Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Today’s the day for ‘Dr. Peppers Pepsin Bitters’. Are you ready?

May 13, 2009
Posted by Noah

I know I’m in trouble when I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about a particular lot or press release – or blog posting – that is coming up, and that’s exactly what happened to me last night. I didn’t exactly bolt upright in bed with a gasp, but I certainly woke up with an overactive brain and a terrible urge to scratch my legs and upper body where I was savaged by chiggers last Sunday during a Mother’s Day picnic at a nature preserve in North Dallas. I took care of the itch with Calamine Lotion, and turned my thoughts to today’s auctioning of The Old Corner Drug Store Ledger Book – i.e., the “Dr. Peppers Pepsin Bitters” recipe that caused such a stir last week – for a little midnight distraction from sleep. I mean, really, who needs to sleep anyway?

I haven’t checked in a few days, but the Dr Pepper story that Jamie Stengle of the AP broke early last week, as of Monday, was online in more than 800 worldwide outlets. This is an impressive head of steam for any story to have, let alone one as innocent as this little recipe. I’m going to be waiting around the Heritage HQ tonight for the piece to come up for bid – somewhere in the 4:00 p.m. hour – to see if all the PR, the outreach, and the tireless interviewing that the consignor, Bill Waters, did will pay off in the fashion that we believe it should.

This has been interesting to watch and be a part of from the inside because it was unexpected. A few months ago, when we first began discussing the PR on the lot, nobody thought it would make much difference outside of Texas, the birthplace of the famous soft drink. We all know now how wrong our assessment was. People all over the world are still big fans of the drink, and collectors of its related memorabilia, and any chance to glean even an inkling of what gives any famous soft drink its flavor is something that, I now understand, is sure to pique the interest of just about anybody.

For its part, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group – located about 45 minutes north of Heritage via the Dallas North Tollway – is about as sanguine as you might expect a major corporation to be when one of its namesake brands is put in this position. They never once denied the book’s authenticity, but they felt compelled to refute its being the absolute origin of Dr Pepper. The group made its point well enough, but facts is facts: There is no earlier use of the name Dr Pepper known, and certainly not one that can be tied so closely to the year of Dr Pepper’s patent (1885) and definitively to Waco, TX.

The question now is, do collectors feel the same? Has Dr Pepper’s careful denial had its intended impact? Will bidders go crazy over the opportunity? Will anyone actually be able to find Wahoo Bark and Mandrake root and whip up a batch of this stuff? Between us chickens, I reckon it would taste pretty rank.

The taste of Dr Pepper is the taste of my grade school football games, of rainy Saturday nights watching the Dallas Tornadoes soccer team getting beat by Pele’ and the New York Cosmos, and of the bottling plant tours my school classes used to get once a year when the plant was just down Central Expressway from here at Mockingbird Lane and Greenville Avenue. No matter what the recipe for ‘Dr. Peppers Pepsin Bitters’ sells for today, nothing can ever buy my memories – and the memories of millions of others – of the soft drink, and I can also guarantee that almost no one would be willing to try the recipe in the ledger book were someone actually able to mix it up.

Here’s a link to the lot. Let the games begin!

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-Noah Fleisher