Red Top Rye Fever

Last Sunday (January 14, 2024), Morean Auctions in Brimfield, MA. hosted an auction featuring “Minty Rare Cans Drinking Vessels & Signs.” Morean is affiliated with LiveAuctioneers, and my eBay feed (of all places) started populating with mouth-watering images of highly-desirable pre-pro shot glasses.

Several of these looked familiar and, upon further investigation, turned out to have been picked up off eBay a couple of decades ago by rbra72 and shotfaced, better known to the collecting community as Barb and Roger Roy. The Roys have a hallowed place in pre-pro glass collecting community because they hosted and contributed to Barbara Edmonson’s book on pre-Prohibition shot glasses, “Old Advertising Spirits Glasses (OASG).” OASG and her first book, “Historic Shotglasses (HSG)” were our sole source of information in the pre-internet days. Many of the drawings that made it into OASG were Barb’s work, as you can see here. Sadly, I understand that Roger Roy died some years ago while still in his prime.

The Roys had already assembled an impressive and enviable pre-pro collection, including a group of Red Top Rye memorabilia, as shown below.

This was long before I’d even known what pre-pro shot glass was. I well remember Roger patiently explaining to me the difference between types of label used in the label-unders (such as the Red Top Rye glass at center, above), a class of glass that I’d already become obsessed with acquiring.

Morean auctions listed 80 or so shot glasses from the Roy’s collection, many of which I had seen before but many others that I had not. It’s not often we get to see a collection like this come under the hammer, so it offered a rare opportunity to establish real-world glass values, values that are often distorted by the limited offerings on eBay. The auction’s bid increment began at $25 and then there was a 17% buyer’s premium that had to be factored in when deciding on what to bid on. Cutting to the chase before focusing on the more interesting individual sales, 82 glasses were listed for sale, 82 sold (someone jumped in and put a bid on every one of them one day, so we knew that 0 would close without bidders), average price of glasses that sold, including the buyer’s premium, was $211.34. Yes, you read that correctly.

And while you’re digesting that, I need to mention that the shot glass sales were preceded by a day of beer can auctions. I never really understood the appeal of beer cans, but each to their own. Beer can collectors clearly are from a different planet, because the prices realized were astronomical. For example, the rusty Wolf’s beer shown below realized $34,000, or roughly $1,500 more than a 2024 Ford Mustang. I’ll take the car and a Red Top Rye, thank you very much.

Every one of the 82 glasses received at least 2 bids, meaning that the lowest went for $59 (FYI – all prices are shown with bidder premium included) – and that included the most common of common glasses, the Hayner Distilling glasses and the related Lockbox 290s.

Glasses the routinely sell on eBay for $10-$20

Even more amazingly, one of the Lockbox 290s was bid up to $117:

A $117 glass?!

Then there were many really nice glasses that failed to get the attention that they deserved; all of the glasses below sold for $59 even though I’d expected them to go for several times that amount given their rarity and appeal:

I think the nature of an online real-time auction may be largely responsible for the apparent lack of interest in these glasses. I have a good internet connection, but the Auctioneer was moving so fast so even the briefest lag meant that one could have missed winning a glass. I bid on perhaps 20 of the glasses, but it was never really clear to me who the highest bidder was at any one time. When the auction was over, I thought I’d walked away with twice as many glasses than I actually had, mainly because I’d failed to up a bid on a glass that I was convinced that I was already highest bidder on. You win some, you lose some, it’s the nature of an auction regardless of whether one is there in person or not.

Now for the eye-openers, and not in the pre-Prohibition sense of the word. Hic.

For my money, the single best glass in the group was Bernheim Bros. acorn:

I acquired mine in a trade with a well-known Kansas City collector, for which I remain eternally grateful because it’s still one of the best glasses in my collection. The example above was won by an equally well-known Louisville collector for $293. And well worth the price, should you happen to run across one of these at a show.

The big winners were the enamels and anything with a colored label. The enamels were shown below, which sold for a total of $2,400.

Here’s one of the eye-openers and one I still have questions about. It’s a Green Mountain Distillery glass from Kansas City, which are as common as they come. The label on these is blue-green, although on some of them it’s more blue than green, and on others, more green than blue. The auction listing claims that it was a blue label, so the bidding was “enthusiastic”, to say the least. It closed at $468.

