Rare and Collectible Whiskey Bottles
How to Determine Value - How to Sell Rare Whiskey

Got some old whiskey? Wondering what to do with it?
 

 

VALUE OF RARE WHISKEY

1.2  Where is a list of whisky values?

1.3  How is the value of rare whiskey determined?

1.4  Does it matter if the seal or tax stamp is broken?

1.5  Does it matter if the bottle is open?

1.6  Does a low fill level affect value?

1.7  My bottle is super-old, shouldn't it be worth a fortune?

1.8  A store online is selling my same bottle for $$$$$!

1.9  Why is bourbon not as collectible as single malt scotch?

1.10 Bonhams New York, what's the deal with their whiskey auction and appraisals?

1.11 What is the value of my whiskey collection?  

1.12 What is the value of medicinal whiskey? 

1.13 What is the value of miniature, "airplane" bottles of whiskey? 

1.14 Can you give advice on investing in whiskey? Is whiskey a good investment? 

1.15 Why must old bottles be removed from the box?

 

HOW TO SELL RARE WHISKEY

2.1  How do I sell rare whiskey? How do I sell a whiskey collection? 

2.2  Do you guys buy rare whiskey? 

2.3  Do you guys sell whiskey? 

2.4  What do you mean "be educated" about whiskey auctions?

2.5  What are these websites I see in the UK that buy rare whiskey?

2.6  What's that whisky auction site in Germany? Can I sell my bottle there?

2.7  Hey a**holes, I sold my bottle for $1200 but you said...

 

INFORMATION ON FOUND/OLD WHISKEY BOTTLES

3.1  Is the whiskey inside an old bottle still safe to drink?

3.2  Does whiskey age or change in the bottle?

3.3  My bottle is sealed but it's missing whiskey. Why?

3.4  How should I store whiskey? 

3.5  My cork broke/disintegrated when I opened my bottle.

  3.6  Are empty bottles worth anything?

 

ABOUT OUR INFORMATION

4.1  Why do you do this?
4.2  Who is the LA Whiskey Society?

4.3  How do you know all this?  

  

  

VALUE OF RARE WHISKEY

 

1.1  How much is my old bottle of whiskey worth?

Firstly, no matter what you've got, your whiskey probably IS worth something to someone -- so don't throw it away! Nearly all vintage whiskey has a buyer these days. There are "garbagemen" who will buy up the low-quality stuff, and on the other end there are gems that end up at auction and sell for thousands.

 

The actual value honestly depends on many variables. Some bottles from just few years ago are now worth thousands, while some from 50 years ago can be only worth a few dollars. And vice-versa. There really is no quick and easy answer, but don't lose hope!

 

If you have a bottle (or more) you're curious about selling, see How to Sell Rare Whiskey below. Or you might get in touch with whiskey collectors to see what they will offer.

 

We sometimes appraise bottles, but we save that favor for the very rarest, museum-quality whiskeys. If you have a bourbon, rye, or other American whiskey bottled before 1920, please click here. (Single malt scotch, before 1970). If your bottle isn't something like that, it doesn't mean it's not worth something -- in fact, it could still be very valuable. We answer questions about evaluations and selling here.

 

Most collectors focus on single malt scotch, and the very rarest single malt scotches can be worth thousands or even tens of thousands. American whiskeys (like bourbon and rye) tend to be less collectible; the most valuable sell for around $2k - $3k, with some rare exceptions. Canadian whiskies are of minimal value unless extremely old (there aren't many collectors for it). Blended scotch from about the 1960's on is very common and generally worth around $50 at most if you can find a buyer. 

 

1.2  Where is a list of collectible whiskey values?

There isn't one. As of Feb. 2014 one blogger is trying to keep track of secondary market pricing for fairly recent bourbon/rye releases (last 5-10 years) and "flipped" new bourbons/ryes. Check here. (We neither reject nor vouch for this info).

 

1.3  How is the value of rare whiskey determined?

The way to arrive at an item's value is to find recent sales of the same or comparable item and balance that against what a seller actually profits in those scenarios. This involves being aware of past auction results, retail sales, private sales, the current state of the market, and private collectors' opinions. 

 

Sellers should also understand that when dealing with any collectible, value can be different than price. At auction, the price might end up at $1,000. But the seller might only go home with $500 after deducting fees and expenses. So the word value is often used to mean what an owner can actually sell his collectible for -- which is not the same as the price that an auctioneer or dealer might get.

 

Recognize that nobody takes home the "full price." Dealers have to deduct what they paid for the bottle and factor in their overhead. Auction sellers have commissions to pay. And private collectors negotiate with this knowledge.

