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    Auction Finds

    Wild Turkey bourbon decanters

    Someone had removed the turkey’s head. It was lying there exposed next to two other ceramic decanters of Wild Turkey bourbon. Maybe an auction-buyer had lifted it out of its cradle to take a closer look, to ensure that the bird’s head wouldn’t go toppling to the floor as the decanter was lifted by its belly.

    Three turkey-shaped decanters had been placed in a box on the auction table. One stood on a white base with American flags and a strip imprinted “The Spirit of 76,” possibly a bicentennial offering by the whiskey company. Two still had their revenue stickers on them.

    These decanters were among seven that appeared at auction recently.

    “Did you see the others?” my auction buddy Janet said as I stood there examining them. She pointed me to a table in the far corner where I found four more. Most still had their heads and stood there almost defiantly.

    It felt like an invasion of the turkeys, and I couldn’t remember seeing this many at auction. They made me think of Thanksgiving, although the holiday was more than a month away. These birds, though, didn’t have to give away their heads for our dinner. But someone was giving them away just the same: Either the collector was handing them off or a family member was doing it for the person. Since the two groupings were on different tables far apart, I assumed that they came from two different estates.

    I’m not a whiskey drinker, so I know little about collecting decanters. In fact, I’m not familiar with collecting turkey memorabilia at all.

    So I went internet-exploring to find out more about the decanters. They were called figural decanters, were limited editions, and were from Series #1 produced by then-manufacturer Austin Nichols in the early 1970s. That first series consisted of eight decanters numbered 1-8. Others followed, but all were not ceramic; some were bisque.

    Wild Turkey decanters waiting to be sold.

    The company’s website credited the Rev. Elijah Craig as the founder of what became known as bourbon. It started out as a whiskey that Craig distilled from corn, rye and barley malt in the late 1700s while living in an area that would later become Kentucky, according to the website. Austin Nichols started in the mid-1850s as a wholesale company that sold coffee, tea and spirits. It began selling only spirits and wines in 1939.

    The site told the story of how Wild Turkey got its name: In 1940, Thomas McCarthy, an executive with the company, was headed to his annual wild turkey hunt with friends in South Carolina. He brought some whiskey to the shoot, and the friends liked it so much that the next year, they told him to bring some more of that Wild Turkey bourbon. Realizing that he was on to something, McCarthy started marketing it with that name.

    The company still knows how to promote itself. This week, it offered to take the turkeys pardoned by President Obama to be its official spokesbirds, to roam freely for the rest of their lives – which isn’t very long – on the company’s site in Lawrenceburg, KY. Sticking to tradition, the birds are headed to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum and Gardens in Virginia.

    The bottom of two decanters showing the company’s label.

    I wasn’t around when the decanters sold, so I’m not sure how much they pulled in. On eBay, a special 1987 decanter sold for $237, while a complete set of Series #1 sold for $90. The lowest price was $7.50 for a turkey-head stopper.

    If you’re interested in turkey collectibles, you don’t have to start and stop with Wild Turkey bourbon decanters. There are turkey calls – some of which had sold for five figures, according to an article on the National Wild Turkey Federation website – ads, art, post cards and more. Here’s a couple who boast to have 900 collectibles, including magnets, cookie jars and salt and pepper shakers.

    A stopper had been removed from one decanter.



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