I discovered this bottle for sale in Seattle, Washington. My knowledge of the various whiskies of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries has been growing extensively and yet this one eluded familiarity. I’d heard of “Christopher’s” from old bottles I’d seen from the 1960’s (namely “Christopher’s Select”, already very rare—especially in the United States) but had never seen this particular edition before. And of course, the road of investigation revealed that very little is known about this whisky—making it an extremely rare and wonderful find! I have gone so far as to contact and speak with descendants, former workers, and archivists of the various companies that have bought and sold Christopher & Sons, Leeds Imports, or John J. Miner & Sons. The following are some are the most significant clues from my research which inform accurate distilling and bottling dates for this particular edition and provide the most precise basis for its valuation:
THE ASSOCIATED COMPANIES:
1) To begin, as was stated in the introduction, this particular edition has three distinct companies iterated on the label—Christopher & Co. (London), Leeds Imports Corporation (Philadelphia), and John J. Miner & Sons Limited (New York). We’ll consider all three in order.
2) Christopher & Co., LTD.
- Christopher & Co. was not a distillery. It was a wine merchant company and famed as the oldest wine merchant in London. I managed to locate and correspond with Charles Crawford, a retired wine merchant at the time of this particular investigation. He expressed that he worked for a short time in the Jermyn Street office in the early 1970’s. Though having no knowledge of the company’s whisky endeavors, he expressed that the whisky inside would most likely have been produced by a major distillery and then bottled exclusively for or by Christopher & Co.
- As stated above, Christopher & Co. is reputed to be the oldest of its kind in London, and with this, it was difficult to pinpoint exactly when it began, though various documents have been located, all of which provide generous clues that point to one man: George Christopher (1779-1861), the son of William Christopher (1734-1797) and Ann Christopher, nee Tatham (1743-1784). William was a captain in the Hudson Bay Service of the Royal Navy. His wife, Ann, was a notable woman of fashion and well beloved. George Christopher is noted in the July 22, 1819 edition of the London Times as a wine merchant located on Great Coram Street. The Post Office Directory of 1829 records that Christopher was a wine merchant with a shop at 41 Great Ormond St, Holborn. The Spectator, which is a weekly British conservative magazine first published in 1828, indicates that on Friday, October 3, 1845 the wine merchant “Christopher & Mackinlay” of Great Coram Street dissolved its partnership. Following this, there is noted evidence that Christopher & Co. advertised in the London Gazette in the mid 1850s. William Tatham, (born in 1834, the son of Meaburn Tathum who is the son of Ralph Tathum who is the brother of Ann Tathum—George Christopher’s wife) is registered in the Saxon History as being the Wine Merchant at 43 Pall Mall, also called “Christopher & Co.” in 1851. However, another official public query dated January 6, 1912 offers the following regarding the Pall Mall address: “…Joseph Calkin, booksellers to the King, to build the house 118 (which has always been so numbered). It is therefore not without its irony that the house of Bvidd, imprisoned in 1810 in the name of the Army, should fall into the hands of an Army club a century later. I may note that the firm, on moving to 118, Pall Mall, became Calkin & Budd names that seem to come straight out of Dickens. These booksellers were followed during the fifties by the St. George Life and Title Assurance Company, which in turn was succeeded in 1863 by the old firm of wine merchants, Christopher & Co. It started in Mile End and was long established in Great Coram Street: it has now moved to 43, Pall Mall.” George Allen Ralph Tatham is listed in the Saxon History record as the Director of Christopher & Co. from 1893 until 1915. The record actually reads that George returned to London after a time in Germany in order to help his uncle William Tatham in the “old family business, Christopher and Co. in 1884, and becoming director in 1893. He retired through ill health in 1915.” British Commonwealth archives record that Christopher & Co. was owned and operated at the 94, Jermyn Street address in the early part of the 20th Century, first by Harold John Henry Irish until the early 1950’s and then by Anthony Jamieson Haggie until the early 1970’s.
- Christopher & Co. apparently disappeared sometime after 1985 but before 1998. Richard Mayson, a rather well known English wine writer, helped to narrow the scope when he mentioned its disappearance during this time in his blog. However, more precisely does the United Kingdom Trademark Office list the last filing date for Christopher & Co. as 31 October AD 1979—with the Progress Stopped date of 8 May A.D. 1989 at the Ormond Road address. Specifically, Christopher & Co. appears to have had a maximum of two office locations over the years while being owned by Scottish and Newcastle, Waverly, Michael Clark, and Heineken. I have contacted each of the company archivists. All have responded expressing apologies that no archival information exists on file for Christopher & Co.