 

Also keep in mind that the US secondary whiskey market is small and constantly fluctuating, so values are hard to say with certainty. Any estimate is just an educated guess. 

 

1.4  Does it matter if the seal or tax stamp is broken? 

The less it appears that the whiskey inside could've been tampered with, the higher the value. A broken tax stamp usually is not as bad as broken/torn foil. A missing seal will arouse suspicion and significantly reduce interest.

 

1.5  Does it matter if the bottle is open? 

Unfortunately, that makes the whiskey worthless to collectors.

 

1.6  Does a low fill level affect value?

Full bottles in great condition are obviously the most desirable. But it's not unusual for some of the contents to have evaporated, particularly on very old bottles, even if the seal is still intact. If that's the case, and the liquid inside is cloudy at room temperature, the bottle is contaminated. If not, the whiskey is still probably fine to drink, although the extra headspace might have affected the flavor (from oxidation, and/or whatever might be in the air). Whether that flavor is better or worse than when it was bottled can be a matter of personal taste. Lower-fill bottles are sometimes collected as a historical example or decoration, rather than for the contents.

 

1.7  My bottle is super-old, shouldn't it be worth a fortune?

Old and rare doesn't mean something is very valuable. The value is determined by what others are willing to pay for it and what you can collect for it.

 

Whiskey doesn't age or improve in the bottle like wine does. Whiskey that was bottled decades ago will still taste similar to the day it was bottled. So a bottle being from the 1950's (or whenever) isn't valuable just because it's old. 

 

Additionally, the secondary (resale) market for whiskey is small and shifting. Since one of the only outlets for selling collectible whiskey in the US is the Bonham's spirits auction in New York, and they only do that twice per year, there are few records of what things are actually selling for. (Consider that versus collectible vintage wines, which are auctioned every day). That means that the "market value" of a bottle is often hard to know.

 

Bourbon is rarely seen at public auction in quantity. Single Malt Scotch is much more common and easier to price.

 

1.8  A store online is selling my same bottle for a huge amount!

The pricing of collectible whiskies on retail websites (often in the UK) is different from their actual value. Consider this: if they were priced to sell, they wouldn't still be sitting on the shelf! 

 

Whiskey retailers' profits mainly come from modern, recently-released whiskies. The other "Trophy Bottles" are there to look great in their shops, add overall prestige to their name, and attract web traffic. They don't need to sell those bottles to support their business. So, they put an exorbitant price on them. If someone actually does pay that, then the dealer is thrilled. But in reality, the retailer will field offers that are much lower. Think about it, you could list your old tennis shoes on Ebay for $10,000 -- but that doesn't mean they're worth a dime.

 

This is why even though a whiskey may have an asking price of $1,000 on a whiskey website, it doesn't always mean it's "worth" that much. If you were to sell your collectible bottle to those retailers, they usually pay about 30% - 40% of their retail price.

 

Just to be clear, the people operating those whiskey businesses are honorable, respectable folks. They make low offers because they're running a business. 

 

1.9  Why is bourbon not as collectible as single malt scotch?

Single Malt Scotch has a huge following and collectors all over the world, and is viewed by many as an investment. There are a number of UK and EU auctioneers. But bourbon doesn't have much of a secondary market, particularly because US laws make it difficult on a practical scale. And American whiskey is not currently viewed by most whisky collectors as having investment potential, though the idea of investing in single malts is also highly controversial.

 

In about 2012, bourbon hit a huge surge in the US. There are now many bourbons that were worth no more than retail value in 2008, but they are now selling for as much as 10x original cost. However, bourbon still has a much smaller market, though that could of course expand.

 

1.10  Bonhams New York, what's the deal with their whiskey auction and appraisals?  

Bonhams is a premiere venue for selling rare whiskey in the US. Their auctions are twice per year. You can contact them for information on how to consign.

 

**NOTE: AS OF JULY 2014, BONHAMS' U.S. WHISKEY AUCTIONS HAVE BEEN CANCELLED INDEFINITELY.** 

 

Many people in the whiskey community have ridiculed Bonhams' expertise, including us. We've written about the ignorance of their "whiskey experts" and their shockingly bad estimates and botched identifications in past auctions.

 

Bonhams' fees, premiums, and taxes are explained in 2.4 below.

 

Keep in mind that "expert appraisers" are salesmen who represent the auctioneer. Their job is to get you to sell your property in their auction, so that they can make money off your stuff. Considering that higher appraisals/estimates entice people to sell in their auctions -- but that the auction house can't be bound by those estimates -- we feel that's a conflict of interest. Remember, even if your bottles don't sell in their auction (or if they don't meet the mimimum price you've set), they still make money off you in fees like storage, insurance, and "unsold item" penalties.

