Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Running a Saloon in 1904

A garage sale find.  Most people just skim right over old books but a customer with sharp eyes saw something unusual about this one.

It is a business ledger for a small town saloon.

The location was Wilson, Wisconsin.  Not much there then or now, but presumably enough thirsty farmers to keep a tavern in business.  The proprietors were a Mr. Ryan and a Mr. Scott.

You can learn a lot by looking at "the books".  Mostly it seems to have been a listing of people's bar tabs!

Elegant hand writing.  I noticed a subtle change as the ledger progressed from 1902 to 1905.  Here the entries are all for Mds, which I assume is short for merchandise.  Earlier entries just said "drinks".

So, if you got a little behind in your tab there seemed to be assorted ways to pay it off.  Here Mr. Purvis paid his tab with potatoes!  He started running a new one right away.

Evidently you could also pay your bar bill with sheep!  Who knew?

Or with hay!  In other entries I note that the establishment rented a barn and occasionally bought cows, so this does make a little sense.

Regular customers had their own pages in the ledger book.  Really regular ones had several pages.  It is interesting to see that there was not a single woman appearing in this record.  Not even one.  Oh, and also that some customers were identified like this one:

Let the historical record show that Old Man Buscart, as well as several other patrons identified as Old Man, all paid their bar tabs promptly.  Of course, a few customers were less diligent.  Sometimes you saw a line drawn and this notation"

Ed Manning seems to have taken the "Paid no good" designation seriously and settled up soon thereafter.

The products sold seem to be a mixture of liquor and beer.  Regards the latter it was all Pabst products.  In fact the ledger pages for Pabst transactions also include an entry each month for House Rent, so I figure the bar was owned by the brewery with Ryan and Scott just renting it.  This was a fairly common practice at the time but was less obvious than in the UK where independent pubs would be called "Free Houses".

Ledger books of course can only tell you so much.  The clientele looks to have been largely Irish, but that reflects the community.  So far as you can tell from the entries the product sold was beer - in bottles, cases and kegs - hard liquor by the drink or in several sizes of bottles, and cigars.  Lots of cigars.

There may have been living quarters associated with the saloon.  Not all of the rent entries make obvious sense, and in a number of places there are charges for "Board for 2 weeks".  This cost $12 according to the books, this seems pretty steep in an era not long removed from times when a working man would earn a dollar a day.....

There are a few references to non alcoholic beverages.  One entry specifically mentions purchase of "soft drinks" from Drewery and Sons of St. Paul.  And then there is this enigmatic page:

Typo notwithstanding this should be Joe Evans of Eau Claire.  He was a prominent soda pop bottler.  So I guess it makes sense that you could buy a barrel of Cider from him. And maybe a couple sacks of corks.  But a case of Flasks?  Did Evans have a wholesale side line business?  Or was there in fact such a similarly named man in such a closely related line of trade?  No answers.

Come on back next time, we shall visit the Wilson Wisconsin of 2017.

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