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Historic spirits favored by Chicago gangsters headlining sale

More than 800 lots of whiskey, bourbon, rye, cognac and rare spirits, including two demi-johns of pre-prohibition bourbon, expected to command $2,500 to $3,000 each, are being brought to market April 30 by Bonhams.

New York — Bonhams Whiskey, Cognac & Rare Spirits auction (April 30) will feature two demi-johns of pre-prohibition bourbon from Chicago liquor purveyors Chapin & Gore. A favorite of the city’s ruthless late 19th-early 20th century gangsters, as well as the local glitterati, the approximately 3 gallon containers are estimated to fetch between $2,500 and


Wicker wrapped, Pre-Prohibition demi-johns of Chapin & Gore bourbon, approximately three gallons. (Photo courtesy Bonhams)

$3,000 each.

Gardner Spring Chapin and James Jefferson Gore became local legends when they rolled several hundred barrels of rye and bourbon into Lake Michigan during the great Chicago Fire of 1871. The inspired move saved the spirits from the flames and the looters, and cemented the duo’s reputation in the raucous region. Patrons of their rowdy saloons included William McKinley, Mark Twain and Buffalo Bill Cody.

Prior to prohibition, it was common for the wealthy to purchase entire barrels of whiskey from their preferred distilleries or distributors, to bring to their vacation homes. These particular bottles of Chapin & Gore come from barrels made for the family of famed 19th century explorer and American general, Zebulon Pike.

Also available is a 5 gallon carboy of Hannisville Rye, distilled in the 1860s and bottled around 1913. It is believed to be from barrels purchased by John Welsh, Minister to England in the 1870s.

Well over 800 lots of whiskey, bourbon, rye, cognac and rare spirits will be available in the highly anticipated auction on April 30. The sale is overflowing with fine examples of top-tier Scotch whiskeys from Ardbeg, Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Laphroaig, Macallan, Springbank and many more.

A fine and rare 40-year-old 1961 Macallan leads the sale’s whiskey section (est. $8,000-10,000). Additional highlights include rare late 19th-early 20th century examples from Jim Gore, Old Hermitage, Chivas Regal and Johnny Walker. These highly prized pre-prohibition bottles are nicely complimented by rare finds from closed distilleries, such as an exceptional collection of 73 highly prized “Dumpy Cadenhead” bottles.

Cognac Grande Champagne

At right, Cognac Grande Champagne "Exposition Universelle Paris, 1878, 1er Prix Medaille d'Or. L.Viel.- Paris," driven cork and lead capsule, with some label wear and staining. Approximately 4/5 quart, may fetch $15,000 to $20,000. Bottom left, a 1762 Gautier cognac, which is estimated to bring $20,000-25,000. (Photo courtesy Bonhams)

The auction’s top lot is one of the oldest authenticated cognac vintages known, a 1762 Gautier, which is estimated to bring $20,000-25,000. A 1790 cognac Grande Champagne, which won first prize in the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris, is another ultra-rare 18th century offering (est. $15,000-20,000). Additional cognac highlights include an 1840 AE Dor (est. $5,500-7,500), and a Napoleon 1811 Grande Reserve (est. $3,000-4,000).

Joseph Hyman, Bonhams Whiskey & Rare Spirits Specialist, commented: “The explosion in popularity of bourbon and rye continues and we have a number of bottles from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and Pappy Van Winkle lines, including a rare Presentation Set of 23 year old bourbon in a crystal decanter with 2 accompanying crystal glasses in a leather lined cherry wood case (est. $3000-4000). Among the many fine whiskeys is a bottle of AH Hirsch 1974 20 years old ($800-1000) which will be offered to benefit the Harris Family Fund in Seattle, Washington.”

Bonhams Whiskey, Cognac & Rare Spirits sale will take place on April 30 in New York.


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