Is it blue? Is it blue-green? I’d love to see this one in natural light against a white background to be sure.

A bluish blue, blue-green Green Mountain?

And then there were the were the two Red Top Rye (RTR) glasses. Now RTR hunters do not take prisoners. Think Hyenas attacking a vulnerable wilderbeast and turning on each other at the kill, trying to rip each other’s throats out. Red is the color of blood, and it flowed easily during this Sunday evening auction.

First up was a red-etched Red Top featuring an actual top. The glass has a gold rim, which makes it extra-desirable, although it’s not really aparrent from the listing photos. These do not show up for sale very often (I’d logged only 4 into the sales database prior to tis one), the last of them fetching $357 back in 2021.

The one above sold for $1,112: I linked in a video featuring the bidding wars on this and the glass that follows below.

Bidding on the two Red To Rye glasses, as recorded on Jan 14, 2024 (play video in a new window)

The second Red Top was a much rare plain-text version. I’ve only seen this one on eBay once before back in 2011, and it had a gold rim. Again the bidding was “spirited,” the final bid price amounting to $1,170.

For those of us generalist collectors who have RTR glasses – this kind of action makes us wonder if it’s time to let them go!

Finally – and the final shot glass auctioned off on the day – was the Yale featuring two males, the one on the right presumably being a Yale student. Yale was a People’s Distilling Co. brand and, again, this was a Cincinnati company. Cincinnati glasses have become hot property it seems.

I’ve seen this glass perhaps 5 or 6 times now, so it’s not particularly common. The most it’s sold for on eBay, so far as I know, is $55 back in 2014. I’m going to link in a video of the bidding – take a look, but make sure that you’re sitting down before hitting the play button….

(play video in a new window)

Never in the field of glass collecting was so much paid for so many…

With apologies to Winston. I’d actually convinced myself that the glory days of glass collecting were pretty much done. Few interesting glasses were showing up on eBay and prices realized seemed to be rock bottom, with many glasses going unsold. This all changed a couple of months ago. eBay is awash with nice glass now and prices realized on some of the open auctions are jaw-dropping. And all of this before yesterday’s beer can and glass auction (Morean Auctions), which I’ll address in a separate post, along with some live-action video coverage (knock wood).

In the past four weeks, 201 glasses showed up for auction. 93 of these closed without a bidder, but the average price of those that sold was $46.64. Which is up quite a bit over previous weeks and months.

Chief among the “mandible action moments” was this Geo. T Stagg two-part metal slider that was listed by jupposfarm.

For reasons that escape me, the Stagg sliders have been steadily gaining ground over the past year or so. Sliders such as this would have covered the cap on a bottle of Stagg Whiskey and, when removed, could be opened to create a handy container that might be used to sample the whiskey inside. I doubt that many were used for that purpose, the bottle itself being a perfectly good container that could be used to sample the product.

I’ve come to the conclusion that sliders in general date to Prohibition years and have a Canadian origin, although I suppose it’s conceivable that this one was late pre-Pro – I’d love to see one in situ to better judge its age. Regardless, the one shown above sold on January 10 for a whopping $184.50 after a spirited bidding war. There’s a second such slider currently on eBay with the auction due to close today – the current bid price is $51.00.

*Update* The second slider sold on Jan 15 for $237.50! Huh???? Also – a mystery buyer took between 10 and 15 glasses off eBay yesterday in Best Offers and Buy-it-Nows. All very interesting…

A Cincinnati-area collector has been snapping up Cinci buy-it-nows in recent days, including an Index Whiskey for $150 and an Old Jug for $125. I hadn’t seen the Index Whiskey giving itself the finger before, so it’s a rare one.

Steal of the week goes to a Tollgate Rye from Pittsburgh. Rare picture glasses aren’t making what they sued to, so maybe it’s not much of a steal, but it’s an attractive glass and $56.89 seems like a bargain to me.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, Etsy brought to me… the remnants of the Ken Schwartz collection

Yes, Etsy. eBay may be an auction giant and the main source of pre-pro shot glasses (and anything pre-pro related), but Etsy can be worth checking occasionally to see if they have any interesting “antiques” for sale. I was under the impression that eBay had acquired Etsy several years ago, but apparently they’re still independent companies, despite marketing similarities. I’ve picked up a few glasses from the site over the years, none of them bargains, but it’s worth checking in now and again to see what’s on offer.

