Popular TV shows renew interest in ‘hip’ vintage barware
By Greg Bates
Always looking dapper in a suite and tie, Don Draper was known to knock back old-fashioned cocktails like they were going out of style. The face of AMC’s hit TV show “Mad Men” made men around the world envious of his classy lifestyle and women want to share a drink with him.
Draper and the 1960s-set drama started the trend of bringing back vintage barware when the show premiered in 2007. The series mixed its final drink in 2015. “TV shows like ‘Mad Men,’ and ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ have put barware front and center,” said Allie Taylor, who owns Allie’s Antiques in Norman, Oklahoma.
“The obsession of entertaining in this iconic show is highly sought-after. Who doesn’t want to be as cool as Don Draper?”
Cool? Yes. Everyone wants that. Vintage barware has become cool for people who want to spruce up their own kitchen attire, renovate a home bar or make their restaurant a little more unique and flashier.
“Cocktails were in favor in the ’50s and ’60s and then they kind of were lost and now you have all these bars that are making these fancy cocktails,” said Janice Woods, owner of Black Tulip Antiques, Ltd., in Denver, Colorado.
“The drink required you to, maybe if you wanted to make them at home, have vintage barware.” The majority of folks who saunter into Allie’s Antiques tell the owner they are buying vintage barware for a specific event or party. However, a one-time purchase possibly turns into something addictive.
“They always seem to come back for extra sets, another item or an extra piece to the collection,” Taylor said. “In some circles, it’s viewed as a status symbol. A buyer wants to stand out and be different from their neighbor down the street.
“Barware collections can be real conversation starters and add real style to events.” People who frequent Lake Girl Vintage in Wilmette, Illinois, usually don’t just purchase one or two pieces of items from owner Patt Plunkett, it’s entire sets.
“And they will tell me why because it reminds them of something their aunt had or their grandparents,” Plunkett said. “Sometimes people tell me stories when they buy things.” From what antique business owners have witnessed over the last 10 years with people purchasing vintage barware, it’s a healthy mix of younger and older clients.
“Besides TV influences, the millennial generation has taken notice,” Taylor said. “Sometimes referred to as ‘hipsters,’ – their philosophy is ‘anything old is new again.’ From record players to vintage cameras and clothes, barware is one of the items they’ve been interested in. They’ve taken a liking to it and with the power of social media and Instagram, the awareness and collectability has really grown.”
Collecting vintage barware also appeals to the older crowd. It’s all about nostalgia. “For the people in my age in the 60s, it brings back memories,” Plunkett said. “And I think for the younger people, it’s the style of it. They like that Mid-Century Modern look. It’s clean, it’s geometric.
The whole Atomic thing is very popular in all areas of design – in fabric, people want ranch houses. Who would have ever thought a ranch house would be really cool when I was growing up?”
Said Taylor: “Vintage barware covers several style eras: Hollywood glam to retro cool 1950-60s glassware to even art deco sophistication, it all just depends on personal style. There are so many genres from elegant to graphically playful; there really is barware for everyone.”
Ruby Lane, the world’s largest curated marketplace for items such as antiques and vintage collectibles, has been in existence since 1998. Company President and CEO Tom Johnson said vintage barware has been popular since Day 1 but certainly picked up more steam when “Mad Men” premiered.
Johnson even entertains guests with his own vintage barware collection. He said it’s an integral part of his own party planning.
“Especially our glassware pieces, which are usually colorful and great conversation starters,” Johnson said. “We have an ice bucket that is sentimental to us that we pair with antique ice tongs, martini shakers and shot glasses — all from Ruby Lane. We couple vintage cocktail napkins and stirrers with decanters to make the bar pop and to add a bit of nostalgia. Mixed in are pieces I’ve inherited from my parents and grandparents that remind me of the ’60s and ’70s.”
Even popular items can be affordable.
There are plenty of popular vintage barware items, but glasses are the most sought-after pieces, Johnson said.
“Many of our buyers like lowballs or highballs,” Taylor said. “The short and wide lowball glass holds 4 to 10 fluid oz. Also called a rocks glass or old-fashion, bartenders use the glass for simple drinks with a limited number of ingredients served over ice. They are usually 4 inches and fit easily into your hand. The highball gave its name to the tall, smooth glass in which it was made. Highball glasses hold 10 to 14 ounces of liquid and are used to serve drinks made with a lot of juice, mixer or soda. Highballs are named after a drink bartenders made for railroad workers back in the late 19th century.”
Shakers and ice buckets are also fun and popular choices for collectors. Johnson includes ice buckets, shot glasses, linen cocktails napkins and bar carts as popular items.
