Ever since decanters hit the market on a large scale in the late 1960's and 1970's, the "gospel" on collecting decanters has been: "don't break the seal-it'll affect the value, or even make the decanter worthless". As a result of this, many collectors have paid up to 50 times or more of the actual worth of the contents (sometimes many times the worth of the decanter) for a "full decanter with an unbroken seal".

Have you ever wondered why decanters came about to begin with and why they are not manufactured in any quantity today? If the powers-that-be at distilleries are truthful with you, the answers to these questions are: a) to get rid of a large surplus of bourbon and b) we don't have to.

Yes, the introduction of decanters was primarily a marketing ploy to move excess bourbon. Somewhere along the way-probably at the wholesale and/or retail level-liquor dealers figured out that if collectors were told to leave a decanter full, they would be able to sell the collector more liquor when he got "thirsty"! We've noticed (never really researched it) that at least two distillers who made decanters-Wild Turkey and Old Crow-are not to blame for this. Quoting from the hangtag that came from the first eight (1971-1978) Wild Turkey decanters: "Our fervent wish is that you will enjoy this unusually fine whiskey and cherish the ceramic decanter as a keepsake". A similar hangtag came with the 1974 Old Crow decanter.

The few decanters being made today (mostly glass commemoratives) are designed to be filled on a regular bottling line. Demand for bourbon-mainly overseas-is such that distilleries cannot afford the additional time and labor to fill bottles not adaptable to their bottling line. From a business standpoint, why would any distillery go to the trouble of manufacturing, marketing, and hand-filling decanters in order to sell the same product they can't bottle fast enough on a high-speed line?

Many decanters made in the 1980's and early 1990's never saw the inside of a distillery! Many Jim Beam cars, for example, were made specifically for collectors' conventions. Collectors did not want to pay many times the value of the bourbon for the decanter to be sent from Regal China in Illinois to Kentucky for bottling and then to the convention site-proof they were interested only in the decanter and not the contents. We find it amusing when people tell us they have these decanters full-or won't purchase them unless full-when none of them were ever filled!

Which brings us to fraud-or the "second conning of the collector" (remember the first?--"leave decanters full"). When people refer to an "unbroken seal" they are referring to the red and white tax stamp affixed across the stopper and bottom of the bottle. Some distillers, on a relatively small number of decanters, used more elaborate sealing such as shrink plastic or wax. Whereas those are more difficult to counterfeit, it is very easy to apply a new, or even used, unbroken tax stamp to make a decanter look like it's never been opened. We've actually emptied a few decanters out of collections we've bought that were full of water! Even to an experienced eye, there was little or no sign of tampering. The only way to be certain a full decanter hasn't been tampered with is to have bought it from a liquor store right after it was released. The more someone is willing to pay for a full decanter as opposed to an empty one, the more likely it becomes that someone will try to refill one. Caveat emptor!

An increasingly large percentage of those looking for decanters place little if any value on the contents. Most of them don't even drink alcoholic beverages! They are interested in the decanter only because of what it depicts. If this weren't so, we (selling only empty decanters) would not be in business.

So now you know...the rest of the story.


In dealing with decanters nearly three decades, we have constantly encountered a myth which is simply not true. Many people (most of whom are in the liquor business-i.e. liquor store owners, wholesalers) have told collectors that a decanter is less valuable, even worthless, unless full with an unbroken tax stamp. Following are good, common sense reasons to empty ceramic decanters:

1. It is illegal to sell decanters full in most states without a liquor license. How can a decanter be worth more full if it is illegal for a collector to sell it?

2. We, and most dealers and experienced collectors, define a “mint condition” decanter as one with no chips, no cracks, and all attached parts in perfect condition. A missing tax stamp or the absence of contents has nothing to do with the value. A missing label, chip, or crack definitely reduces the value.

3. Ceramic, or porcelain decanters, are not designed (for example: tested under adverse conditions such as extreme humidity or extreme temperature changes) to store the contents over a long period of time. Since this material is porous, a thin glaze on the inside is all that keeps the contents from going straight through to the outside. The pressure of the contents against the sides and bottom can, if conditions are right, push through the smallest of cracks. Should this ever occur, you have what is known as a “leaker”. A leaker has a small fraction of the value of a mint condition decanter. The possibility of the glaze cracking occurs in a small percentage of decanters-mostly fifth size or larger. It rarely does, but can, occur in miniatures. (Glass decanters, of course, do not have this problem.)

4. If your decanter has a cork as the stopper, the contents could evaporate. Unless kept so the contents can keep the cork wet, the cork will dry out and shrink, letting air into the decanter. It may take many years, but the contents will slowly evaporate.

5. A full fifth size decanter weighs a couple pounds more than an empty one. If you have many decanters close together on shelves not having substantial enough support, the shelving could collapse. The additional weight of the contents could be “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.

6. Alcohol is flammable. Picture the additional problem firefighters would have trying to save your home should fire get to the decanters. Also, it is possible that an insurance company may quote you a higher fire insurance rate if it finds out you have a large number of these decanters full.

7. We have sold thousands of empty decanters over the years. The vast majority of our customers care nothing about the contents because they don’t even drink! They are interested in the decanter because of what it depicts.


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