Hopefully you’re all familiar with Ken Schwartz and his place in the collecting world. If not, you can find his glass collection here. Impressive at it was, it formed only a teensy portion of his collecting empire, which was housed in a custom-built addition to his modest home in Reading, CA.

Ken died in 2013, which left many of us wondering what would happen to his pre-pro glasses. The CA collecting community plundered most of the more interesting items, then many more were sold off via Facebook. I was deeply involved with a new, work related start-up at the time and remained oblivious to most of the machinations of the pre-pro world for a couple of years. ALl of this (mostly) went over my head, and I have no real sense of who the beneficiaries were.

When work pressures began to ease a little and I had a chance to drop in on Etsy, I happened to run across this glass that had sold recently:

This is a glass that I recognized immediately and that, until then, I’d only ever seen once. That was at the FOHBC’s 2006 Annual Show in Reno, Nevada. The glass was in the grasp of Ken Schwartz, who was trying to negotiate a better price with the dealer (without success). My suspicions now aroused, I compared this latest example with Ken’s (in the database) and it’s the exact same glass. Well dang. This is likely a George Truog glass and one I’d have paid dearly for: it had sold for just $40 on Etsy.

Scrolling through other current and past sales, I found a few more that had clearly come from Ken’s collection. I got talking to the Etsy store owner that had listed these glasses – the store is TraditionsVintageCo. and the owner (Lori) is based in MI. All told, around 200 of Ken’s glasses have passed through her store, most of which have already been sold. She relates that she and her husband had been in the auction business and purchased the entire contents of Ken’s Temple of Glass, boxed it up and stored it, and had been selling it at various venues for the past 4 years. My mind is still boggling – Ken had amassed an impressive collection of pre-pro stuff, and, as mentioned the shots were just a minor component of his overall collection.

There’s still a few glasses left for sale – if you want to own a part of a legendary collection, it’s still worth a look at her site.

Here’s a few of the sold glasses that caught my eye:

A Black Cat Whiskey from Ullman Bros. & Co. of Cleveland, OH. – a steal at $50.

A Gilt Edge Shipping House from St. Louis – how many times have you seen this? It’s appeared on eBay only once and sold for around $150. Mine came from Bob Snyder and is cracked – this one sold for $65.

This is a Monteagle Pure Rye from O’Keefe in Oswego, NY. It’s a classic pre-pro glass to die for. It sold for $50.

And last but not least, a Coon Hollow LUG that sold for $65, which is at least 10 times less than what it’s actually worth. I’m still crying in my beer over that one…

On the eleventh day of Christmas, eBay brought to me… a collection of minty WI area glasses

eBay seller brew508 has been around since the auction site’s inception and I’ve brought a couple of glasses from him over the years. In recent weeks, he’s been listing glasses that are notable for their condition and also for a “Best Offer” option, something that is increasingly gaining favor and that I’ve taken advantage of many times to get a better deal on an eBay glass. Sometimes sellers accept, sometimes they don’t, but it’s always worth a try.

The glass with the highest opening bid price ($150) was a Badger Club Whiskey from John Thielen of Oshkosh, WI.

You’d be correct in raising one or both eyebrows over this auction given that it’s essentially just a plain text glass with panels and a partial gold rim. It is on the rare side – I’ve logged just 6 of them into the sales database over the years. The first of these (below) was back in February 2004 and was won by texas1869 for just $26.99.

I guess texas1869 didn’t like what he saw on arrival, because it relisted with a note that “it had a crack” in April. Yours truly ended up buying it for $20 and, on pulling it out of the box, a large chunk amounting to about 10% of the wall fell out onto the benchtop. The “crack” formed a giant U-shape that ran from rim to rim and the chunk of wall that it described had been (weakly) held in place with glue. Caveat emptor, as always.