 

1.11 What is the value of my whiskey collection?

We sometimes help appraise the value of complete whisky collections and can educate you on options for selling. Please email us and we'll be in touch.

 

1.12 What is the value of medicinal whiskey? 

During Prohibition (1920-1933), whiskey was still available with a doctor's prescription. Many popular Pre-Prohibition brands were still available as medicinal whiskey, as well as some new brands specifically for medicinal purposes. Somewhat amazingly, many of these unopened pints of medicinal whiskey have survived into present day. Their value depends on condition, who distilled and bottled the whiskey inside, the brand name itself, and other factors. As of 2014, medicinal whiskey pints in good condition tend to individually sell for between $100 - $700.

 

1.13 What is the value of mini bottles of whiskey?

Miniature whiskey bottles (typically 50ml or 1/10 pint) are collected for their novelty value by a different subset of collectors. We look at that hobby similarly to the way matchbooks are collected -- in that they are fun to collect, cool to display, but difficult to sell. Since they're not really collected for their content, we don't keep up with that market and we don't know how to value them.

 

1.14 Can you give me some advice on whiskey investing?

We don't recommend this at all if you live in the U.S. A large reason is because would-be "Whiskey Investors" haven't really thought out how they're going to sell their collections. Stocks and bonds are easily liquidated, and even other collectibles like jewelry and art can be sold without much effort. Whiskey is not anything like that. There are very few venues to sell whiskey on the secondary market, it's extremely difficult to sell in quantity, expensive and risky to transport, subject to huge commissions from middlemen/auctioneers, and then Uncle Sam's collectibles tax takes a 28% bite out of whatever's left. 

 

You'll hear stories of friends who made a few hundred dollars (or even a few thousand) selling some old whiskeys they had. But it's unlikely they originally obtained those for investment purposes. They had good taste, and then got lucky. 

 

1.15 Why must old bottles be removed from the box and packaging? Aren't they worth more if nobody's opened the box before?

 

People often get confused about whiskeys that are still in their original box/packaging. With other types of collectibles -- like vintage toys, for instance -- having an item still in its original container can make it worth a whole lot more. That's helped a lot by the fact the item can't really degrade in the box. A Chewbacca action figure from 1980 doesn't have his arms and legs disappear after 4 decades in plastic.

 

But with whiskey, that actually happens in a way. Over very long periods of time, most bottles will suffer some amount of evaporation. The seals on these bottles were not meant to last more than a few years -- and certainly not decades. There are microscopic imperfections in the corks and caps, and microscopic amounts of evaporation each week can add up to ounces over time. See the answer above regarding evaporation and fill level to understand why that's important.

 

Since no collector will buy anything sight unseen (or at least, they won't pay much for it), you'll probably need to open up that box/wrapping if you're looking to part with your whiskey. 

 

 

HOW TO SELL RARE WHISKEY

Keep in mind that laws concerning liquor sales vary from country to country and state to state.

 

2.1  How do I sell my rare, collectible whiskey?

Most sales take place privately between collectors, please see this pageWe may be able to put you in touch with someone (depending where you live). Note that we can't take any responsibility for transactions that might occur between individuals afterwards, and we don't make a buck off this, we're just here to be helpful.

 

The top-dollar amounts for bottles used to be achieved at Bonhams New York, where there were whiskey auctions twice per year. But this practice was stopped in 2014. Some other spirits auctions pop up infrequently as sections of wine auctions, but they happen without much notice. Without a reliable, public venue to sell collections (or even single bottles), the value of whiskey in the US is in flux.

 

In the US, there are no "rare whiskey dealers" that operate like antique brokers or pawn shops. That's not legal. Retail liquor stores may only sell bottles obtained through wholesale liquor distributors. And, any whiskey sold in a bar must also have been obtained through a wholesale liquor distributor. 

 

Ebay used to tolerate the sale of collectible liquor, but that was stopped in September 2012.

 

The LA Whiskey Society does not sell whiskey. Our activities are entirely non-commercial.

 

2.2 Do you guys buy rare, collectible whiskey?

Yes! (We haven't figured out any other way to get it!)

 

Please note that we are not a business in any way. We're a group of friends brought together by our love of whiskey -- it's literally the same thing that would happen if you and your buddies started meeting once a month and all chipped in to buy and taste your favorite beverages.

 

2.3  Does the LA Whiskey Society sell whiskey?

No. Never.

 

2.4  What do you mean "be educated" about whiskey auctions?

 Many sellers at Bonhams end up disappointed. Revew sites like Yelp reveal sellers who profited as little as 12% of the final price (yes, twelve percent).

