In 1770s Kentucky, Blue Lick Springs began its commercial life being used as a source of salt from its trickling streams of saline water. Located above the southern bank of the Licking River, the springs were situated in Nicholas county, across from Robertson county. Within a few years, more productive salt works came online, and Blue Lick’s days as a source of salt ended.
William Bartlett, one of the original owner’s of the property, sensed an opportunity to capitalize on the springs. He began to bottle the water, and marketed it to local merchants and locals as a medicinal tonic. Demand for the water soon took-off. Sensing another potential opportunity, Bartlett then embarked on constructing a hotel and turning the site into a resort spa.
Unlike the water, however, the resort only attained moderate success. Soon thereafter, Bartlett sold the resort, and it passed through a series of owners in the ensuing decades. Fortunately for Bartlett, he retained rights to the water itself.
From 1833 through to about 1844, Kentucky experienced a slew of cholera outbreaks. None, however, struck the resort, and it remained free of the disease. Around the same time, in the 1840s, John and L.P. Holladay purchased the resort. Upon acquisition, they renovated the existing property, and built a luxurious 300-room hotel.
Christened the Arlington Hotel, the new facility opened in 1845. Immediately the newly rehabilitated resort experienced much success during the next 17 years. During this same time, the popularity of Blue Lick water skyrocketed. Bartlett, sensing an opportunity to cash in on the water’s increased popularity, marketed its medicinal properties. Quickly thereafter, it became as popular as the resort. Bottlers such as Blue Lick Water Company of Covington soon marketed the water to other locales, including those in Ohio and cities in the east.
At the start of the Civil War, the spa began experiencing a significant drop in business. Then in 1862, the posh hotel was destroyed by fire. During this time, however, demand for the water remained steady. Companies like Blue Lick Water and Pierce & Stanton continued to make profits.
After the Civil War a new owner took possession of the resort. Captain D. Turney rebuilt the burned out structures, and by 1888 the resort was once again became popular.
However, such success was not to last — for both the water itself and the resort. In 1896 the spring ran dry. The resort closed shortly thereafter in the early 20th century.
Due to the efforts of the Blue Lick Water Company, druggists throughout the region, as well as in adjacent states sold Blue Lick water by the glass. Leveraging the water’s popularity and touted medicinal qualities, druggists saw this product as an inexpensive means to make hefty profits.
In Cincinnati, four druggists teamed together, and had tokens struck for their water businesses. All four of the tokens were struck in German Silver, and measure 19mm in diameter. All share a common reverse, with unique advertising and devices for one of the four merchants on the obverses.
Examples of each are illustrated below. All were good for one glass of soda or blue lick water. Unlike many of the more prolific tokens struck during the era, not very many of these survive. If is for this reason that none of the specimens are commonly seen.
The first specimen is catalogued as Rulau OH-70 5-cent token, and features a soda water urn with W.B. Chapman and his address surrounding the device. It is AU in grade.
The second specimen is catalogued as Rulau OH-72, and simply features the merchant’s name and address. It is EF in grade.
The third token is catalogued as Rulau OH-73, and also simply lists the merchant and his address. It is Choice Very Fine in grade.
The fourth and final token is catalogued as Rulau OH-75, and features a distinctly different soda water urn from OH-70. As with the first, it also features the merchant’s name and location. Weakly struck it is AU in grade.
Notes and Sources
The Kentucky Encyclopedia, John E. Kleber, University Press of Kentucky, ©1992, pgs.93-94
Historical Sketches of Kentucky, Lewis Collins, 1878, pg.481
Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004
The Library of Congress Digital Archives