A relic of local history rises

Artifact: A passenger on the Titanic was carrying a date book from a Baltimore distillery.

April 16, 2001|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A leather-bound date book salvaged from the sunken ocean liner Titanic bears the words, "Maryland Club Rye." A curiosity upon its recovery, the little black book has made its way to Baltimore as part of an exhibit at the Maryland Science Center.

The 1912 date book, among more than 50 items on display, was found in the luggage of German passenger Franz Pulbaum, who perished in the April 14, 1912, sinking, according to Christine A. Rowett, a Science Center spokeswoman. How the 27-year-old machinist came to possess the date book remains a mystery -- Pulbaum was living in Paris at the time.

And date books like his were an advertising piece for a top whiskey brand in the days before Prohibition. Then, Sherwood, Hunter, Mount Vernon, Monticello, Braddock and other Maryland labels sold nationally. Maryland Club Rye, marketed by the downtown rectifiers Cahn, Belt & Co., was independent from the Maryland Club at Charles and Eager streets. Today, two empty back-bar bottles emblazoned with the brand name and Cahn, Belt's trademark cloverleaf stand proudly in trophy cases in a club dining room, on permanent display.

Titled in gold-leaf and issued annually, the leather-bound date books contained maps, interest calculations, "electrical expressions," space for addresses and the like. The one interior ad, a full page, proclaims, "Maryland Club Pure Rye Whiskey. A Golden Liquid Joy, Blissfully Relished by the epicure."

A date book was likely to carry the name of its owner stamped in gold on the cover, although the Maryland Club Rye book bears no name. The Maryland book is embossed with the Cahn, Belt cloverleaf, 1912 date and the phrase, "It tastes old because it is old."

The Maryland Club Rye book enjoys a distinction lacked by the other personal belongings of passengers and crew included in the exhibit, "Titanic Science: The Real Artifacts, The True Stories." The date book didn't endure just 71 years on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean; it also survived being stolen, last July, while the same Titanic exhibition was in Chicago. Before the date book's recovery, from a museum guard who had pried open a display case, Chicago exhibitors termed the date book "priceless." The going price among collectors, for an unsubmerged Maryland Club Rye date book, appears to be about $95.

Last year, when the date book disappeared from its glass case at the Chicago exhibit, the Chicago Tribune reported its owner as Howard Irwin, 24, of Erie, Pa. Irwin wasn't on board the Titanic when it sailed, the newspaper said. Irwin had a ticket, but the night before sailing, he toured the local saloons and awoke aboard "a tramp steamer bound for China, " the newspaper said.

But Maryland Science Center spokeswoman Rowett says the newspaper's account ascribed the Maryland Rye book to the wrong passenger. Both Irwin and Pulbaum had tickets on the ocean liner. Both men had trunks or luggage recovered from the wreck. But Pulbaum was aboard the ship on the fateful night, she said.

The exhibit remains at the Science Center through Sept. 3.

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