Fab or Fake?

Now there’s a question.

Very occasionally, someone gets an idea into their head to create a “fantasy glass” and put it on eBay to make a buck or two. eBay’s motto is “Caveat Emptor” after all, and there’s many a gullible punter trawling the web eager to be fleeced. Mercifully, the fakes have been easy to spot so far and the collecting community is small (= low financial incentive), so we’ve been blessed with knowledge that if a glass is billed as being pre-pro and it looks pre-pro, we can be fairly confident that it is indeed the genuine article.

Those of you new to the hobby may not realize that the thin-walled glasses that were so commonly used as vehicles for advertising in pre-pro years are extremely difficult to make in modern times. The glass-blowing machines used to produce these glasses by the gross and that were so prevalent back in the early 1900’s no longer exist. The corporate owners of the Jack Daniel brand tried to reproduce them to create a commemorative glass back in the late 60’s and, in so doing, proved just how difficult it is to make convincing thin-walled whiskey tasters in bulk.

So, if you’re an enterprising faker, what do you do? If you’ve been out trawling antique malls and hunting pre-pro shots in the wild, you’ll know that there are many thin-walled blanks available and just  waiting to be picked up for $2-$3. These are the genuine article and they are just crying out for a fake label to be applied.

All of which brings me to the topic of this latest post.

This “Raleigh / For Men of Brains” glass was listed on July 29, 2019 by diggerdaveb for an opening bid of $29. Digger Dave describes it as follows:

“This is a rare deep wheel cut Raleigh Whiskey advertising shot glass from the pre prohibition era of the early 1900s. From Einstein Bros of Cincinnati, Ohio who registered the Raleigh Whiskey brand in 1905….This awesome glass has a picture of Sir Walter Raleigh cut into the glass!

RALEIGH FOR MEN OF BRAINS with Sir Walter Raleigh all wheel cut engraved into the glass on front….thin wall shot glass….2 3/8″tall….Sparkling near mint condition with only one teeny tiny nick on the top inside edge of rim. You can hardly even see it and can barely feel it with your fingernail. No other nicks or damage. Shiny clean. About the finest possible example of this very scarce pre pro picture glass! I have never seen or heard of another one like it…Raleigh Whiskey was registered in 1905 by Einstein Bros of Cincinnati, Ohio. It is interesting to note the Einstein name and “Men of Brains” motto connection…”

diggerdaveb usually lists glasses as a buy-it-now, so seeing it list as a regular auction was unusual for him, which is interesting in itself, but what the heck is it? As he notes, “I have never seen or heard of another one like it… “. Me neither. I’ve seen and/or owned tens of thousands of pre-pro glasses over the years and I’ve never seen one like it either, so what the heck is it?

It’s difficult to tell for sure from listing photos, but I would very much doubt that it’s a wheel-etched glass. The design is too intricate – wheel etching was typically used to create souvenir glasses to order, such as the “Don’t Drown The Hog” glasses. The most intricate design I’ve seen is on a “Free Trade” glass, as shown below, but it’s still pretty crude by comparison with the Raleigh above.

One possibility is that it’s a laser-etched glass, and since I’m pretty sure that there were no lasers around in the early 1900’s, that raises the possibility of it being a fake.

diggerdaveb comments that “It is interesting to note the Einstein name and “Men of Brains” motto connection…”

Albert Einstein was a young man working in Switzerland during the pre-pro years. Although he developed his theories of relativity during this period and received a Nobel prize in 1921 for discoveries relating to photoelectric effects, it seems doubtful that he was a household name yet. Would your average whiskey-buying punter link the Raleigh glass with Einstein? Probably not, but maybe a faker thought it was a clever poke at collectors. Or maybe it’s just coincidence.

In reality, I think the Raleigh is a hot-needle etched glass or debossed glass, such as found on the steamship and Spokane silver grill shots shown below.

This is a very uncommon way of creating an glass inscription. Although it’s ideal for labeling glasses intended for routine daily use (the needle-etched labels do not fade or wash off over time, unlike the common white-frosted labels) the labels do not stand out well against a background. It takes some effort to be able to get a good photographic image of them for this reason, and they do not stand out well in display cases.

So, to return to the title of this post, is the Raleigh glass Fab or Fake? It’s probably neither. I doubt that it’s a fake, although I’d have to be able to examine it in person to judge. It’s an interesting inscription and it would have been a winner as white-frosted label, but it mainly has curiosity value as a needle-etched glass.

