Unloved Antiques: Commemorative Whiskey Decanters

This Veterans of Foreign Wars commemorative Ezra brooks whiskey decanter, collected by the thousands, and other like it, are not worth very much, despite its “limited edition” label.

The fourth item in this series of “Unloved Antiques”  (previous editions focused on Collector Plates, antique Singer Sewing Machines and vintage Decorator Prints) and is the commemorative whiskey decanter, like the one pictured right, issued by Ezra Brooks distilleries, circa 1973. This particular one, honoring the Veterans of Foreign Wars, was just one of many veteran commemoratives issued for American Legions posts across the country.

American distilleries were always looking for ways to market their products in new customers. These decanters had their start in the 1940s, when decorative glass bottles based on traditional decanters or cocktail shakers first appeared, but the more familiar china examples we see today generally postdate the late 1950s, when the first Regal china pieces were issued by Jim Beam.

The demand for decanters took on a life of its own by the 1960s, spawning a whole series of decanters: Those honoring state and city centennials; football, tennis, golf and horse racing events; famous people and characters; service clubs; and, of course, Elvis. In fact, it’s difficult to find any event of significance that occurred in the USA since 1776 that did not have a decanter issue for. If you couldn’t find what you wanted on the shelf, the Jim Beam company—among the largest producers of commemorative decanters—even offered the option through its “Customer Specialties” program where you could order your own decanter for any event or organization you desired.

Because of the huge initial popularity of these decanters, they were mass produce in equally huge numbers to fill that demand. Most people who received them as gifts could not bring themselves to discard them when they were empty, as they were considered gifts meant for display. Besides, in many cases, they were packaged as “limited editions,” which left the impression of some future value. Occasionally, you can still find a decanter that hasn’t been opened, full of bourbon and still sealed with a liquor stamp.

Now, some 60-plus years after the earliest examples were issued, their original owners have passed on or are selling off their collections as they downsize to smaller homes or apartments. This has flooded an already-full market, leading to declining prices across the board.

In today’s market, the decanter shown above lists retail with some specialty dealers for around $24, but often sells at auction for $9.95 or less.

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

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