Very Old Fitzgerald
Very Old Fitzgerald was one of the rare instances where something labeled "A Collector's Item" actually did become a collectors item. It's probably because of that designation and fancy packaging that many bottles have survived to today.
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. It is due to reopen in 2013.
Very Old Fitzgerald was "Bottled in Bond," which means it was issued at 100 proof under US government supervision. However, some BIB versions were not 100 proof. Those were for export, and US labeling rules didn't apply.
Collectors most actively seek the "100% Pappy" bourbons that were distilled and bottled while Pappy Van Winkle was still running things (pre-1965). But Pappy's son Julian Van Winkle Jr. continued to supervise the brand until 1972, and his involvement was no small potatoes.
Most commonly seen is the 8-year-old "Very Old." There is also the "Very Xtra Old" 10-year-old, "Very Very Old" 12-year-old, "Very Very Extra Old" 15-year-old, and "Very Very Old" 18-year-old. Earlier in the brand's history, the 10 and 12 were only labeled "Very Old." Some bottles were special editions, bottled exclusively for certain recipients -- these could be by name, organization, or even for guests of a hotel. Rarely, they would include an extra logo or design related to the recipient. The proof of these could vary, and some may read "Barrel 121 Proof" on the shoulder label.
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. Bottled-in-Bond domestic bottles should have a green tax stamp over the top that lists Made and Bottled dates. On all expressions, the front label (and sometimes back) will list Barreled and Bottled years.
Sizes available were 1/10 pint, 1/2 pint, pint, 4/5 quart (a "fifth gallon" or just a "fifth"), and gallon. It's our feeling that smaller bottles often did not preserve flavor as well as the larger. But, we do get some disagreement about that from the whiskey community.
Valuing a very old bottle of Very Old Fitzgerald can be tricky. When Ebay tolerated the sale of collectible liquor (stopped in September 2012), prices sometimes reached as high as $2,000. Many of those sales were suspected to have been driven up by shill bidding, as well as a rush of new, inexperienced but well-funded collectors (who soon obtained the bottles they needed). Also, some of those sales were traced to unscrupulous bar owners, who were buying rare bottles at any price necessary, then selling samples by the glass at exorbitant markups. Of course, that wasn't legal for them to do, and it infuriated whiskey enthusiasts.
Regardless, whoever was paying those high prices seems to have receded from the market.
Today, the premiere venue for selling collectible bourbon in the US has become Bonhams NY Whisky Auction. The most recently sold bottle is here, a 1957-distilled 8-year-old 4/5 quart for a price of $714, before deducting fees and premiums. On the private market, experienced collectors will use that as a basis for making a deal.
When valuing a bottle, consider the following:
Prior to Prohibition, Old Fitzgerald was also a premium brand. Such finds are very 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.