasive digital technology that would get us past the “destroy the resource to save it” choice that had stymied us.

Susan Goldstein had been negotiating with the San Francisco Presidio-based Internet Archive project of Web-entrepreneur Brewster Kahle, concerning the scanning of the much used and delicate San Francisco Municipal Reports.  Kahle’s company was scanning out-of-copyright materials at low cost in order to quickly build his on-line content.  His scanners (more about those later) were gentle and state of the art.  Goldstein proposed to the Wine Librarians Assn. that if they could meet the $2,000 expense of scanning 20,000 pages, she would find a way to make it happen.  The Wine Librarians voted at their conference at Cornell in September 2008, to fund the project.

Bo Simons: “Susan Goldstein reported to us in December 2008, that ‘the first three cartons of Pacific Wine & Spirit Review are at the scanners. Three more boxes are at our Preservation Dept. where they are mending paper tears and other problems before being sent out for scanning. So we’re on our way!’”

In a telephone interview, Goldstein described for me the scanners used to safely handle fragile rare books—a world away from flopping heavy old volumes facedown onto the glass of a photocopier.  The volume rests spine down in a broadly-vee’d cradle, sized to support the book.  Treadle-operated glass panels press the pages as flat as can be safely managed, in this case surmounting the issue of the tightly bound gutters and curled, out of focus page areas.  The images are made with two high-resolution digital cameras suspended over the cradle on ninety-degree axes to the pages. The pages, once relieved from the pressure of the glass, are turned by hand.  Yes, there is some wear and tear on the friable old paper, but doing it once carefully is incomparably safer than multiple openings by multiple patrons.

The Winefiles Connection

A REALLY INTERESTING AND USEFUL INDEX to the Pacific Wine & Spirit Review is available in the form of, compiled by historian Charles  Sullivan and digitized through the agency of the Sonoma County Wine Library, again guided by the hand of librarian Bo Simons.  Sullivan had read “hard copy” of the newspapers, journals and government documents he had used in the years of researching his many books, and he compiled a vast database of issues, titles, subjects and dates. This database was minutely divided into subject categories and digitally supported by well-written software.

Sullivan’s genius was to deconstruct an article into all its references and list each under their proper heading.  If Arpad Haraszthy, Clarence Wetmore and Daniel Boone are all mentioned in a given article, Winefiles will reference the article under all three names.

Many of the subjects that were extensively covered by the San Francisco Merchant and Pacific Wine & Spirit Review have multiple entries under their heading in Winefiles, which can be used as a kind of master index to the journal.  I have printed out many pages from Winefiles and have taken them with me to the archives when I was reading through PW&SR.  Sullivan didn’t list every mention of every subject, nor does he give page numbers (which can add a lot of looking as the journal grew thicker), but the researcher will start out with a detailed chronology of articles on the desired topic.

How to Work the Site

INTERNET ARCHIVE CAN BE FOUND AT The address will bring up the home page offering a broad range of constantly changing material, from tapes of Grateful Dead concerts to the 1801 poems of English author John Penn to medical audios in Arabic by doctor El Fatatry.  At the top of the page is a search box: type in “Francisco Merchant” or “Pacific Wine Spirit,” and hit the “Go!” button.  A second drop-down menu allows the choice of media types, which in the case of PW&SR would be “Texts– American Libraries,” but it is unnecessary to make a selection, because your typed entries will immediately bring up a page of search results for either title of the journal.

P SELECT, for example, San Francisco Merchant, Vol. 19/Oct. 28, 1887–March 30, 1888, and a new page describing the work and its digital history will appear.  A box on the left side of the screen shows a flickering display of the journal’s pages and the following options:

P READ ONLINE –  All 206 scanned pages of the volume can be viewed on the computer.

P PDF – A complete 26 Mb file of the volume can be downloaded into the viewer’s hard drive.

P B/W PDF –  A black and white version of above.

P FULL TEXT – An Optical Character Recognition (OCR) text of the entire volume, which can be searched and elements selected to copy and paste into the viewer’s own database.

P DJVU – A new digital document format, alternative to PDF, that uses compression. As applied here the link goes nowhere and loses the site; my sense is that one needs to download a DjVu reader to access the compressed files.  Their website boasts, “It may be worth a thousand words….but it is not worth a thousand Kb.”

