Antique Appraisals

Collectors crazy for special-issue bottles

In the 1950s, a collector craze was started when the whiskey maker, Jim Beam, began issuing a special line of commemorative bottles. The first was a decanter in the form of a cocktail shaker and that morphed into hundreds of others -- mostly limited editions -- issued during the next 60 years. In today's What's It Worth? we answer a reader's query about her decanter.

Also, there's a framed watercolor by the hand of one of the creative members of a very famous family.

Q. I was given this 12-inch glass decanter by an elderly family friend. It appears black, unless you hold it up and look through it into a bright light, then its a beautiful purple. There's an inscription on the bottom reading, in part, "Federal law forbids sale or re-use of this bottle."

Can you tell me anything about this and if it has any value? -- Susan in Kennewick

A. This is one of a well-known line of liquor decanters issued by the Jim Beam distillery. It dates from 1958, six years after Beam introduced its first "specialty bottles."

In the years that followed, responding to growing demand for these unusual bottles, Beam issued china and glass decanters, each different in design and concept.

Some honored states of the union, others centennial celebrations of cities or special events. Golf, horse racing, football and tennis themed decanters soon came along. Beam had a "Trophy" line and an "Executive" line of bottles. They were quite prevalent during the holiday season, and were marketed as gifts and collectibles.

This bottle is from a Grecian series and is well-known. It has some problems that affect value.

Beam collectors, and there are thousands, want perfection. There were so many bottle and decanters produced, they can wait for that great example to come along at the right price.

This decanter has lost its original white glass stopper. Just as important to a collector, all the labels are missing. In the Beam world, both are very bad things to not have. That the booze is gone has no effect on value. Collectors prefer empty decanters, but the labels and stopper loss are value killers.

In perfect condition, this "black glass" Greek warrior decanter might be worth as much as $25. This example is more in the $10 range.

Q. I read your column on art and was immediately reminded of a work my late wife had as a gift in her first marriage. It is a bluebird in a Canadian rose bush by Johanna von Trapp. Your attention would be much appreciated for a possible value? Thank You. -- Gary in the Yakima Valley

A. Johanna von Trapp was the sixth of the famous family's singing children.

Anyone who has seen the 1965 movie The Sound of Music knows their story. World War I Austrian war hero and widower Capt. von Trapp, his seven children and their governess, Maria, flee Austria when the Nazis come to power. The film was nominated for 10 Oscars; won five, including Best Picture. It catapulted then-Broadway star Julie Andrews into cinema superstardom.

In true Hollywood tradition, the movie takes huge liberties with the family's story. For instance, they did not flee on foot over the Alps to Switzerland -- hauling their luggage. They took a train out of Austria to Italy!

After leaving Europe, the real von Trapp family singers toured America in the early 1940s. They settled on a farm near Stowe, Vt., and in 1950 opened a lodge that caters to guests to this day.

It turns out all the children were talented. Some multi-talented. Maria herself was a watercolorist and the kids were musical, did fine carpentry, weaving and art.

Johanna was the sixth child from the Captain's first marriage; in all there would be 10 children.

Although her name is not listed in any of the standard art references -- making her an "unlisted artist" -- she was a talented painter of watercolors and this example is typical of her work.

Original pieces by Johanna seldom come to market, although print reproductions are plentiful. To the right buyer, this watercolor could be worth as much as $500.

Johanna died in 2007 at age 91. Three of her siblings, Eleonore, Johannes and Rosemarie, still are alive. Johannes, the youngest and now in his 70s, runs the Stowe lodge with his sons.

-- Terry Maurer, Tri-Cities personal property appraiser, is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What's It Worth? by e-mail to