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Christie’s holds first spirits auction since Prohibition

Sweeping away a last vestige of Prohibition, NYWines/Christies sold 100 lots of spirits for US$304,800 on 8 December.

Christie’s said the sale, which consisted of whiskies, Cognacs, Armagnacs, Chartreuse and calvados, was the first of its kind in New York State since Prohibition ended in 1933.

A 1926 Macallan, fetching US$54,000, was ‘the most expensive bottle of Scotch every sold by Christie’s anywhere in the world,’ the house said.

Bottled in 1986 after spending a remarkable 60 years in wood barrel, the bottle was expected to fetch between US$20,000 to US$30,000,’ Christie’s said. ‘ It was bought by a New York private collector.’

A mixed superlot of 729 bottles of single-malt, blended and vatted (pure) malts, estimated at US$70,000-100,000, went for US$102,000 to an anonymous bidder. Sixteen bottles of Erté Cognac realized US$36,000. One bottle of 1812 Grande Fine Champagne Napoléon Cognac brought US$3,600.

The sale was made possible by a measure approved by the New York State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Eliot Spitzer last June.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a national trade organization, had lobbied for passage of the legislation.

During the 1980’s and early 1990’s, New York’s powerful wine and liquor store lobby, fearing a possible loss of business, fought to prevent auction houses from holding wine auctions.

Christie’s almost got a license in 1981 but was blocked by a restraining order. In 1993, retailers persuaded the Legislature to legalize wine auctions but to limit licenses for them to merchants who had owned liquor licenses for at least 10 years. In 1994, Morrell and Company held the first wine auction.

The state, not the federal government, acted because when the failed national experiment in Prohibition, which began in 1920, ended with repeal, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution empowered the states to regulate alcohol sales.

A Distilled Spirits Council tabulation shows that 17 states allowed wine auctions and that New York became the eighth to permit spirits auctions.

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York

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