Very Very Old Fitzgerald

 

Bottle distilled 1948 for Howard CookWhat is a bottle of Very Old Fitzgerald bourbon worth today? A heck of a lot more than it originally cost! "VOF" was one of the rare instances where something labeled "A Collector's Item" actually did become a collectors item. That phrase and fancy packaging are a big reason that many bottles survived, since people set them aside.

detail from label that says A Collector's Item
 
 
Old bottles of Old Fitzgerald are particularly valuable because of the association with the Stitzel-Weller Distillery, whose whiskey has become highly sought after by enthusiasts. Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle ran Stitzel-Weller after the repeal of Prohibition through 1964, and Pappy became a legend amond bourbon aficionados. Stitzel-Weller was closed in 1992, which also helped drive the distillery's mystique. In 2014, the distillery was reopened, and while a small amount of distilling does take place there now, mostly the distillery serves as a tourism and bourbon education site, as well as warehouses for aging.

Very Old Fitzgerald was "Bottled in Bond," which means it was issued at 100 proof under US government supervision. However, you'll find some BIB versions that weren't 100 proof -- those were for export, so US labeling rules didn't apply.

Pappy Van Winkle retired from the distillery in 1964 and passed away in 1965. His son Julian Van Winkle Jr. continued to supervise the brand through 1972.

bottle of Very Very Old Fitzgerald
Most commonly seen is the 8-year-old Very Old, followed by the Very Xtra Old 10-year-old (often referred to as VXO) and Very Very Old 12-year-old. The Very Very Old 15-year-old and Very Very Old 18-year-old are rarely seen.
 
Prior to 1962, the 10 and 12 were only labeled "Very Old" (instead of with two "verys"). In 1960, the 10 year old began appearing with a green Bottled-in-Bond stamp, and in 1962 the "Very Xtra Old" designation seems to have been phased in. In 1962, the 12yo began appearing with a green stamp. In 1964 (or perhaps later 1963), the 12 was restyled and renamed "Very Xtra Old" and Very Very Old," respectively. You will find bottled-1963 12yo VVOF in both name styles.
 
Very Old Fitzgerald often turns up with a personalized label -- typically on the shoulder, but sometimes on the main label -- stating that it was bottled for a person or organization. This was a service promoted around the holiday season, similar to the way you can get a custom-engraved bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue today. There were also special release editions, bottled exclusively for hotels or organizations (notably the Chicago Blackhawks and Wirtz family), and some will read "Barrel 121 Proof" on the shoulder label. Additionally, there are rare versions botttled as 14-year-old, 16-year-old, and other ages.
 
There were also special-edition decanters younger than the 8-year-old; however, these tend to qualify as just "Old Fitzgerald" (which can still be quite collectible) rather than being in the "Very..." category.
 
Dating is straightforward. On all expressions through 1972, the front label (and sometimes back) will list Barreled and Bottled years. Bottled-in-Bond domestic bottles will have a green tax stamp over the top that lists Made and Bottled dates (until about 1982, when you can find some with non-dated Bottled-in-Bond stamps).
 
Blue tax stamps designate bottles for export, they should also have dating information on them. 

Sizes available were 1/2 pint, pint, 4/5 quart (a "fifth gallon" or just a "fifth"), and gallon. Gallons came with wood and metal rocker cradles to display the bottle and assist in pouring.
 
Very Xtra Old Fitzgerald 10 Years Old full bottle depicted, green age statement
Valuing a very old bottle of Very Old Fitzgerald can be tricky. Values quickly climbed in the earlier years of the bourbon boom (2013-14), and skyrocketed around 2016-2017, and have since fallen. Pricing can still be random and unpredictable in certain markets and auctions. Experienced collectors are usually going to look for a better deal than someone who is brand-new to collecting and desperate to get some bottles onto their bar.
 
Today, the main ways these bottles are sold and traded in the US is on the private market. These person-to-person sales are often secret, or in exclusive online trading groups that shy away from public attention due to their "grey market" status. (While buying/selling collectible wine throughout much of the US is completely legal, doing the same thing with vintage bourbon is technically illegal in most areas). There are also public auctioneers dealing in collectible bourbon in Chicago, Boston, and New York, where the highest prices are usually achieved. Keep in mind that the house takes a large percentage of the final price, and that auctions are contests to see which person will pay the very most for something. In other words, auction pricing is different from what experienced collectors will look to pay.
 
When valuing a bottle, consider the following:
  1. Is the seal intact? If not, resale will be very difficult, and auction houses are unlikely to accept it. 
  2. Is the condition good? Dirty, faded bottles in poor condition can indicate poor storage, which can affect the quality of what's inside.
  3. Is the fill level high? Below shoulder is bad. Mid-shoulder is average condition.
  4. When was it bottled? The earlier, the more valuable.
  5. What's the age? 8, 10, 12? The higher aged expressions increase in value, and the ones not listed in the previous sentence are particularly rare, even more than the rare 15 and 18.
  6. Is it a domestic bottling, or export version with lower proof? Domestic bottles tend to be more desirable.
Prior to Prohibition, Old Fitzgerald was also a premium brand. Such finds are extremely rare. Value is difficult to gauge since they're seen so infrequently, and also because pre-Prohibition Old Fitzgerald was not produced by the Stitzel-Weller distillery. (It's the S-W association that adds so much desirability to bottlings from after Prohibition). Of course, very few people today have tried "Old Judge" Old Fitzgerald -- Old Judge was the main distillery supplying the brand before Prohibition -- so it's not fair to say whether it was better or worse. Such things are a matter of personal taste anway.
 
This page is just what we know! It is not complete, nor perfect, and we value any input you may have. Last updated summer 2020.
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