Jim Beam Bottles 101

I have been asked by the good people that sponsor this Website to write an on-going column about collecting bottles. I am very grateful and delighted to do so. In future columns we will talk about everything that goes along with the hobby. I look forward to this opportunity and encourage feedback from the readers. This is a fun hobby and we can all learn together.

B.V.D on BOTTLES Jim Beam is synonymous with whiskey decanters. They started making decanters in the early 1950s. It must have seemed like a good way for them to market their product. I often wonder if, back then, they had any idea that this marketing ploy would turn into the hobby and business that it has over the last forty plus years. The first bottle Beam produced was a wood top bowling pin in 1952. Even though this was their first decanter, they must have made a lot of them because today the bottle is not high priced. It lists for under $10.00. With the introduction of this bottle the hobby began.

Soon other companies realized the value of marketing their products this way and began making decanters as well. It’s hard to say just how many companies produced decanters. It never ceases to amaze me when I find a decanter that’s not listed in any of the books. There are hundreds of companies that have jumped on the band wagon over the years. Some of the other better known companies are Ezra Brooks, Cabin Still, Dant, Dewar, Double Springs, Rare Eagle, Early Times, Galliano, Grants, Heaven Hill, Hoffman, Jack Daniels, Kentucky Gentleman, Lionstone, Luxardo, McCormick, Michers, Old Commonwealth, Old Fitzgerald, Old Grand Dad, Ski Country, and Wild Turkey just to name a few. This is what makes this hobby interesting to me.

As with many other things people collect, the most rewarding and challenging part of it can come in the investigating or identification of the collectable. There are many ways a bottle can be identified. The easiest is, of course, the label on the bottle. What good would it do a manufacturer to produce a decanter and not put the company name on it? So this is where we start our investigation. Most decanters will have a paper label glued to the bottle. This label identifies the company and the product or contents (i.e. Jim Beam Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 110 Months Old). The label will also tell you how much the bottle holds, i.e. 4/5ths quart. The next step is to confirm the age of the decanter. In most cases this can be done by turning the bottle upside down. There will be embossed printing on the bottom of the bottle. Sometimes this is easy to read, sometimes not. Am example of this could be: Federal Law Forbids Sale or Reuse of this Bottle D334 145 1960 Genuine Regal China Creation of James B. Beam Distilling Co. We just learned a lot about this bottle from those few words. We know that is a Federal offense to sell this bottle without a license; we know the bottle was made by Regal China for Jim Beam Company, and that the bottle was made in 1960.

The next step is to determine what the bottle was made for or what it commemorates. Beam has produced so many bottles over the years that we can place them in categories or series. There are basically fifteen categories that Beams fall under. They are: Clubs and Conventions, Wheels, Casino, Centennial, Organizations, Customer, Executive, Foreign, People, Opera, Political, Regal China, Sports, States, Trophy, Glass and Collectors Editions. Keeping these series headings in mind we can sometimes identify the decanter quickly. For instance: you have just discovered a nice looking bottle that you have never seen before. The label is intact and you know its a Beam. You ask the owner if you can look at it. You read the label, and then holding on to the ‘stopper’ or lid you turn the bottle upside down and find the date. You now l ook the bottle over to be sure it is in good condition. (We will cover this topic in a future column.) Satisfied that this is a bottle that you want for your collection, you now start reading the information on the bottle. Embossed on the front is an old looking building, with the words ‘SANTA FE 350th YEAR’ at the top; under the building are the words ‘PALACE of the GOVERNORS 1610-1960′. It’s a Santa Fe bottle. Somewhere on the bottle is a sticky price label that says $15.00. You like the bottle and decide that this is a price you can afford. You make the purchase, get it home and start wondering if you paid too much. After all, it’s an empty whiskey bottle. You get out your price guide and there are thousands of bottles listed, but no pictures. By using the process of elimination we know it’s not ‘Wheels’ and we can eliminate ‘Political’. How about ‘States’? Wrong, Santa Fe is not a state. How about Regal China, after all that’s what it says on the bottom. We look there but don’t find it listed. How about Centennial? It does say 350th year. Bingo…SANTA FE 1960 $100.00. Not a bad buy!

It’s not always this easy but then that’s part of the fun of collecting. In the coming months we will talk more about collecting, buying and selling, condition, where to find, pricing and many other areas that will help us become more knowledgeable collectors. Have fun and good luck collecting.

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