DO YOU KNOW THE SELTZER MAN?

SELTZER BOTTLE FROM THE COLLECTION OF RICHIE STRELL COURTESY OF RICHIE STRELL

SELTZER BOTTLE FROM THE COLLECTION OF RICHIE STRELL COURTESY OF RICHIE STRELL

So why would I include Lucille Ball, Walter Backerman and Richie Strell in the same blog post?  The answer to that question would be seltzer bottles. Of course, you’re probably asking, “Who are those other guys?” 

Everybody knows Lucy, right?  Who can forget the I Love Lucy television show and the many hilarious predicaments Lucy brought upon herself?  Among Lucy’s many schemes to worm her way into Ricky’s nightclub shows was the episode, “The Ballet”.  Failing to make the cut as prima ballerina, Lucy set her sights on a clown routine involving what else but a seltzer bottle.  You may remember it, “Slowly I turn, step by step...”  While this wasn't the only episode involving a seltzer bottle, it was a favorite of many I Love Lucy fans. 

Seltzer bottles were a staple in Vaudeville comedy acts as well as circus clown performances and most folks today probably remember them only in that respect.  Some of you may remember Larry, Curly and Moe, otherwise known as The Three Stooges, trying their hands at seltzer humor.   

However, seltzer bottles were not invented to evoke contagious laughter.  According to Stephen Dignan in an article that appeared in the New York Sun, August 26, 2005, Walter Backerman, a third generation seltzer man, has helped to keep alive the real purpose for these gorgeous bottles.  With his collection of over 7,000 bottles, he has continued to provide home delivery of pure triple-filtered seltzer water to the customers on his delivery route in New York. 

In Barry Joseph’s “Time in a Bottle” featured in the Jewish Week, Walter tells us how he learned to become the premier seltzer man that he is today by watching two of the best, his grandfather and his father.  Although they tried to steer him away from the seltzer man’s way of life, Walter chose to follow in their footsteps anyway.  He has a real passion for his calling, which he feels gives him a greater connection to his family roots and the past.  Watching videos, listening to radio pod-casts and reading newspaper/magazine articles I have come to admire this man.   

Walter honors his legacy by appreciating and fostering relationships with each of his customers, many of whom were served by both his grandfather and father before him.  In our current disposable world, where people barely take the time to acknowledge your presence during a face-to-face business transaction, Walter offers a genuine blast from the past not only with his refillable antique bottles filled with pure fresh seltzer water, but with his customer-centered style of salesmanship forging bonds with his customers that transcend the usual business relationship. 

If the day ever comes that Walter feels he can no longer “schlep” his bottles from door to door, I would be willing to bet that the streets of New York will long for visits from Walter, the Seltzer Man.  While his bottles can easily be filled by others, filling his shoes will be no easy task.  Unless, of course his replacement has the right genes and training from the Seltzer Man himself.

And finally there is Richie Strell, who could be called a seltzer bottle collector extraordinaire.  I came across a video tour of his massive collection conducted by Richie Strell himself.  I had no idea there were so many different styles, colors and sizes.  Not only does he walk the viewer through his living room, kitchen and staircase showing off the main 135 bottle collection in his home, but he takes us into the garage, which is full of seltzer bottles in various stages of restoration and tells us he has even more in a mini-storage unit and other locations.  He says it all started when he attended an auction and thought he was bidding on one seltzer bottle.  Imagine his surprise upon finding out that the one bottle he bid on was accompanied by 299 “cousins” in the basement and so his bottle family began. 

When questioned as to the current status of his collection via e-mail, Richie replied, “My collection looks exactly the same as in the video. Maybe a couple of new additions and no subtractions.  I feel it is complete and just allow it to sit there like 140 proud soldiers heralding their history.”   

So what started out as a search for information about our S.R. Allen & Sons High Class Mineral Waters seltzer bottle turned into a week-long video odyssey through the streets of New York with Walter Backerman and a video tour by Richie Strell resulting in a greater love for this beautiful, etched bottle.  I found little information on this specific bottle, S. R. Allen & Sons, or the British Syphon Company Limited; and therefore, the quest continues.