Our newly acquired 100-plus piece figural whiskey decanter collection is so enticing that it could drive teetotalers to hit the bottles – or at least begin collecting them.
The first batch of 25 whiskey decanters and counting is now in our Orion’s Attic eBay store. (We’ve also placed a few in our booth at Emporium Antiques in downtown Frederick, Maryland.) The collection we obtained from an Alexandria, Virginia home during one of our estate liquidations is focused largely on the 1960s and 1970s and covers four of the most prominent makers – Jim Beam, Ezra Brooks, McCormick and the Foss Company. If you’re partial to bourbon, you may already know the story of how these kinds of bottles came to life. If not, sip the basics here.
The preeminent maker is, of course, the James B. Beam distilling company, whose origins go all the way back to the American Revolution. (The company was founded by Jacob Beam in 1778 and is now named after his grandson, Col. James B. Beam.) The whiskey maker introduced a special Christmas/New Year ceramic decanter in 1953. Such packaging was a rarity at the time but the bottle made a big splash, prompting Beam to introduce a number of different series of decorative bottles throughout the decades ahead — according to Antique Trader Bottles Identification & Price Guide author Michael Polak.
The bottle sold so well that Beam introduced a number of different series in the years ahead: The Executive Series commemorated the 150th anniversary of the company. The Regal China series in the same honored important American people, places and events. The Trophy Series was born in 1957 to honor achievements within the liquor industry. The State Series was introduced in 1958 to celebrate Alaska and Hawaii becoming states, leading to Beam making decanters to commemorate all 50 states. Polak notes that more than 500 types of Beam bottles have been issued since 1953. The bottles are so popular they have inspired the formation of collector clubs around the world. Learn more about Jim Beam Club and the International Association of Jim Beam Bottle and Specialty Clubs.
Beam, though, wasn’t the only company that recognized that nifty bottles would increase sales.
McCormick Distilling Company of Westin, Missouri was founded in 1856 by Benjamin J. Holladay under the name Holladay Distillery. The company holds the distinction of operating out of the same location longer than any other distillery in the United States. The McCormick building, in fact, is registered with the National Register of Historic Places. Although the company was purchased by Midwest Grain Products in 1950, the distillery continues to operate under the McCormick name. It produced many series of commemorative whiskey decanters including a number for sale by Orion’s Attic. Start with frontiersmen Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, both made in 1972.
Ezra Brooks Distilling Company began making figural whiskey decanters about 10 years after Jim Beam. Brooks made bottles based on themes similar to Jim Beam but also made a lot that were based on original subjects. “Bottles” author Polak reports that Brooks “quickly became a strong competitive rival due to the company’s effective distribution, promotion techniques, unique design and choice of subjects.” Ezra Brooks is owned by Luxco of St. Louis, Missouri, which does not own a distillery. Instead, Ezra Brooks whiskey is stilled, aged and bottled in Kentucky by Heaven Hill Distilleries for Luxco.
The Foss Company produces Ski-Country decanters in Golden, Colorado. All of its figural bottles are limited editions. Many feature high level of detail because the company didn’t start making them until 1973. Foss did such a good job with the Ski-Country line that it even made our Skunk Family decanter look cute.
Whether or not your palate is partial to whiskey, these figural decanters also satisfy cravings for knowledge. Half the fun of collecting them is learning more about what they represent.
Two of my personal favorites from this collection were produced in the 1970s by Jim Beam to honor Ducks Unlimited – a nonprofit organization dedicated to wetlands and waterfowl conservation. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to let the Mallard go. It brings back bitter-sweet memories of watching a mother Mallard attempt to raise her chicks on M Street Northwest in downtown Washington D.C. She gave birth to about a dozen fluffy little hatchlings. Only about half were still alive by the time they made it to a fountain home by the White House. Natural predators, I was told, got the unlucky chicks. Mama Mallard and her remaining brood eventually took off. Years later, I still wonder where they are now and how their lives turned out.
The Ducks Unlimited decanter that is up for sale features the Wood Duck. Read the information that comes with the bottle and you learn a lot:
“Wood Duck (Aix sponsa): Male – our most beautifully colored duck, with a large graceful crest, he is resplendent in rainbow hues of metallic green, blues and bronze. A striking black and white pattern accentuates his regal colors. Female – less colorful, her plumage is a mixture of grey, brown and green, with a smaller crest than the male. Wood ducks nest in cavities of trees, but take readily to artificial nesting boxes. Some of the nests have been found as high as 50 feet above ground. Preferred habitat is the wooded shoreline of lakes, rivers and marshes.”
My history geek side got all fired up when I found Beam’s Manitowoc Submarine Memorial Association Operation Redfin bottle, made with Genuine Regal China in 1970. Turns out that Operation Redfin, based in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, produced 28 submarines for World War II.
The back of the bottle features a mini-history lesson:
“The Redfin represents a living memorial to people the nation over … of gallant men who sailed the seas and beneath them in dangerous days … of that sturdy stock who left the farms and other work to build the Manitowoc submarines … to brave men who died in the silent service. The Redfin, and those who tour her for generations to come, will united in the common bond of a fraction of history re-lived. The excitement of a naval vessel … real and immaculate, and complete from bow plane to stern plane.”
The bottles mentioned here, of course, represent only a few of the more than 100 we obtained from a man who inherited them from his parents. Peruse the Whiskey Decanters department of our eBay store, which you can always find simply by visiting OrionsAttic.com. Whiskey decanters we have listed so far cover a wide range of fun and fascinating subjects. They include American Legion, California gold miners, Democratic and Republican Parties/National Conventions (1976), Germany, Key West (sold before we could even publish this story), Minnesota Vikings, PGA, Pony Express, World War II jeeps and so many more. We’re not even sure what all we will find when we finish unpacking them so keep an eye on OrionsAttic.com and our eBay store for the latest additions.
Do you have a collection of neat antiques or collectibles to sell? Do you need an estate sale or help with downsizing part of your estate? We serve Maryland, Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia. Contact Orion’s Attic today!