Update as of 4 May A.D. 2016: Over the past few years, I have been receiving an inordinate, and often inconsiderately expectant, amount of requests for valuations from people who have a bottle of whisky in their possession that they believe is of value. Please, feel free to use the information I have here as you need it, but do not request a valuation and expect a speedy response. I’m a really busy guy, and as much as I love investigating this stuff (and maintaining a certain level of expertise), I just don’t have the time to tend immediately to every request. I’ll help if I can, but only when I can get around to it. By the way, please contact me through the “Contact” page and not by leaving a comment here.
If you are reading this little parenthetical note, then I still have this whisky and I welcome discussion regarding giving it a new home. The same goes for the 1930 Ballantine’s Scotch Pure Liqueur Whisky pictured in this investigation.
The following are significant clues from my research which serve to inform more accurate distilling and bottling dates for this particular edition and provide the most precise basis for its valuation:
THE ASSOCIATED COMPANIES AND DISTILLERIES:
1. To begin, although Ballantine’s touts its beginnings as that of 1827, technically it began as a grocer. The company did not venture into scotch whisky production or sale until 1865 when George Ballantine’s eldest son, Archibald, decided to open a larger grocer in Glasgow. It was there that the Ballantine’s whisky endeavors began. Its reputation as a higher class, blended whisky earned it a favorable reputation and caught the attention of the corporate distillers. It was a wholly owned family business until 1919 when the company was sold to Barclay and McKinlay. Barclay and McKinlay focused heavily on the emerging Scotch whisky market and furthered the brand’s reputation, eventually selling it in 1935 to Hiram Walker, a Canadian distilling company with much more international sales and marketing muscle. It was Hirm Walker that truly established the brand internationally and secured it for the future success it now enjoys. Hiram Walker did eventually sell Ballantine’s to Pernod Ricard in 2005.
2. Ballantine’s is a blended scotch, which means it is made from a variety of single malts. According to Ballantine’s, each blend is comprised of no less than a precise combination of 50 editions. In 1936, the year after Hiram Walker acquired Ballantine’s, the Speyside distilleries of Miltonduff (established in 1824) and Glenburgie (established in 1810) were purchased to meet the ever-increasing demand for Ballantine’s whiskies and to supply the distinct malts used to create the blends. Miltonduff and Glenburgie were supplied by company owned grain distilleries in Dumbarton and Elgin. Many if not most single malt scotches are named for the distilleries from which they are produced, however, in the case of blends, a brand name is most often given. In the case of Ballantine’s, it is the name of the founder; however, the granaries rather than the single malt distilleries are mentioned on the label.
ASCRIBING A DATE TO THE BOTTLE
3. This particular edition is a Ballantine’s 30 Year Old blended scotch whisky. The first edition of the 30 Year Old was not bottled for sale until 1930.
4. Even though it began as a grocer in 1827, Ballantine’s holds to that same date with regard to the beginning of its whisky. Much can be deduced from this. As seen in the photo “Ballantine’s 1930” of a bottle of Ballantine’s Finest from 1930 (which I currently own), the label includes the subtitle “IN USE FOR OVER 100 YEARS—ESTABLISHED 1827”. This particular subtitle is a helpful clue provided by Ballantine’s toward providing accurate dating for later editions. For example, beginning in 1952, it should be noted that this subtitle was changed to “IN USE FOR OVER 125 YEARS” and then again in 1962 it was changed to read “IN USE FOR OVER 135 YEARS”, all of these keeping with the 1827 inception date. (See also photo “17 and 30 – 1963”.) Because this particular edition is marked with the subtitle “IN USE FOR OVER 125 YEARS”, it must be concluded that this particular edition was bottled sometime between 1952 and 1961, making its distillation date sometime between 1922 and 1931.
4. Another interesting clue is found in the use of the word “Liqueur” offered in the titles printed on the various Ballantine’s editions. The word “Liqueur” was used consistently by Ballantine’s to describe its whisky until 1963, whether found printed as “Scotch Pure Liqueur Whisky” or “Liqueur Blended Scotch Whisky”. In 1964, the word disappears from all labeling. (Please see the sample advertisement in photo “Ad 1964.”)
5. Ballantine’s began wrapping all of their editions in tissue paper sacks. The 1930s “Ballantine’s Finest” shown above is packaged in a tissue paper sack. Although I have inquired of Ballantine’s as to how long the company did this, no one seems to know. I did receive an extremely helpful word from a fellow collector who contacted me through my blog to notify me that he retains an unopened edition of the 30-year from 1955 and an unopened edition of the 21-year from 1957, both purchased in New York City and imported by “21 Brands, Inc.” (New York, NY). The 30-year was packaged in a tissue paper bag with a tie string while the 21-year is packaged in a similar box and yet is packaged without the bag. Now bear in mind that the tissue paper bags were used for all of the Ballantine’s editions. This leaves the impression that there would be no variations in the editions being bagged, and therefore, the absence of the bag for the 21-year edition from 1957 suggests a high probability that the tissue paper bag disappeared from Ballantine’s packaging process in or around 1956.
6. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicines (Institute of Hygiene) was given an official Royal Charter in 1929. However, it was founded by the physician Patrick Manson near the London Docks in 1899 in response to his frustration with the various tropical diseases affecting so many British citizens returning from the various reaches of the United Kingdom. With the beginning of this endeavor came the rising awareness and concern with regard to the hygienic processes used by various food and drink industries. One of the only mass produced whiskies to invest heavily into the concern, Ballantine’s began placing registered certificates from the Institute of Hygiene on its various editions. Not only did this assuage the average consumers concern, but it helped to add to Ballantine’s reputation as a whisky maker of exceptional quality and showed a careful precision in the manufacturing of its entire line. (Please see the photo entitled “ballantines 1930 hygiene”. It is a photo of the certificate on the back of the 1930 edition in my possession.) This effort of touting its superb hygienic continued in various forms and notations on all of the Ballantine’s labels until 1980. (See the photo entitled “various hygiene”.) The reverse label for this 30 year old edition retains a label which reads: “It is the product of Scotland’s premier Distilleries and every cask is thoroughly examined before being bottled under the most hygienic conditions.”
THE BOTTLE AND CAP:
8. This bottle of whisky would appear at first to have been purchased in the United Kingdom since it does not have a label indicating the U.S. import company “21 Brands, Inc.” which was contracted by Hiram Walker in 1935 to be the sole importer and distributor for the brand. However, this bottle does have 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 and/or imported for sale 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 was produced in Scotland and then purchased in the United States sometime before 1964.
9. Particular characteristics of the bottle itself indicate that it was machine made. If machine made, the bottle cannot be dated any earlier than 1905. The principal indicators for a “machine-made” determination are as follows: A) 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. B) A slight suction scar with some “shadowing” of the words is visible on the base of the bottle. Suction scars NEVER exist on mouth-blown bottles (pre-1905). C) 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. D) Finally, the bottle is marked on its base with “S692 Bottle Made in Scotland UGB” and these words are encircled by “Geo Ballantine & Son Ltd Glasgow Scotland”. 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, this bottle has a lot of information, all indicating that Ballantine’s produced (or purchased through a proprietary bottler) the bottle in Scotland and it was most likely machine-made after 1920.
10. The bottle cap is very important because it offers several clues. This edition does not use a screw cap. This edition has a cork which needs to be removed using a cork screw (and an extra cork cap to be used once the wine-style cork is removed). Even though Ballantine’s employed a screw cap for most of its blends, it would appear that Ballantine’s premium blends retained corked capping until at least 1964 when Ballantine’s did eventually switch to a screw cap for the 30-Year line in 1965 (and I’m not sure how they managed to do this and still retain the higher class nature of the 30 Year Old edition against the criticism of many scotch connoisseurs). The reason for the change appears to be that it was becoming more widely accepted that screw caps retained the quality of a beverage for much longer than the typical cork and also helped to prevent unwanted evaporation. The edition presented here does have some evaporation.
As was hinted to parenthetically, the fact that the 30-year was corked suggested a particular clientele. The Kork-N-Seal cap was the most popular of the time (common to Buchanan’s, White Horse, and many other mainline scotches). 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. It was a very reliable capping mechanism, and it was also extremely cheap. The higher classed whisky companies only used them for their lower-end editions, for which some also utilized twist-capping (which still exists as a preferred bottling cap today). Of the two capping processes, Ballantine’s chose to use the twist cap for its “Ballantine’s Finest” and the later 12-year edition, but it chose the expense of using corks for their 17, 21, and 30-year editions. Thusly, in this assumed pre-60s time frame in which we find ourselves, it was expected that the 30-Year Ballantine’s would have been higher up the shelf. Being the top of Ballantine’s line, it was a finer blend and, relatively speaking, would have cost a pretty penny—just as it does today at its current $395.
ADDITIONAL LABEL MARKINGS:
11. The paper label indicates the holding of the Royal Warrant but does not display it. 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 to match the warrant 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). It should be noted that Ballatine’s received the Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria in 1895 and it has been renewed by each ruling monarch since. Additionally it should be noted that in 1937 Ballantine’s received its Grant of Heraldic Arms (which is the actual image used on each edition), which is not easily attained, but nevertheless in my opinion is simply a royal acknowledgement that the coat of arms image it had been using on its label for so long was now “official” and would be considered an “incorporation noble on the Noblesse of Scotland.”
DATING THE BOTTLE:
12. In conclusion, please see the summary timeline image for the valuation. Based on the above evidence, this particular bottle was most likely bottled between 1952 and 1956, which means that the whisky inside was distilled between 1922 and 1926.