Prohibition’s Prelude

As viewers of Ken Burns Prohibition documentary this week will know, there was a year-long lag between the date the 18th Amendment was ratified (January 16, 1919) and the date it went into effect (January 17, 1920).  This gave Tin Pan Alley plenty of time to ponder questions like:

 Bella Landauer Collection of Business and Advertising Ephemera, PR031


 Bella Landauer Collection of Business and Advertising Ephemera, PR031

Many feared the worst:

Bella Landauer Collection of Business and Advertising Ephemera, PR031

Good-bye Hunter; So long, Scotch; Farewell Haig and Haig

Oh my darling old frappe, they will soon take you away

At the table d’hote with Lola they will serve us Coca Cola

No more saying: Let me buy

No more coming thru the Rye

Old Manhattan and Martini have received the big subpoena

Every day’ll be Sunday when the town goes dry


While songwriters anticipated Prohibition with amusing lyrics, other citizens took more concrete steps to ease the coming pain.   Among the papers of architect Cass Gilbert, for example, is a lengthy receipt from Acker, Merrall & Condit Company — still in business in New York City and allegedly “America’s oldest and finest wine shop.”






 Cass Gilbert Collection, PR 021

As is clear from the quantities listed, Gilbert wasn’t planning to spend prohibition just singing the blues!  We know that his private stash lasted at least through May, 1925, because his papers also include a memorandum of a telephone conversation he had at that time with “Miss Pica” at the office of the U.S. Federal Prohibition Director, 1107 Broadway.  Gilbert, who was moving into a new residence, asked for “hypothetical” advice about how a person could legally store “wines and spirits purchased prior to the enactment of the Prohibition Law” while waiting for alterations on a new home to be completed.  Not content with temporary measures, Gilbert also made generous donations to anti-prohibition organizations lobbying for the 18th Amendment’s repeal.  Being the architect of the Woolworth Building (just to name the most famous) was apparently thirsty work!






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