Jim Beam Collectibles

What's the fascination with Jim Beam collectibles? Jim Beam Bourbon has been distilled since 1795 in Clermont, Kentucky. In order to be labeled bourbon, whiskey must be aged for at least two years in charred-oak barrels and at least 51% of the grain used has to be corn. While bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States, only distilleries that are located in Kentucky can include "Kentucky" on their labels. Bourbon does not age once it's bottled, as many wines do, so the flavor of bourbon bottled in 1951 would be the same as bourbon bottled in 2005. But what does that have to do with collectibles?

Jim Beam specialty bottles
In 1952 Jim Beam started a Specialty Bottles line of bourbon, where the whiskey was sold in nontraditional bottles. Bottles were made in both glass and ceramic. In 1955 the Beam Company and the Regal China Company in Illinois hooked up to produce the now famous Jim Beam ceramic bottles and decanters. Demand was such as the years passed that they created bottles specifically for large companies. They also started issuing a special bottle yearly during the Christmas season. After the Regal China Company went out of business in the late 1980s, Wade Ceramics took over production of Beam's ceramic bottles.

What kinds of bottles were produced?
The gamut ranged from quite attractive to rather bizarre, depending on your taste. The Ram, issued in 1957, and the Donkey and Elephant ashtrays/bottles from the 1956 Political Line, look quite stylized, at least to me. The Man-in-a-Barrel, made for Harold's Club during 1957-1958, is funny, featuring a man wearing a top hat, a tie, a barrel and a confused expression. The Emmet Kelly "Native Son" and "Willie the Clown," scare me, but I am not very fond of clowns.

How much are Jim Beam decanters worth?
As usual, it depends on the condition, the collector and the availability of the bottle. On the Jim Beam Club Web site, you can see decanters from the $40 range, such as the Oil Quart Bottle Decanters, as well as decanters costing up to $155, like the 1955 Jim Beam Corvette.

Where can you find Jim Beam decanters?
If you have the patience, you can try garage sales. Garage sales are great places for finds like these as they are generally only priced at $1 to $3 unless the person throwing the sale knows the value of the decanter and prices it accordingly. Another place to find these bottles is estate sales, which are usually listed separately from garage sales in your local paper. You may find some of the more expensive decanters at antique stores. eBay is also a good source, but be careful! Remember that you will want to pay for insurance if the bottle is truly valuable. Make sure that you check shipping costs. Some sellers put the initial bidding price very low, but jack up their shipping charges.

So, belly up to the bar and check out any Jim Beam collectible decanters that you might see!

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