Our extended January auction featured some stunning vintage miniatures, whisky memorabilia and drinks books. Here’s a look at the highlights.
The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard First Edition
Our top lot of the auction was a beautifully rebound first edition copy of the seminal Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard published in 1887 that sold for an impressive £3000 after a late flurry of bids. Barnard had spent two years travelling around the UK and Ireland between 1885 and 1887, visiting 162 distilleries in all. The book contains facts as well as stories of his travel and experiences as well as beautiful prints of distilleries.
An ex libris bookplate is adhered to the inside front cover of this particular copy. It identifies the book’s owner as Harry Anderson Pitman and shows the Cobbe Family Crest with the family’s motto ‘Moriens Cano’ (from ‘In sanguine vita, moriens cano’ or ‘life is in the blood, I sing as I am dying’).
Harry Anderson Pitman was a partner of Cockburn & Campbell, an Edinburgh and London wine merchant. Later he became a published genealogist. He died in 1942.
The book, of which reprints are available at a slightly less eye-watering price, is a reference book that provides a fascinating and comprehensive insight into a bygone era of distilling and a snapshot of many long lost distilleries and deserves a place in any whisky enthusiasts library.
You can take a closer look at this amazing tome in a recent article by Whisky.Auction director Isabel Graham-Yooll.
Other historic documents in the auction that caught our eye
A receipt for medicinal liquor dated 23 February 1929 and prescribed during the Prohibition era sold at auction for £200. This was a clever way to legally acquire alcohol in the US at the time. Unfortunately it’s unclear what the ailment was that required the healing powers of whisky.
Going even further back in time, this time to the early 1800s, one lucky bidder picked up a copy of the 1806 act repealing the duties of excise on stills used for distilling or rectifying low wines or spirits passed by George III. It was printed by George Eyre and Andrew Strahan, printers to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty (so it wasn’t Bill and Ted that first used such an expressive title) and sold at auction for £160.
The focus is often all about single malts but it is easily forgotten that blended whiskies were king throughout much of the 20th century and still vastly outsell single malts worldwide today. This month’s sale saw vintage miniature bottles from big name brands including Buchanan’s Black & White, Johnnie Walker, Haig & Haig, Grant’s and White Horse Distillers.
A miniature of Mackie’s 12 Year Old Ancient Scotch bottled in the 1930s for the US market sold for £220. Named after Sir Peter Mackie, owner of Lagavulin distillery at the time, there has long been speculation that these bottles may contain some liquid from the almost mythical Malt Mill.
Sticking with the 1930s, we sold a trio of beautifully preserved Haig & Haig Five Star 8 Year Old also produced for the US market as well as some great examples of Buchanan’s Black & White from the 1930s to 1950s. The excellent fill levels on these almost century old bottles show how effective spring caps can be.
Topping our blended category this month though despite competition from all the vintage bottles was this Royal Salute 62 Gun Salute sample that fetched £360. This whisky is named after the 62 gun salute reserved for only the most important royal occasions and the blend contains whiskies that are matured in cask for over 40 years.
Switching back to single malts, there was a handful of beautiful old Islay malts from collector favourites such as Bowmore, Port Ellen and Ardbeg. Highlights included a highly collectible Port Ellen 12 Year Old from indie bottler James Macarthur bottled at a lively 62.7% abv which was snapped up for a winning bid of £310. A pristine couple of Islay staples in the shape of this Ardbeg Old Islay Malt and Bowmore Sherriff’s Single Malt, both bottled in the 1970s sold for £180 and £110 respectively. Finally a pair of Bowmore 1972 16 year olds bottled for Prestonfield House hotel in Edinburgh sold for £110 each.