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)