Whiskey: An American Pictorial History by Oscar Getz

A while back, I wrote a post about the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History in Bardstown, KY. In doing research for that post, I stumbled upon the information that Mr. Getz, aside from being an avid collector of whiskey historical memorabilia, also wrote a book on whiskey history as well. 

Having stumbled upon that information just as the the monthly patron donations hit, I immediately decided to use that month’s proceeds to purchase the book should I be able to find it. It turns out that it I didn’t have to look too hard. Though the book is long out of print, there are plenty of used copies for sale on the Amazon Marketplace. And so, not knowing exactly what I would get, I placed the order and waited.

Whiskey: An American Pictorial History

by Oscar Getz

Based upon the title, I expected this book to be made up almost entirely of pictures. I expected that most of those pictures would be from Mr. Getz’s collection, the seed of the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History in Bardstown, KY. I half expected that most of the images would be of things I remembered seeing from the museum.

I was both right and wrong. There are images of items that I’ve seen in the museum and many of the images are of items from Mr. Getz’s collection. But contrary to my expectations this book is not as image heavy as the title would lead you to believe. Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of images, but many, if not most, of them are images of documents. Within it’s pages are an amazing collection of letters, laws, newspaper pages, liquor licenses and advertisements from Colonial times through the mid-1970s. 

Like other books on American whiskey history, this one starts with the pilgrims, retelling legends that in many of us learned in elementary school. It talks about the intertwined nature of taverns, liquor and the early United States. It touches on George Washington, Hamilton, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Civil War before ending it’s narrative with Prohibition. 

But though it hits all the same notes as many other books, I found this book to be interesting for the parts it includes that many others don’t. There is a chapter on Abraham Lincoln and his tavern. There is a chapter on mail-order whiskey marketing. And the book ends with a chapter on a subject that reads as a personal one for Mr. Getz, the economic and social contributions of the liquor industry. 

This final chapter details a history of charitable contributions, the many ways that states used their liquor tax revenue in the 1970s and a plea that the distilling industry devote itself to helping end teenage consumption as well as drinking and driving. Though this chapter was not written as a history, almost forty years on, it provides some interesting insights. 

Overall if you happen to see this book somewhere, I’d recommend picking it up. Though the text can be dry and hard to read at times, the information and documents contained in it’s pages are worth the effort.

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