By Jonny McCormick

Ask the Expert

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A member of my club (Queensland Malt Whisky Society) recently helped an acquaintance with some electrical work. As a thank you, he was given this bottle of Old Smuggler that had resided under the stairs for decades. Would you be able to give some estimate of its value please?
S. Mansfield

I can and I will, but there is a lot of history behind this bottle. You have a 1950s export pinch bottle of Old Smuggler Fine Scots Whisky without a strength or capacity stated. The shoulder label indicates the brand's origins in 1835, and highlights a first prize award given to the company in the Distillers & Allied Trades Exhibition, London in 1927. The exporter is detailed on the rear shoulder label as the 'Rotterdam Trading Company (Malaya) Ltd: Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang - Sole Distributors for Malaya.'

The interior concave surface of the pinch has two labels, the first identifying the producers as Jas & Geo Stodart, Dumbarton. James & George Stodart Ltd was formed by two brothers in 1835 in Glasgow, and the firm was subsequently acquired by entrepreneurs Jimmy Barclay and R A MacKinlay in 1922. Three years earlier, these gentlemen had purchased George Ballantine & Sons. Both Old Smuggler and Ballantine's were run into America in good quantities during prohibition.

Hiram Walker acquired a majority stake in J & G Stodart Ltd in 1930, completing the takeover in 1936, and acquiring Glenburgie Distillery, near Forres the same year. Glenburgie Distillery was then licensed to J & G Stodart Ltd from 1936 onwards, and certain bottles of Old Smuggler make reference to this Forres distilling connection.

Jimmy Barclay died in 1963 after a career that began at Benrinnes Distillery as a clerk, and saw him become the director of Hiram Walker and acquire Chivas Brothers and Strathisla Distillery for Seagrams. Allied Breweries acquired Hiram Walker in 1987, and at the time of the Allied-Domecq takeover in 2005, many of the brands such as Ballantine's went to Pernod Ricard. Under EU competition rules, Pernod Ricard were forced to make a number of disposals including the Glen Grant brand and distillery for €115 million, and the Old Smuggler and Braemar brands for €15 million. These became the first Scotch whisky acquisitions of Gruppo Campari Ltd who still produce and sell Old Smuggler in around 20 countries. Its main markets are the US, Argentina, and Eastern Europe and just $20 will buy you a 1.75l bottle of Old Smuggler in 2016.

Your antique bottle comes complete with a label reputedly showing an analyst's report on a sample taken during bottling for export. This indicated it to be 'a whisky of excellent quality and possesses the mild and mellow flavour characteristic of age and maturity' which is signed by R R Tatlock & Thomson on 29 September 1954. Tatlock & Thomson are still analysts to the Scotch whisky industry and continue to monitor whisky quality to this day from their laboratories in Fife.

Your patience is appreciated; it is rather like a scene from the BBC's Antique Roadshow programme as the bow-tie wearing expert stands outside a stately home waxing lyrical about a dusty family heirloom whilst the tolerant owner nods and smiles patiently, enduring the lecture, all the while secretly thinking, 'but what's it worth?' But before I tell you, my favourite related auction find is a boxed miniature of one 10th pint of Stodart's Rare Old Highland Scotch Whisky, reportedly imported and bottled by Hiram Walker at the Chicago World's Fair in 1934, which Scotch Whisky Auctions sold for £75 in May 2015. The front of the box is printed with the words 'Harmless Coloring Material Added.'

McTear's sold a bottle of Old Smuggler with the same public analyst quotation dated 12 July 1943 for £120 in October 2015, and the exact same bottle resurfaced quickly at Scotch Whisky Auctions in September 2016, where it sold for £410. With only this label still attached, they sold it as a whisky sample for analysis, but I suspect it was the genuine bottled product. Scotch Whisky Auctions sold a pinch bottle of Old Smuggler 18 Years Old for an undervalued £75 in February 2016. Your exact expression may not have come up at auction before, but it could potentially fetch £200.