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Antiquing and bottle dating: Old Quaker and Hayner Whiskey

Posted on by Eric Burke

I’ve been sick. Like go on vacation, ride in an airplane, get the flu and have it turn into pneumonia sick. As such, I’ve had no tastebuds to do tastings for the last few weeks. But last weekend, after a few days of antibiotics, I was feeling better. And I was sick of being in the house. So what to do when you finally feel good enough to leave the house, but still sound like you’re dying? 

Go antiquing and scare some old folks into think they will catch their death from you. And when I say antiquing, I obviously really mean go buy old whiskey advertisements and bottles…sadly mostly empty. 

But it isn’t just the liquor inside that I would want in any case. I really like old bottles and advertising. Someday, I’ll have a good place to display them all. But for now, I love discovering the stories behind these bottles or memorabilia. Discover a little about who made them and when they did it. Dating a bottle is a puzzle. One that isn’t always easily solved. Or at least as completely solved as we might like.

And as I still have no tastebuds for tasting, I’ll be breaking this up into a few posts until I get them back, and then I’ll throw one in here or there as well just to keep things interesting. 

Old Quaker Bottle: $3

Picked up at an antique mall in Southern Minnesota.

So here’s the thing, the type of antique stores I favor can’t always be trusted to tell you the age of the thing you are buying. Not that they are lying or anything, but often they just don’t tell you. Some dude rents a shelf and fills it up with things that might be really old…or just from a few years ago. In this case, there was just a bottle on a shelf with a price on it. Knowing that the Old Quaker brand was around both pre- and post-Prohibition means that at best I have something quite old and at worst I have something a little older than me. Either way I liked the look of the bottle and it was only three bucks. 

Ok so what do I have here? This is a colorless glass bottle embossed with the name Old Quaker, an image of an old man in a hat and a couple bundles of grain under that. The bottle looks to have had a cork closure. There is still a dried up cork in the bottom of the bottle, but even if that was a latter addition the top looks similar to other cork closure bottles I’ve run across. Obviously this was, at some point, filled with Old Quaker – a brand owned by Schenley for many years. (Schenley being one of the companies that went on to be acquired by companies that merged to become Diageo.) But at what point was is filed with Old Quaker? That it the question I’m most interested in. 

Looking at the front of the bottle, you get your first clue as to the age of this bottle. Right across the shoulder is the statement: “FEDERAL LAW FORBIDS SALE OR RE-USE OF THIS BOTTLE.” This was mandated to be on every liquor bottle from the end of Prohibition until 1964. So we have a range of of about 30 years to play with, somewhere between 52 and 82 years ago. After that things get a little less obvious and Google becomes my best friend. 

After doing a bit of searching online, I found a very nice article from 2010 that detailed how a group of bottle daters determined who made a certain Old Quaker Bottle. Reading some of their notes, I determined where the date code on the bottle should be. It looks like it is a 6 which means that this particular bottle should be from 1936 as they didn’t think about using 2 digit date codes until they realized that if they didn’t, they would need to repeat them in 10 years. That was at some point in the early 1940s. And though apparently some companies slipped in a single digit through the mid 40s, it was apparently unusual enough that I’m just going to go with 1936 on this bottle. Pretty cool and it was well worth the $3 to me since it’ll look very nice on the shelf once I get it cleaned up.

Two Hayner Whiskey Bottles: $12 & $5

Picked up at an antique mall in Southern Minnesota.

The Hayner Distilling company was a mail-order whiskey company in business from 1866 until 1920 when Prohibition forced them out of business. They operated out of Ohio but had branch offices around the country including ones in St. Louis, MO, St. Paul, MN and Atlanta, GA. From what I can gather even though they went out of business almost 100 years ago, Hayner bottles are pretty common due to both the increasing number of states that were going dry during their heyday and from the very attractive price their whiskey was sold for (I’ve seen an advertisement for four quarts of 7 year old rye whiskey for $3.20 postage-paid). The Hayner business took a big hit in 1913 when the Federal government passed the Webb-Kenyon Act which prohibited the shipment of liquor to dry states from wet ones. 

Both of these bottles are made of very slightly purple glass with a fluted neck and embossing on both the body and the base of the bottles. The base of each states: “Design patented Nov 30th 1897.” As seen above.

The two bottles I bought are a bit different from one another. Even though these are both likely to be mouth blown bottles, one looks as if it had a much more refined mold used to create it as the type on both the body and the base is crisp with more flourishes. Evidence of a more refined mold continues on the neck where the flutes end in nice crisp rounded edges. The first bottle reads “Hayner Whiskey Distillery Troy, Ohio.”

The second bottle reads “The Hayner Distilling Co. Dayton St. Louis Atlanta St. Paul Distillers.” The flutes just sort of fade out and the typefaces on both the body and the base have no flourishes. The second bottle does have a cork still stuck in the neck so I’m going to assume that both of these used a cork closure.

Because the bottles state that the design was patented in 1897 I’m going to assume they are younger than that and since the company was out of business by 1920 that is our end date. According to the Society of Historical Archaeology most of these bottles date from 1905 to 1917 and that will have to be close enough for me. 

Due to the sheer number of these bottles, I didn’t really have to do any dating on these myself. There are quite a few pages that detail the history of the company and their bottles including a history of the company by Cecil Munsey, a site where the Society of Historical Archaeology details their bottles as an example on a “How-to-date-your-bottle” page (it’s about halfway down), Pre-Pro.com has a company history and a lot of examples of company bottles and advertisements, Bottlepickers.com has another illustrated history, and there is even the page of a Hayner museum in Troy, OH that I totally plan to visit if I am ever in the area.

I spent $20 on these three bottles and got much more than that in enjoyment so I’m completely happy with the purchase.


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