- I contacted the Royal Warrant Holders Association and received word from the Assistant Secretary, Pippa Dutton, that their archives are incomplete prior to 1907. In a follow-up noteon August 24, 2012, she sent me a copy of entry records from the Registry of Warrant Holders (images provided) which show that the royal warrant was indeed appointed to Christopher & Co. in 1902 (and although it doesn’t state it specifically on the document, would have been by Edward VII, since Queen
Victoria died in 1901). The documents do record precisely that the warrant was
re-appointed on January 22, 1911 by George V. The warrant was cancelled July
23, 1940 only to be re-appointed that same day by George VI. Finally, the
documents show that the warrant was re-appointed by Queen Elizabeth on July 15,
- Additional Notes of Relevance with regard to business locales and the London Gazette:
The mid-19thcentury saw an extreme overcrowding of the Mile End region, bringing about riots and civil unrest, and eventually a long-standing poverty that caused many women to pursue prostitution. It was in this region of East London that Jack the Ripper struck—namely, the Whitechapel district. It would seem probable that, in order to preserve itself for long-term success, Christopher & Co. would move from such a location to a more secure location with better clientele. So, the record stands that Great Coram Street, Pall Mall, and Jermyn Street were future residences during and immediately following this time.
Additionally, the London Gazette didn’t have an advertisement agency until 1812, and at that same time, the paper itself was by subscription and delivered by post only—not sold to the general public. This, again, suggests a higher class level of clientele.
3) Leeds Imports
- In a 2001 article in the New York Times written by R.W. Apple, Jr., Daniel Haas of Vineyard Brands is quoted as crediting the startup of Leeds Imports to his grandfather, Sydney Haas.
- Sydney Haas was the nephew of Morris Lehmann who in the early 1900’s founded a gourmet butcher shop and grocery store on Park Avenue called M. Lehmann’s. The shop sold a small selection of spirits. Sydney took over the business in 1929 when Morris’ health started to fail.
- Morris was considered a “clean” businessman in New York because he refused to bootleg during the prohibition. With this, because he was without a liquor license, he no longer carried spirits of any kind. However, in 1929, after taking over for his uncle, Sydney applied for a special liquor license and at the end of Prohibition (1933) began to work toward importing spirits. It appears that Leeds Imports was begun at this time because the Sherry Wine and Spirits Company (started in 1934) is immediately noted as an “imports competitor” to M. Lehman’s.
- Sherry Wine and Spirits purchased M. Lehmann’s in 1965 and the name was changed to Sherry-Lehmann. Leeds Imports was closed and assumed into the Sherry-Lehmann group.
4) John J. Miner & Sons
- Very little exists on John J. Miner & Sons. I did uncover one particular document which stated that a John J. (Jay) Miner, born in 1887 and died in 1958 was a “distributor” in New York.
- John J. (Jay) Miner had three children, two of which were sons—Albert (1917-1937) and William (dates unknown). William married Sandra and had two children—Douglas and Linda, suggesting he lived much longer than his brother, Albert, who died at age 20.
- After all of the records searched, I am quite comfortable in asserting that John Jay Miner is the owner of John J. Miner & Sons. The “Sons” part of this business would only have been possible after 1917-18, assuming that William was born no less than nine months after Albert.
- Lastly, Trademark records for New York list “Miner Distibutors” as “no progress” in 1946, indicating its closure.
THE BOTTLE AND CAP:
5) This bottle of whisky was clearly imported into the United States from the United Kingdom. It has the Federal mark embossed into the glass which states “Federal Law Forbids Sale or Reuse of this Bottle.” It is important to note that following the repeal of the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) in 1933, particular regulations were put into place. The federal mark was required for every bottle produced in the United States between 1935 and 1964. The law requiring this embossing was repealed in 1964 and thus no bottle found thereafter has the mark. This bottle could only have been made and sold between 1935 and 1964.
6) Particular characteristics of the bottle itself indicate that it was machine made. If machine made, the bottle could not have been made prior to 1905. The principal indicators for a “machine-made” determination are as follows: 1) The vertical seams run from base to the top of the neck. These seams exist as a result of the parison and blow molds coming together in an Owens-style machine. 2) A suction scar is clearly visible on the base of the bottle. Suction scars NEVER exist on mouth-blown bottles (pre-1905). 3) Machine made bottles rarely have bubbles in the glass and are more uniform in the thickness of the glass. This bottle has no bubbles in the glass and the bottle is uniformly made. 4) Finally, the bottle is marked on its base with “KX145”. If a glassmaker’s specialized symbol or mark wasn’t specifically embossed somewhere on the bottle and all that was present was a number, then it is a mold number and it will be relatively impossible to track down which bottle company made it. However, the presence of these numbers also confirms that the bottle was most likely machine-made after 1920.