“Bar carts allow enthusiasts to display their vintage finds while concocting artisan cocktails,” noted Johnson.
Plunkett sells quite a few shot glasses and cocktail sticks. Cocktail shakers — ones with unique designs — are all abuzz, as well. According to Plunkett, the Hazel Atlas pink elephant shakers are the holy grail for shakers. Hazel Atlas Saturn punch bowl sets are also quite popular.
Woods loves the penguin cocktail shakers, which Restoration Hardware reproduces.
“When things start getting reproduced by Restoration Hardware and places like that there’s obviously a call for it,” Woods said.
“You see if being reproduced because people can’t find vintage ones or whatever.”
When people think about buying vintage items, they might be under the assumption prices aren’t going to be affordable. But that’s not the case with barware.
“All the prices dropped in 2008 and a lot of them haven’t recovered,” Plunkett said. “But I do think it’s the economy. People are not buying anything they don’t actually need.”
Common pieces such as glasses can be picked up for a good price, around $3-$4. Vintage glasses can even be more durable than new glasses, as well as cheaper.
“I have often found you can buy vintage for cheaper than brand new if you look in the right places,” Taylor said. “Flea markets, yard sales and estate sales are excellent places to begin. A starter set of six lowballs can be found for a few dollars apiece. Expect to pay more at a vintage or antique store for sets of items or signed mint pieces. At our store, we try to have a price point for the beginning buyer to the committed diehard collector.”
Anyone who has a desire for fine shakers and bar carts will have to shell out more money.
Woods said a small set of the Hazel Atlas pink elephant shakers can go for $125-$225. The Saturn punch bowl — from the 1940s and not ’50s — can cost in the $400-$500 range. Some items with sterling tops and glass bottoms from the ’50s and ’60s demand a heftier price tag. Woods has a mid-century Abercrombie & Fitch cocktail shaker that makes six drinks and has a price tag of $600.
“There’s a cool, old feeling when you say that name because they were the travel experts and the exhibition people going over to Africa and having all your things supplied by this company,” said Woods about Abercrombie & Fitch, which is now known by millennials as a lifestyle clothes retailer. “It has a real cache.”
Taylor noted the most expensive vintage barware pieces are mint sets and signed pieces. Rarer pieces can also go for a pretty penny.
“Art deco items in excellent condition are becoming rare because of the high demand — people snatch them up soon after they are listed,” Johnson said. “Specifically, crystal and chrome sets that include stirrers, decanters and measurers.”
Woods recently sold three German liquor bottles. The stoneware containers went for $22 for the trio. The bottles could be perfect for either use or for decorations.
For the most part, sellers of vintage barware find out from customers that they are using the items rather than just having them for decoration.
“I am a firm believer in using everything I purchase rather than just have it sit there for show,” Johnson said. “Especially with barware, it’s always great to use it — why not.”
“Much of the appeal is that you can indeed use it,” Taylor said. “Because of this reason, I think many can justify the purchase. It’s not a decoration just sitting on a shelf. It’s also an easy way to ease into vintage without a huge commitment. Many first-time buyers find themselves purchasing one set of glasses, then two. They like the look so much maybe they buy a side table and graduate up to artwork or a couch. All of the sudden they realize they’re into vintage.”
Plunkett sells to quite a few bar owners who are decorating their establishments. Recently, she stopped into Found Kitchen and Social House in Evanston, Illinois, and was flabbergasted when she was served a cocktail in a vintage glass. It related to the moon landing, Apollo 11.
“They made a whole series of glasses in the ’60s for each of the moon missions,” Plunkett said. “When they gave me the cocktail in that glass, I just blinked three times and then I looked at all their glasses and talked to the bartender. All of them are different and are all vintage. I thought that was really cool.”
Vintage barware sellers are always happy to share advice with their customers. One firm thought they all agree on is that above all people should buy what they like.
“You should always follow your heart and buy what speaks to you, whether it be shape, color, or size, and start your collection,” Johnson said.
Added Taylor: “Buy what you can afford and buy the glass in the best condition you can find. If it speaks to you, purchase it. There’s nothing worse than missing out on a set that haunts you later. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune to be a great find or collectible piece. Read, learn, upgrade. Don’t limit yourself because you don’t have a man cave or basement bar. You can start small with a compact side table or mid-century bar cart. You will find you can build an entertaining set quickly and affordably.”
Greg Bates is a national freelance journalist. He writes mostly about sports, but dabbles in antiques and is fascinated by the Civil War. His work frequently appears in Sports Collectors Digest, and he’s also written for USA TODAY Sports Weekly, The Associated Press, TeamUSA.org and USAHockey.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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