Revised May 6, 2009
DALLAS – While what might be the original recipe for “Dr. Peppers Pepsin Bitters” crosses the auction block at Heritage Auction Galleries on May 13, many are wondering whether it contains the original recipe for the world’s oldest soft drink.
The auction will also be the culmination of one of those stories you hear only on radio or TV about a seemingly random find that ends up being a one-of-kind treasure.
“I was driving back home to Tulsa from a business trip in Texas when I stopped to look in some antique shops late in the afternoon in Shamrock,” said consignor Bill Waters. That’s Shamrock, Texas, by the way, a little town in the Panhandle. “I’ve always been a rare book and manuscript aficionado, so the woman at the place brings out an old box of stuff. It was a neat old medicine bottle crate with an old book stuck in a plastic bag wedged in the back of it.”
Waters bought the notebook, not knowing what was in it, but knowing that it came out of the estate of L.B. Woods, who at one point owned and operated a shoe store out of the same space as the Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas, well known as the birthplace of America’s first soft drink, Dr Pepper.
“Two months later I was actually getting ready to list it on eBay, trying to figure out how to show people what I had there,” Waters said. “I thought I should say something about the store it came out of, with reference to that store at one time being the Old Corner Drugstore. I popped it up on Google and the first thing that came up was Dr Pepper. I started saying to myself, ‘wait a minute.’”
Within a few days, however, Waters realized that he had in his possession a notebook from the Old Corner Drug Store that contained a recipe for “Dr. Peppers Pepsin Bitters.” That notebook has now made its way to Heritage, in Dallas, and is one of the highlight lots of the company’s May Political & Americana Auction.
The humble creation of pharmacist, and University of Texas graduate, Charles Alderton, an employee of Wade B. Morrison at the Old Corner Drugstore – circa 1885 – Dr. Pepper (note that the period after Dr was removed in 1950) was welcome refreshment to the harried citizenry of Waco, then a major cattle and train transportation hub. What gave it that distinct flavor, alternately sweet and spicy, became a source of great debate over the course of the next century across Texas and the nation. Only Alderton and Morrison knew, and soon the syrup was parlayed into a soft drink empire that, for a time, rivaled the market share of competitors Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola due to its distinctive flavor.
“According to Dr Pepper Snapple Group, the ‘Dr. Peppers Pepsin Bitters’ recipe represented in this notebook is not the formula for Dr Pepper, but is instead a medicinal recipe for a digestive aid,” said Tom Slater, Director of History at Heritage. “The Dr Pepper Snapple Group insists that this is not the original formula. Still, though, this is an amazing piece of American pop culture and commerce, not to mention its secondary value as a great piece of Texana. Dr Pepper is not only the first of the big three American soft drinks, it’s the only major soda invented west of the Mississippi. It’s a native Texan.”
The “Dr. Peppers Pepsin Bitters” recipe is written on page 19 in a notebook labeled “CASTLES FORMULAS.” Morrison, who had bought the drug store from John W. Castles at some point in 1883, hired Alderton in 1884.
To view the entire catalog, to read full descriptions and to download high-resolution, full-color, fully enlargeable images, go online to the May Political & Americana auction catalog at www.ha.com.