What a State of Affairs

Here’s an interesting little tale that begins back in August, 2014, when the glass shown below first listed on eBay.

It’s an etched barrel glass in rather sad condition with abundant evidence of wear, including a badly scuffed and worn inscription. It’s hard to figure out what the glass is from the listing photo, but it reads: “I. Michelson / & Bros. / FINE LIQUORS”. It was offered for sale by seller id candles-01, with an opening bid of $19.99. Given the condition, it’s not surprising that the glass went unsold and it did not relist that year, at least not on my watch.

Just to give you a little history – I. Michelson & Bros. were located in Cincinnati, OH., with the company name dating the glass to between 1904 and 1916. The company produced several different glasses; I hadn’t seen this variant before, but that’s not unusual given how few pre-pro glasses are “listed” (i.e., featured in the old and new testament of Barb Edmonson’s shot-glass bible).

Fast forward to June 19, 2019 and the glass relists with a different photo under the seller id jp-tech. Note that the wear pattern is identical. Wear patterns may get worse over time but they do not reverse, so they are as unique as fingerprints.

This time around it listed with an opening bid of $65 and it was jumped on the next day by bidder id i***d. Six days later, it was sniped in one by c***k and sold for $87.78.

So what the heck happened in 5 years that turned a $5 glass (an estimate based on origins and condition) into a $87.78 glass?

The auction title pretty much sums it up “UNLISTED Shape PRE-PRO WHISKEY Shot GLASS – I. MICHELSON & BROS 1904-16 TEXAS !!”

What happened was that Jack Sullivan wrote a blog post about the Michelsons that posted in April 2015. In his post, he noted that Abraham Michelson exited the firm around 1894 and set up on his own as A. Michelson, Wholesale Liquor Dealer, in Austin TX, which is presumably where the TX connection comes from.

The seller notes that “This glass was found just outside of Round Top, Texas during the last Warrenton/Round top antique weekend event so thats why I’m saying this glass is probably from the Austin, Texas area.”, which is not exactly a reassuring provenance given that antique dealers travel the length and breadth of the country hopping from one show to the next during the course of the year.

Note that Abraham died from diabetes in 1903, which predates the “UNLISTED Shape PRE-PRO WHISKEY Shot GLASS – I. MICHELSON & BROS 1904-16 TEXAS !!” glass by a year.

Caveat Emptor.

Did I. Michelson & Bros. sell hooch in Austin in later years? Probably. Did The Hayner Distilling Co., and The Rieger Co., and The Schweyer Co., and hundreds of other national wholesalers sell hooch in TX? Probably. Are Hayner glasses TX glasses? I don’t think so.

I know others may have contrary opinions, but imho a glass tracks back to the home base of the distiller and wholesaler, not the vendor. A TX glass is, by definition, inscribed with the name of a TX town or city, or with a brand name that is owned and registered by a TX distiller, wholesaler/rectifier, or vendor.

Swings and roundabouts

Suddenly there’s a lot to talk about and time has a way of slipping by, so I’m switching to mini-post mode in the hopes of catching up in between a seemingly endless series of work deadlines.

In the last SOTW, I was reflecting on the fact that there has been a seismic shift in shot-glass values, with traditionally high-end glasses selling for about half of their previous hammer prices, whereas the solid lower-end glasses have been steadily building value in recent months. I was using Russ Beem’s glasses as a case in point, and his latest (and seemingly his last?) set of glasses to appear on eBay further underscore this continuing trend.


The image of the Old Maid glass above is a little out of focus, but gives you a reasonably good sense of its appeal. This is a text-only glass, so that places its value in the $10-$30 range. It’s from the Orene Parker Co. of Covington, KY., a company that gave us one of the classic pre-pro glasses that every serious collector should own (they’re common and easy to come by – get one if you don’t already own one, and hold out for mint condition).

I’ve seen examples of the rarer glass above sell 10 times since 2001, with the price fetched averaging around $25, which would be consistent with a text-only glass valuation.

Russ picked this glass up for $23.19 back in April, 2013 and started this listing at $25, which was perfectly on target. It sold a week later for an eye-popping $127.50.

Yikes.

If you don’t have one of these glasses in the display case already, you need to find one, because it’s probably in the top 1% in terms of desirability. It’s a deceptive glass – it really doesn’t look like it’s worth bidding on when it pops up on eBay, but once you see one in vitro (so to speak), you’ll come to appreciate the boldness of the font and the way it captures the essence of pre-pro glass collecting.