Flip-Top Rye

This is not about shot glasses but, given the recent flurry of Red Top Rye-related sales, it’s an amusing little tale.

Morean’s latest auction closed on February 4. There wasn’t much of interest to us here, aside from one of the Bellwood mini-mugs I mentioned a couple of months ago – this was a nice example and it sold for an impressive $176.

However, the auction also included a Red Top Rye flask. The auction listing describes it as follows: Early metal flask. Advertises Red Top Rye whose letters are outlined with intricate engraving. Red has been nicely re-pigmented. 4 x 4.5 inches. Note the “Red has been nicely re-pigmented” – meaning that the red paint is not original.

The flask shows considerable wear to the plating, with many noticeable nicks, breaks, and dings, with a characteristic flaw in the middle of the label around the “T” and “o”:

The final bid price (with premium included) was $263 (plus shipping).

Ten days later, a striking similar flask shows up for sale on eBay, listed by martin50k03 with a buy-it-now price of $895:

The listing description reads: Rare Red Top metal flask, measures 4 1/4” diameter. Good condition. No mention of a paint upgrade, but note the wear pattern around the “To” – it’s the same flask.

A day later, the price dropped to $795 and, shortly thereafter, a special offer showed up in my email inbox that brought the price down to $495:

Today is Feb. 16 – I’ll be interested to see if there’s any additional discounts, but I’m betting that they won’t bring the price below $263.

Why I don’t Bother Going to Local Bottle Shows

Once upon a time, I used to live in the Northeast – the Philadelphia area to be precise. The opportunities for pre-pro glass hunting in the Northeast are almost limitless. Adamstown is within an hour’s drive – imagine a 3- or 4-mile highway with antique malls spaced evenly along the way – that’s Adamstown. One the the larger malls is run by Renningers, who have outlets in Adamstown, Kutztown, PA., and also in FL. The two PA locations each host traveling extravaganzas three or four times a year, and I used eagerly await each of these, especially in Fall when the rich scents of decaying leaves, crushed grass, mud, and waffle cakes were on the air. Adamstown also hosted a bottle show that attracted several vendors that were familiar names on eBay. The Baltimore Bottle Show, which is probably the biggest in the country, is a 75 min drive South. I usually came away with at least a couple of new pre-pro glasses for my collection from each scavenging event.

Then I moved to the Atlanta area and how times have changed. Yes, there are antique malls in the South, but “antique” has a different meaning here. Wandering through an Atlanta area antique mall is a trip down memory lane, because much of what is on offer dates back to my childhood. Pre-pro glasses do occasionally show up, but they’re usually the more common ones. The few bottle shows in the area are usually tiny and rarely offer shot glasses for sale. After attending the local show for a couple of years, I stopped making the effort because it wasn’t worth the 45 minute drive.

However, I recently happened to stumble across a flyer for the Rome Bottle and Advertising show that was due to take place only a few days hence. Rome is about 80 mins away, but I thought why not – maybe the show has improved significantly since I was last there.

Google maps view

The show was held in the local VFW hall which, on first sight, reminded me of a line from the movie “Battle of Britain.” Michael Caine’s character has just been informed by a maintenance officer that his squadron is being relocated to a flying club’s airfield as a result of German bombing. The maintenance officer remarks that “It’s not a bad little field“, prompting Michael Caine to reply “I’ve seen it. Damp tents and a nasty little shack full of dead flies.

To be fair, the VFW hall was a perfectly fine location and just the right size for the show. It was also busy, which is always good to see, even though few of the attendees were youngsters (meaning anyone under 65 years of age). I included some general overview pics below, in case you’re interested. The main problem with the show was that there was a preponderance of Coke and other soda bottles – not surprising given that it’s an Atlanta area show and Atlanta is home to the Coca-Cola megacorp.

There were exactly two shot glasses. One was a very common “O! So Good” from Kansas City, the other a “DRS Dist. Inc” tonic from Memphis with a $50 price tag. I passed on both.

I’ll probably not be back to this show for another decade or so, sad to say.

Red Top Flop… and One to Watch

Highball glasses glasses occupy a special place in the collecting world. If we were to consult Google maps, we’d find it just North of Contempt and about 5 miles West of Indifference. Highballs just don’t have the the same cuteness factor that the shots do and, from a practical point of view, they’re way too tall to fit in a shot glass display case. Even sideways.

Beer collectors, on the other hand, have no problem turning their basement over to acres of custom-built shelving to accommodate the larger glasses, but highballs are not beers and if one were to show up on a basement shelf, it probably would be as a result of mistaken identification.

So, whereas a Red Top Rye shot glass can command prices in excess of $1,000 (as noted in my previous post), Red Top Rye highballs have trouble making $50, let alone $500 or more. As always, there are exceptions. I have seen a Red Top highball featuring a colored top sell for $271 almost a decade ago, but when the owner put it back on eBay several years later, he lost $100 on the deal.

Sold for $271 in 2015

The Red Top Highball listed by union_razor recently does not feature a red top but, rather, a white-frosted label with measles. Expectations were not high. It listed with an opening bid of $9.95. Two collectors held their noses and entered bids and it closed a week later at $20.50. Whoop-de-do.

Sold for $20.50 in 2024

Here’s one to watch. I’m sure I’ve highlighted Casper glasses before because they used to trigger ferocious bidding wars back in the day, even when the glass involved was one of the common variants. I almost missed the example shown below because the listing photos and are poor, but it’s a one-of-a kind (so far as I know – I haven’t see one before) red etched variant.

The label is worn to the point where the trademark diamond (image at right) is unrecognizable, so this would be considered a placeholder glass at best, yet the bidding is already up to $56 with more than 4 days to go until the auction’s close. This one will be interesting to keep an eye on.

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 pre-pro.com 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!

On the eight day of Christmas, stilz sent to me…

Not everything shot-glass related that comes my way is via eBay, although it sometimes seems that way. I’m always interested to see other people’s collections, especially when they’re in a display case.

Most of you will have at least one glass in your collection that was purchased from Paul Van Vactor, better known as stilz on eBay. Paul is something of a legend in the collecting world. In the pre-internet days, he was one of the few reliable sources of pre-pro shot glasses and the latest version of his snail-mail sales lists were eagerly awaited by all. He was one of the collectors that contributed to Barbara Edmonson’s Historic Shot Glasses and Old Advertising Spirits Glasses, the Old and New testaments of the pre-pro shot glass Bible.

Paul shifted his sales activities to eBay after the internet became a force to be reckoned with. The sales database has logged over 41,000 auctions since 2001, roughly 1,300 of which are attributable to stilz.

Paul is based in Lousiville, KY. His collecting interests focus primarily on KY bottles and glasses (he has a lot to choose from!), although his shot glass collection includes some rare examples from other States. His eBay wares include bottle, glasses, and souvenir china pieces from all over the US, picked up during his travels around the country.

I had a chance to catalog Paul’s glass collection as it was over a decade ago now: You can click through the listing pages here. However, Paul was kind enough to recently send me a couple of pics of his new display cases that I’m excited to share with you here:

I have to say, those squat enameled back-bar bottles make for an impressive display. If I weren’t already overrun with shot glasses, I might be tempted to start yet another collection….