P SELECT “READ ONLINE” and you will be presented a virtual bound-volume starting with the endpapers.  The icons on the toolbar above (from left to right) do the following tasks: return to Internet Archive home page; zoom in and zoom out with the percentage of enlargement; view a single or double-page spread; the Archive assigned page number, and a set of four arrows, which are the main navigators of the page. The arrows on the left and the right will always take you to the front and back pages of the volume, the arrows in between allow you to flip individual pages forward or back. The far right-hand arrow (in a circle marked play) will flip through the book at a stately cadence.

If you enlarge the view to 25% or more, only a single page will be displayed and the arrows change to up and down page arrows.  This is a quick way to move through many pages.  One of the difficulties of working with the issues of the Pacific Wine & Spirit Review is that there are no covers bound between issues in the big books or if there were, they were not scanned. This is a problem, because unlike the San Francisco Merchant, the issue’s date is not displayed as a header or footer on the page.  Page numbers of every issue start at number 1 and only the page with the masthead somewhat further in gives the date of the issue.  So it becomes very useful to move through the pages to find that page and date the issue.  One user anomaly this reviewer has repeatedly noted is that in enlarging a given page to 50%, sometimes the desired page will be replaced by another page somewhere in the volume.  I have found that I am unable to enlarge some pages more than 25%.

P THE SEARCH FUNCTION – On the right side of the screen is a full-height box for searching each volume.  Type in your search term and gingerly maneuver the cursor tip to touch the edge of the “Go” button located just below the search term, the upper rim of which is peeking out above the obscuring search field. A list of links and page numbers will appear, each of which will take you to the term highlighted in pale blue on the page. One cannot search an individual page, or all volumes simultaneously.

Does the “search” find everything pertaining to the “search” term.  In a word, no.  I have found the high-lighted search term in a headline across a two- page spread and the same term embedded in an unrelated article. On the other hand, great material has been digitally located that I had passed over when examining the original books in the San Francisco Library.  It is a brave new world.

P A  CAVEAT: Internet Archive has miss-indexed Vol. 10, April 13, 1883–October 5, 1883.  The issues of Vol.19, October 28, 1887–March 30, 1888, have been inserted under that link. Volume 19 is correctly indexed under its true heading.  Until this problem is rectified, the oldest issues in the collection are not available online.

P CAPTURING IMAGES from PDFs with MICROSOFT PAINT The PW&SR is chock-a-block with illustrations and advertisement that ask to be saved.  The user can easily save pieces of PDF files using an existing Microsoft program called PAINT.

When you find something on a PDF file that you wish to save to your hard drive, center the text or image on the screen. (Whether you enlarge or reduce is up to you. Sometimes the enlarged image is too big to fit the screen.)

Press the CONTROL and PRINT SCREEN keys at the same time, which temporarily saves the screen image in memory.  Next open the PAINT program, which is found under accessories in the Start menu.

When PAINT comes up, select EDIT, and then select PASTE. The image from the PDF is now in Paint. The tool bar on the right offers an editing tool that can be drawn around the desired image.

Now select EDIT, and select CUT. The image is removed, leaving the balance of the original PDF. Select FILE, then select NEW, and when the little window appears in the center of the old PDF and asks if you wish to save the remainder, select NO.

The old PDF will now disappear, leaving a fresh PAINT field. Select EDIT and then select PASTE and your cut image will appear.

Now select FILE, select SAVE AS, and a directory window exploring your files will appear. Assign the cut image a name and choose a file or folder for it to go to. At the bottom of this directory window is a drop- down menu. The saved image will most often be saved as a BMP file; but it is better to choose to save it as a JPEG, because it is easier to manipulate (sharpen, color correct, &c.) a JPEG later.

Then CLOSE PAINT and you will be back at your original PDF file.  With a little practice all these manipulations can be handled in about a minute.

“. . . a kind of a miracle . . .”

SOMETIMES THE WORK OF SEARCHING through pages of old periodicals on a computer screen is frustrating, repetitive, tedious, and even lonely.  Your eyes burn, your back begins to form into a question mark, and you wonder why you ever pursued this interest in the first place. Compared to multiple trips into San Francisco, either by private auto or public transport, and all the factors such trips entail—parking, the limited hours, the protective librarians guarding the delicate pages, the difficulty of getting photocopies—it is a kind of a miracle, to sit with a steaming cup of Earl Grey in hand, seeking out what plans Arpad Haraszthy was hatching for his Eclipse Champagne in the fall of 1887, while dawn silently starts to crack open the night sky.


[Reprinted from the Wayward Tendrils Quarterly, Vol.19 No.4, October 2009, with the kind permission of the author. The Wayward Tendrils–A Wine Book Collector’s Society was founded in 1990. For information contact the Editor/Publisher, Gail Unzelman:]


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