A Whisky Time Capsule

A look at trade publications dating from 1893.

A Whisky Time Capsule

Trade magazines and price lists are a familiar sight, generally a dozen or so are piled in a corner at the back of your office gathering dust atop their glossy covers. What happens if they are left there for over a hundred years?

Our June 2020 miniatures and memorabilia auction features a time capsule of five documents from the late 19th to early 20th century.

The seller and her father were both in the drinks business, and these documents were discovered stored among stock from wine merchant and distiller William Pulling & Co. ‘My father worked in the wine trade for years, and these were in his garage for at least 25 years’, the seller told us.

William Pulling & Co wine merchants and distillers was acquired by Tanners 1978 but Pulling’s, which dated from 1813, had been in the same premises since 1917 and could trace its origins as a cider merchant back to 1760.

I had the opportunity to read through each of the lots and here are some of my favourite extracts:

 

 

First up, a two-page pamphlet titled Shives, Taps, Spiles. While it may sound as dull as a guest publication from satirical panel show Have I Got News For You, I particularly enjoyed the charming language. Spinks specialised in wooden products for the brewery and distilling trade, and the founder promises ‘the favour of your orders will be esteemed, and will receive my most careful and prompt attention’. He is, ‘yours obediently’, Charles Spinks.

 

 

Next we have a Wine & Spirit Circular from Leakey & Haig, dated February 1893. The opening passage, titled The Situation, lays out how exchange rates and public consumption is to affect the prices for the coming year (Ports are falling in price but Champagne increasing). Price lists for standard Clarets in Bottle, Sauternes and Burgundies are shown alongside more unusual offerings such as Algerian Claret, Opossum and Gum Tree Brand Australian Wine and Tarragona Ports. 1878 Chateau Lynch-Bages is available at 40 Shillings per dozen, and a hogshead of Sauternes now commands north of £4.

 

 

Now for us whisky fans, this next piece is enough to make your mouth water. William Foulds List of Old Scotch Whiskies is an insight in whisky brokering in 1893. As owner of Glenfyne distillery (established 1831, closed 1937), Foulds was keen to promote his own distillate on the front page, promising to sell for the ‘same price as last season’. Inside, we see tables of Foulds’ available casks from some of Scotch whisky’s most lauded distilleries. Second fill hogsheads and barrels of Bowmore 1881, warehoused in Paisley; Talisker 1884, maturing in five sherry hogsheads at the distillery; a whole range of whisky from Port Ellen distilled in 1882, 1883 and 1884 and maturing in brandy, Marsala and sherry casks. Then we have the long closed distilleries such as Auchtertool, Bankier, Dalaruan, Gleniffer and Provanmill.

The last page features Foulds’ blends, and here, those of us who see a lot of old bottles will notice some familiar gradings of quality, from the generic ‘Scotch’, through ‘Fine Old Highland’ and up to ‘Special Liqueur Whiskies’. None of these were legal requirements but the different price points for each of these gradings suggest that consumers were already being made aware of the difference in quality in the late 1800s.

 

 

As thick as a newspaper, The Whiskey Trade Review, Dublin, 17 February 1893, is a goldmine of old adverts for distilleries, suppliers and brokers, some familiar, some less so, some still operating, but many long since closed down. Alongside the adverts we have obituaries, investment advice, industry news, parliamentary notes, and several articles including ‘An Erroneous Idea Regarding Quality of Irish Whiskey’, and ‘ A Description of a Californian Vineyard’.

The front page features an advert for the now infamous Pattison, Elder & Co. for its Scotch & Irish Whiskies. The company went from strength to strength during the whisky boom at the end of the 19th century and acquired interests in Glenfarclas and Oban distilleries among others. The founding brothers invested large amounts in advertising, but relied heavily on credit while enjoying luxury lifestyles. Eventually, overproduction of whisky led to a downturn which led to a crash in 1898. By then, the Pattisons owed their creditors almost a quarter of a million pounds. Both were charged with fraud and embezzlement and received prison sentences.

 

 

Last, but by no means least, we have The Citizens Atlas Of The World, with compliments from Dailuaine-Talisker Distilleries Limited. Dailuaine-Talisker Limited helped produce this atlas as a form of advertisement and it is fascinating to see the photographs, around 100 years old, of Dailuaine, Talisker and Imperial distilleries, as well as the company’s central Glenlivet Bonds in Strathspey. Dating from around the end of World War I, the borders of Europe are of course different to what we know today. Austria-Hungary is one country, the Balkans look completely different, and Poland is non-existent. A snapshot of a pivotal time in history, with an unusual Scotch whisky connection.