Determing Values of Jim Beam Bottles

Determing Values of Jim Beam Bottles

bvdI receive a lot of letters asking me to help in determining the value of decanters. Most important is the condition. Bottles that are missing labels, parts, or that are cracked or broken of course aren’t worth as much as bottles that are in mint condition. Labels are important because they not only determine the maker but they are part of the bottle. Most Beams came with some kind of a box or case. This makes a difference in the value to many collectors. A bottle that is broken or missing a stopper is not worth as much either, it’s like a coin with a whole in it. It’s simply not all there. That’s not to say people won’t buy that bottle, because someone probably will. Some people will even collect parts and labels for resale or to complete a bottle in their own collection.

The most frequently asked question I hear has to do with the value of the bottle if it is full with seal unbroken. My answer is always the same. Collectors are only interested in the bottle, not the contents. It is illegal to sell liquor without a license. There have been cases where ATF agents have actually arrested people for selling decanters that are full. Don’t take the chance, empty the bottle. The contents of the bottle can also do harm to some decanters after many years. The bottles can leak and discolor the exterior . This would of course have a negative affect on the value. The liquor in the bottle will not age with time. It only ages in the oak kegs. There is no reason to keep liquor in the decanter, empty it and enjoy.

Perhaps the most sought after of the Beams is the series they made called – Wheels. Beam made their first ‘Wheels’ decanter in 1972. It is a 1903 Oldsmobile. The bottle lists for $30.00. It was very popular from the start and the value was much greater in the 70’s and 80’s. This is not uncommon for bottles. In the sixties, Jim Beam was having such a success with their decanters that bottles stores and clubs were springing up everywhere. There were thousands of clubs throughout the world and many more collectors. This interest of course brought the prices up.

As the interest grew, other distributors saw the light and began making their own decanters.Some companies made thousands of one kind of bottle, while others like Sky Country and Lionstone made limited editions. These limited edition bottles still enjoy high values today and will continue to appreciate over the years. There are several high priced bottles in the Beams Wheel series. The most expensive one is a decanter they made in 1991 called the Gold Semi 18 Wheeler. It lists for $3,000.00. This is the most valuable bottle in the Beam collection.

The most famous of the Beams is the First National Bank bottle. It falls under the heading of Beam Customers. It was made in 1964 and only issued to board members of the First National Bank of Chicago. The name of each board member is printed on the decanter. These bottles are very scarce and list for $1,584.00. Like the Oldsmobile, they have gone down in price as the interest in bottle collecting started to wane in the 80’s.

It’s not uncommon for me to receive a list of bottles from someone who has inherited a collection that a family member may have collected in the past. In most cases they want to know the value and are surprised to find out that Grandpa’s collection isn’t worth as much now as it was twenty years ago. What caused this demise in the hobby? I think there are a few factors that went into this. The distillers were having such success at making decanters that they continued to make more and more each year. They actually flooded the market with bottles. Buying these bottles new from your local liquor store was not cheap. The new decanters cost far more than the standard off -the-shelf bottles. I started out by collecting Political bottles. I remember paying $89.00 each for the last Politicals in 19 88. Today these bottles aren’t worth half that. It all comes down to supply and demand.

The best way to determine the value of your decanters is to buy a Jim Beam price guide. There are several available. Jim Beam made several over the years but they are out-dated now. They are, however, great references because they have pictures of the bottles (most in color) and give a brief history of each decanter. There are also several antique guides that include bottles. Kovells is one of the best and it is published each year. The one I use is a small paper back that fits easily into your back pocket or purse. It’s called ‘MARIO’S PRICE GUIDE TO MODERN BOTTLES’. (Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, Mario passed away near the end of 2001 and this price guide is no longer available.) It lists more distillers than any other books I have come across. Mario prints a new issue four times a year. I think this is the book of preference for most serious collectors. A single issue costs $6.00 and that includes shipping. Additional books are available at lower prices. To order this book, you mail your check to Mario Latello at 146 Sheldon Ave; Depew, NY 14043. It’s a great little reference and I recommend it highly. When you order his book, he will put you on his mailing list and you will also receive his list of bottles for sale. I think he may also consign bottles. He also furnishes a want list for his subscribers who are looking for bottles.

Other Jim Beam Columns
Bottles 101
Determining Values
Collecting Decanters for Investment
Jim Beam Collectors Edition Decanters
Other China Decanter Bottle Makers
Jim Beam Overview