I still have the glass even though I’ve since replaced it with a much less “cracked” example. The cracked version sits alongside a really neat sign I picked up off eBay that features the same glass alongside a bottle of the product. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that the pre-pro glasses we treasure so much actually show up featured with other advertising giveaways, so the sign is a much treasured addition to the collection.

brew508’s glass sold following submission of a “Best Offer“, price undisclosed.

brew508 also listed a couple of Old Tom Bentons a couple of months apart.

The opening bid for both was $55, which was tempting given how clean the glasses were. Again, plain-text glasses, and from David Wise & Co. of Chicago, IL (not a collector’s favorite city), but an attractive design none the less with a nice gold rim. Both sold following submission of “Best Offers.”

Lastly, brew508 appears to have lucked out with a cache of Fuldner glasses. It was one of these that got me hooked on pre-pro glass collecting back in the day (I found mine at a Milwaukee bottle show back in 1989 – the seller was asking $22 for it but took $16; it’s still in one of my top 2% display cases). It’s a classic pre-pro design and I adapted the Fuldner trademark design to serve as the banner on the home page. For reasons that are not clear to me, they fail to attract much attention when they show up on eBay; the most I’ve seen one sell for is $76 and change.

brew508 has been listing them for a $45 opening bid with a “Best Offer” option. Three have sold so far, the most recent being a couple of days ago. If he has more and you don’t have one in the collection already, you should grab one – it will outlive most others you may acquire for the display case.

On the tenth day of Christmas, eBay brought to me… Nice New York glasses!

If I had to name one US State to focus a collecting interest on if my collecting budget were limited, it would be New York .

NY gets zero respect, pre-pro collecting-wise, for reasons I don’t really understand. NYC is particularly hard done by. There’s well over 100 known NYC glasses and that number includes some of pre-pro’s best picture glasses, including the Old Valleys, Seminole Clubs, Auto Ryes, Salzman Nightcaps and Eye Openers, and a Rip Van Winkle. Despite this, NYC glasses typically have difficulty attracting buyers when offered for sale and, when they do sell, prices are typically bargain basement.

Two nice examples of NY glasses showed up on eBay in the past week or so, both in really nice condition by the looks of them. The first was a glass from Troy, NY – A Herman Carl Co. Inc., “The Reliable Wine and Liquor Dealer.” It’s lost its gold rim (not unusual given how weakly the rims were adhered), but the label is strong – the closing bid was $72.00.

The second was a Storm King Whiskey, from J C Childs of NYC. One would have thought that this would have sold for around $95 or more, but the auction closed at $34.50. As I said, no respect.

Bottles of Storm King Whiskey were richly illustrated – here’s a couple of examples of paper labels:

On the ninth day of Christmas, eBay brought to me… Ferd. Westheimer & Sons glasses

If you want to start a bidding war on eBay, then list a Westheimer glass, preferably a Red Top Rye.

Ferd. Westheimer was a major player in the pre-pro years, with Red Top Rye being his leading brand. Jack Sullivan put together a comprehensive history on his blog site, in case you’re interested in the details. Other Westheimer brands included Boston League, C. C. Bond, Clover Brook, Manhattan Reserve, McAllister, Number One, Old Hutch, Old Planet, Pullman Pure Rye, Top, and White House Club. The company also owned the Old Times distillery and brand name.

The Red Top Rye brand was the most heavily advertised and they gave away many promotional items bearing the name. Few of the other brands they used appear on shot glasses (Old Times being the main exception), and such glasses are very rare. Prior to these past few weeks, I’d seen an “Old Planet” show up for sale only once. The more recent listing was nice example of this glass but failed to mention the Westheimer connection, so the closing price was a meager $60.01.

Many of the Red Top Rye glasses these are etched with a red label, which makes them extra desirable to purist pre-pro glass collectors and is the reason they command sales prices in the $300+ range, but there are many more common white-frosted variants also. Two different white-etched Red Top Rye glasses showed up in recent days. The first was the speckled label variant shown below. The auction closed with a final bid price of $189.46.

The second to list was a plain script variant, shown below. The opening bid price is $149.99. As of writing the auction is less than a day old and has yet to attract a bid.

Time is ticking!