 

**NOTE: AS OF JULY 2014, BONHAMS' U.S. WHISKEY AUCTIONS HAVE BEEN CANCELLED INDEFINITELY.**  

 

Fees assessed include:

 

19% Sellers Premium 

15% - 25% Buyers Premium

1% - 1.5% Loss & Damage Warranty

Photography fees

Appraisal fees 

Storage fees 

Shipping at seller's expense and risk

 

Fees are also assessed on unsold items (or items that don't meet the seller's minimum designated price), like "unsold lot" penalties, and storage fees that are reassessed until the item is retrieved by the seller. Those expenses plus the logistical problems of reclaiming the item can result in the seller "rolling" their bottles to the next auction, where the same fees are assessed again, etc. etc.

  

See 1.10 above for more information on Bonhams NY Whisky Auctions. 

 

2.5  What are these websites I see in the UK that buy rare whiskey?

Places like The Whisky Exchange and Whisky-Online are legitimate. The money they'll offer for a bottle is typically around 30% - 40% of the retail price for that same bottle. (They're not out to rip anyone off, they're just running a business).

 

2.6  What's that whisky auction site in Germany? Can I sell my bottle there?

WhiskyAuction.com is legitimate. If you can get your bottle there, they'll take a 20% commission, and you cannot set a reserve price. If you pursue this route, be cautious since German Customs sometimes doesn't allow incoming alcohol shipments (for unclear reasons), and because Deutsche Post is known to damage and/or lose liquor packages.

 

2.7  Hey a**holes, I sold my bottle for $1200 and you said it was worth $500. (Actual email).

Good for you! Like any collectible field, there are always newbies without much experience or knowledge yet. The quickest way for them to get started is to get anything they can find at whatever price it takes. And of course, there are also buyers out there who are simply price insensitive. When they throw money, we applaud you if you're there to catch it.

 

 

INFORMATION ON FOUND/OLD WHISKEY BOTTLES

 

3.1  Is the whiskey inside an old bottle still safe to drink?

If the bottle is still safely and verifiably sealed with the original closure, from a known brand, and the liquid inside is clear at room temperature, then probably yes. However, if you have an old crystal or old porcelain decanter, this is thought to be risky because the lead can leach into the spirit. Also, many whiskeys prior to and during US Prohibition were adulterated, so caution is required with those. If for any reason you feel your whiskey is not safe to drink, don't drink it! If it tastes odd, stop drinking it! We cannot tell you if any bottle is definitely safe to drink, the end decision is up to you!

 

3.2  Does whiskey change or age in the bottle?

Basically, no. (But technically yes, in small ways over long periods of time). Even after many decades, it will taste similar to the day it was bottled. The age statement on a whiskey bottle (like "18 Years Old") refers to the time that whiskey spent aging in an oak barrel before it was bottled. An 8-year-old bourbon bottled in 1958 is still referred to as an 8-year-old bourbon.

 

3.3  My bottle is sealed but it's missing whiskey. Why?

Evaporation and/or leakage. It can happen even though the bottle is unopened.

 

3.4  How should I store whiskey?

Upright, away from sunlight, in a cool (or room-temperature), stable environment.

 

3.5  My cork broke/disintegrated when I opened my bottle.

That's typical for old bottles. There is no great solution to prevent this. 

 

3.6  Are empty bottles worth anything?

Some, but that's outside our focus. Try Pre-pro.com for empties that seem to date from before Prohibition. 

 

 

ABOUT OUR INFORMATION

 

4.1  Why do you do appraisals, and how do I get one?

We know it's rare these days to provide free information and services, but it's fun for us, and sometimes we get to feel like the Indiana Jones of Whiskey. Prohibition-era and Pre-Prohibition bottles can be especially fascinating. Appraisals are on this page, please note that very few people qualify for a full evaluation.

 

4.2  Who is the LA Whiskey Society?

We're a small group of whiskey aficionados in Los Angeles. We taste collectible whiskies in our group meetings. (How our whiskey club runs). The Society makes no money and we are not a business.

 

Since 2006, we've become what's perhaps the best-known and most-respected whiskey club in the US. We're also known in the worldwide whiskey community for our expertise in dating old and collectible bottles, particularly anything once sold in the US. We've been asked by major auction houses to consult for them, as well as having had to correct their published "expert" analyses many times.

 

4.3  How did you gain all this knowledge?

Years of experience, enthusiasm, networking, and endless research. Nearly all whiskey experts are amateurs, as are we. In fact, there is only one professional bourbon historian in the US, and he works for a philanthropically-supported historical society. 

 

PLEASE FEEL FREE TO ASK QUESTIONS!

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