It really is quite amazing what internet rabbit holes a bit of antiquing can lead you down. But first, a little background.
A little over a year ago, I was in Owatonna, Minnesota visiting an antique store. My wife and I were on a trek across southeast Minnesota to visit a few of these stores that she had found online. She normally has one or two items that she is looking for. Me? I wander around and try to see if there is anything whiskey related. I’ve found some cool things this way. Full, sealed bottles and decanters are always appreciated. On this trip though I found a mystery.
I was standing in line waiting for my wife to pay for a wooden box she had decided that she couldn’t live without. I was looking at the shelves nearest to the line when something caught my eye. I wandered over and saw a a bottle that was so dirty that it looked like it had been in an old basement for quite a while. The label was browned with age. There was a lead foil and twisted wire seal, though the actual closure had been lost to time. Something about it spoke to me though and I also ended up with something I couldn’t live without.
When I got it home, I started looking closer at it. What I initially took to be a hand-written label was actually printed. Which from a design standpoint is a horrible decision since it took me three tries with google to even figure out what all the letters in the brand name were. In fact it is the very difficulty of figuring out what this was that lead me down the rabbit holes mentioned above. The first thing I wanted to do was find out what this was. I could make out the words “Old” Something “Export Whiskey.” I tried a few different possibilities before I hit on the site Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men. There I learned the “something” was actually “Malvern” (which Wikipedia tells me may be Welsh for “bare-topped hill”). I also learned a bit about Sigmund Freiberg of Cincinnati, Ohio who’s signature is on both the front and back label. This site is still in my RSS feed and I read every article that comes out.
So now that I knew what it was and where it came from, I felt I needed to know when it came from. For that I started with what I saw. There was just the tiniest bit of a tax stamp which placed it after 1868 (based on this site on tax stamps). The glass was clear with just the slightest lavender tint in the thickest areas and there was an interesting scar on the bottom. This site on bottle dating tells me that clear bottles started after 1905 and that the chemical used to decolorize the glass used from 1905 to the early 1920s caused the lavender tint. Mine is only very faintly colored lavender leading me to believe that this bottle spent a lot of time in a cellar since sunlight will cause the glass to “purple.” The interesting scar on the bottom was a suction scar from the bottle making machine. Since this machine was not in widespread use until 1910 it probably came from after that time. And as there was no marking on the bottom other than the scar the bottle was probably from before 1919 when the company who made the bottle making machine decided to add it’s mark to the bottles it produced. The embossed volume measurement was mandated after 1913 with all bottles needing it after 1914.
So based on the previous two sites, I determined that the bottle was from somewhere between 1910 and 1919 with a distinct possibility of it being after 1913. So back to the Pre-pro site. There I learned that the business registered the Old Malvern was trademarked in 1911 and that the company who made it went out of business in 1918. This jives with what I learned from the bottle. So I am fairly confident that my bottle was sold somewhere between 1913 and 1918 and then stored in a cellar for a very long time. And based on this ad in the Toledo Medical and Surgical Reporter. I know that the whiskey inside it was “guaranteed 15 years old” and sold from $2 to $2.50.
Of course, I still don’t know how this bottle got to Southern Minnesota. So if you have any more info about this brand, how widely it was distributed, etc. please let me know in the comments below. I’m very curious.
In case you were curious here is the full text from the label:
This whiskey was aged in wood in the US Government bonded warehouses for many years and after being fully matured was shipped direct to us and bottled by us under strictly sanitary conditions. The Old Malvern Export Whiskey is of the highest quality and if the neck strip and wire seal on the neck of the bottle are intact we guarantee the quality under our own signature. None go (unreadable) without it.
Cincinati, Ohio Sigmund W. Freiberg
Dealers are cautioned not to refill this bottle. The sale of other whiskey under our label is a violation of the rights which we propose to protect by legal proceedings.
Sigmund W. Freiberg
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