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The Collector’s Minute: ‘Legal’ Prohibition Whiskey

by Mike Wilcox (04/19/10).

A bottle of 100 proof Mount Vernon's “Medicinal Purpose Only” from the Prohibition era can put a big dent in one’s wallet.

A bottle of 100 proof Mount Vernon's “Medicinal Purpose Only” from the Prohibition era can put a big dent in one’s wallet.

The Roaring ’20s was best known for the wild times of gangsters, bootleg liquor, flappers dancing the Charleston in “speakeasies,” as well as G-men smashing kegs of illegal booze, all brought about by “Prohibition,” Prohibition was the period between 1920 to Dec. 5, 1933, during which the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol for consumption were banned nationally as mandated by the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment contained a number of exceptions and exemptions, popular with people trying to have their booze and drink it to without breaking the law.

One exception was referred to as “the Loophole”—Sections 6 and 7 of the Volstead Act, which allowed the legal sale of alcohol for “medicinal purposes only,” where a doctor’s prescription was required to make a purchase. Now, I would imagine many men who, by nature, avoid doctors like the plague, suddenly took advantage of whatever aches and pains they might have to obtain their “medicine” with for their “lumbago.” Somep took advantage of this loophole and made huge amounts of money. The most famous being George Remus, who amassed a fortune of more than $40 million by purchasing distilleries and pharmacies, as “legal whiskey” somehow has a habit of “falling off the truck” along the way on the way to legitimate pharmacies.

Today, one still runs into bottles of this legal hooch from the Prohibition Era, turning up at auctions after being hidden away in attics and basements, probably forgotten about after the repeal of Prohibition on Dec. 5, 1933. Only a few distilleries made the legal stuff. One such distillery was Mount Vernon, which was very well known for its product at the time. The company took first-place awards at no less than four World’s Fair competitions (Philadelphia in 1876, New Orleans in 1885, Australia in 1887, and Chicago in 1893). Unlike most brands, Mount Vernon remained active throughout Prohibition as medicinal whiskey maker, released through American Medicinal Spirits.

Today, a bottle of this whiskey would knock a hole in most wallets, as occasionally you might see and empty one go at auction for less than $500, but a full pint of 100 proof Mount Vernon’s “Medicinal Purpose Only” whiskey bottled in 1931 lists in Specialist Dealers inventories sell in the $1,800-$3,000 range.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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2 Responses to “The Collector’s Minute: ‘Legal’ Prohibition Whiskey”

  1. Justin Fuchs says:

    Ballantine’s Whiskey.I was wondering how to get my bottle appraised and or find a serious buyer. I’m not sure of the exact year but its a prohibition bottle. Tax seal is not completely in tact, but the cap seal is.The bottle is 90% full.A small amount may have evaporated or leaked out over the years. when I acquired it it was laying on its side. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

  2. Mike Finn says:

    I have approximately 25 pints of various prohibition era whiskey, various levels of evaporation from 15% to 80%, various times of distillation to bottling from pre-prohibition, during and distilled pre or during but bottled after the end. Any idea where I might be able to sell these?

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