7) The bottle cap is very important because it offers a clue as to the particular clientele. The bottle is sealed with a cork rather than the popular Kork-N-Seal cap. This is significant for the following reasons: 1) The Kork-N-Seal cap was in use from as early as 1911 and continuing until the mid-1960s. The most popular period for this closure’s use for mass-produced liquor products (and the most likely date range for a bottle with it) was from the mid 1910s to the 1940s. It was a very reliable capping mechanism, and yet it was extremely cheap. The higher classed whisky companies rarely used them except for their lower-end editions, for which they also utilized twist-capping (which still exists as a preferred bottling cap today). This bottle has a cork, not a Kork-N-Seal or twist cap. In this pre-60s time frame, this bottle would have been a little higher up the shelf.
8) The bottle does not have a Liquor Control Commission tax stamp unique to a particular State. It does have a red seal-strip tax stamp (“U.S. Internal Revenue Tax Paid – U.S. Internal Revenue Distilled Spirits”) with the Leeds Imports title and a license number, which means the import tax was paid by and the stamp issued to Leeds Imports in New York. Federal tax seals of this nature were used on liquor bottles until 1984.The words “Tax Paid” were used on the labels only until 1982, and then were replaced by the word “Distilled.” This bottle pre-dates 1982 in that it reads “Tax Paid”. Additionally, in 1945 the stamp was changed to include the word “SERIES” just to the left of the eagle, and “111” just to its right.
ADDITIONAL LABEL MARKINGS:
9) On the label, the image of the Old Pall Mall shop is prominent. Additionally, the “43 Pall Mall” address is parenthetically listed below the Jermyn Street address. This is reconcilable to the information provided above regarding the various business addresses for Christopher & Co.
10) The paper label indicates the holding of the Royal Warrant. A company is only allowed to place the royal emblem on a product if the Royal Warrant has been issued. This only happens for proprietors of the highest quality who become product suppliers to the Royal family. The emblem itself will be an indicator as to which royal family member has given the warrant as there are different royal emblems for different royals (i.e., the duke, the prince, the king). The appointment noted on this label is clear enough: “By Appointment Wine Merchants to His Majesty the King.” Based on the time frames presented thus far, it must be noted that the king referenced here can only be one of two kings that follow: 1) George V, an extremely beloved king who took the throne in 1910 and died in 1936. 2) George VI (another beloved king who ruled during WWII) who took the throne after his brother Edward abdicated in order to marry a commoner. FYI—George VI is the king portrayed in the movie “The King’s Speech”. George VI died in 1952. He was followed by Elizabeth II.
11) The content of the bottle is a 12-year-old blend produced exclusively for Christopher & Co. So what does this mean?
- The only Scotch whisky distilleries that I located on record as having had a relationship with Christopher & Co. are The Macallan and The Glenlivet. (See the images of particular sample bottlings.) It is rumored that Buchanan’s provided blends to Christopher & Co. for “Christopher’s Select” but I wasn’t able to substantiate the claim.
- Blended whiskies were by far the most popular whiskies sold until the 1960’s when single malts began to take a more prominent place on the consumer stage. Merchants such as Christopher & Co. would have purchased whisky stock from a distiller, bottled it under their own label, and sold it.
- The Macallan and The Glenlivet were among the most extremely sought after products because of their swiftly growing reputations as finer whiskies.
- Technically, the purchasing merchant would have paid to have the whisky blended and bottled by the actual distillery even though the label claims “bottled by…” The obvious limit to the exclusivity here is that the merchant could lay claim to the bottling but not the whisky inside.
- So how do you tell which distillery Christopher & Co. paid to make and bottle its whisky? The best way to tell is by the glass bottle itself. In fact, that’s one way that both the merchant and the distillery could flaunt their whisky. Just by looking at the bottle, someone versed in whisky, would be able to tell which distillery produced the blend inside.
- When making a comparison between the bottles of this time, it is clear that The Macallan is the whisky distiller. The Christopher’s bottle here and the sample edition of The Macallan bottled by Christopher & Co. for Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee are exactly the same. I am certain that The Macallan distillery provided both the bottle and the whisky inside.
DATING THE BOTTLE:
Based on the above evidence (and as sequenced in the summary timeline image provided here), this particular bottle was most likely bottled in 1945, which means that the whisky inside was distilled by The Macallan in 1933—right at the end of Prohibition.
I currently have this bottle listed for sale on eBay.