Christie's Set To Auction An Amazing Pre-Prohibition Whiskey Collection - The Whiskey Wash

Christie’s Set To Auction An Amazing Pre-Prohibition Whiskey Collection

Have you ever dreamt of finding a hidden whiskey cache from pre-Prohibition times behind some false wall in an old home? What would you find in such a collection were you to stumble across it? Auction house Christie’s is set to give us one such answer to this fantasy, courtesy of an upcoming auction of a discovered pre-Prohibition whiskey collection.

The auction, which is set to take place on December 7 in New York, will present to bidders what is said to be “the largest collection of pre-prohibition whiskey ever to appear” in such an event. Highlights of this collection include “Old Crow 1912 and deep quantities of Hermitage 1914 from W. A. Gaines, amongst others.”

The collection of pre-Prohibition whiskey and other spirits set to be auctioned at Christie’s. (image via Christie’s)

As for more specifics on the background of this whiskey horde, it belonged at one time to J.B. Leonis, a banker of note who opened a mercantile company in California named Santa Fe Ave. Mercantile Co. that operated mainly as an importer/wholesale liquor dealer. He kept his collection in a hidden cellar in his ornate home that was protected by a 10-bolt, vault style door covered over by a “Prohibition era” facade.

Here is some more associated information from Christie’s on it:

The auction closes with an unprecedented collection of 100-year-old pre-prohibition whiskey recently discovered on the West Coast (lots 744-787). Discovered in 2017, over 40 cases of unopened bonded whiskey, distilled as early as 1914, were found in secret vaults built by Jean-Baptiste Leonis in the early 1920s. The prohibition vault rooms were each constructed behind book cases which open to reveal a bank vault door and combination lock.

Leonis, a banker by trade, easily added these rooms to property designs ahead of prohibition. Featured lots include multiple cases of century-old pint bottles of Hermitage whiskey distilled in 1914, Old Crow distilled in 1912, and Biltmore Rye Maryland Straight Whisky in bottles labeled-to-ordered for the iconic Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel. Ancient cognacs alongside rare malt whiskies from The Macallan distillery are also represented in this treasure trove of spirits.

It is said some of the spirits were labeled and bottled, taxes paid stamps included, while others were simply labeled “Very good whiskey 104” and “Very old whiskey 104.” With some of the bottlings the family had sparse records on them, which makes sense when you consider the historical contexts of this collection.

Christie’s specialists, in evaluating the collection, participated in sampling representative bottles to determine overall quality. They were unified in belief that “these pre-Prohibition whiskies are indeed special, supremely unique – especially when sampled alongside their modern iteration – and represent an era that cannot be remade, only revisited.”

“Christie’s has proudly worked alongside the family, their historian and representatives to bring this once in a lifetime collection back to life,” said Scott Torrance, Christie’s Vice President, Senior Wine Specialist, in a prepared statement. “For some of these bottles it has been over 100 years since they were last offered for sale through the family’s mercantile business. We hope you will appreciate the sliver of history these bottles represent and enjoy them as they were originally meant to be.”

About the author

Nino Marchetti

Nino Marchetti is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Whiskey Wash, an award winning whiskey lifestyle website dedicated to informing and entertaining consumers about whisk(e)y on a global level. As a whisk(e)y journalist, expert and judge he has written about the subject extensively, been interviewed in various media outlets and provided tasting input on many whiskeys at competitions. He also maintains a large private collection of whiskey from which he continually educates his palate on this brown spirit type.