A time capsule of scotch whisky destined for Hollywood A-listers helped Sotheby’s to stage its largest ever scotch whisky auction on May 10. During the financial crash of 2008, an entrepreneur from southern California bought a shipping container of valuable bottles from a struggling U.S. whisky broker who had hoped to sell them to people in the movie industry. Instead, they went under the hammer in New York 14 years later as Sotheby’s auctioned the Hollywood Collection and Part 4 of the Three Continents Collection for a total hammer price of $2,034,100 (Sotheby’s pre-sale estimate was $1,481,750 – $2,063,050).
This one was a true celebration of scotch, with over 1,100 lots on offer from 91 single malt and grain distilleries representing all regions of Scotland (discover the top 10 distilleries at this sale ranked by hammer price below). It was one of the most comprehensive sales of scotch from closed distilleries in the U.S. for many years, with bottlings from the Inverness distilleries Millburn, Glen Albyn, and Glen Mhor, plenty of Port Ellen from Islay, Convalmore, Dallas Dhu, Imperial, and Caperdonich from Speyside, Glenury Royal and Hillside distilleries in the eastern Highlands, and Littlemill and St. Magdalene from the Lowlands. Only Rosebank was conspicuous in its absence.
Unlike Sotheby’s American Muscle Collection, which sold largely to U.S. buyers, this sale attracted an international audience spread evenly between North America, Asia, and Europe, with 42% of bidders new to Sotheby’s. Around 40% of bidders were younger than 40 years old. Macallan was the focus for the day’s highest prices, though the headline bottles did not break any records. An increasingly rare find at auction this decade, the Macallan Millennium 50 year old 1949 decanter sold for a hammer price of $32,000, the highest bid of the sale, but that was only the fifth-highest price of the seven of these bottles auctioned internationally since January 2021. Whisky Auctioneer achieved a bid 46% higher than Sotheby’s in January, selling a bottle for $46,811. The Macallan Fine & Rare 50 year old 1952 Cask No. 627 attracted a hammer price of $26,000 at Sotheby’s, slightly up on Sotheby’s performance of $24,000 or so in recent years, but again, an online auction solicited a bid 25% higher at $32,552 for the same bottle eight days earlier. The other end of the scale proved far more interesting, where there were some amazing vintage bottlings sold at bargain prices. A bid of $150 could secure a bottle of Singleton of Dufftown 28 year old or a bottle of Campbeltown Loch 25 year old blended scotch, while $200 was sufficient to pick up a Glenrothes 1984, a bottle of Gordon & MacPhail Speyburn 18 year old 1971, or for single grain fans, a bottle of Cadenhead’s Dumbarton 32 year old 1962. For lovers of 20th-century scotch, Sotheby’s was definitely the place to be.
Top 10 distilleries ranked by hammer price for individual bottles
|Macallan Millennium Decanter 50 year old 1949, 43%||$32,000|
|Balvenie 50 year old 1937, 42%||$24,000|
|Bowmore 40 year old 1955, 42%||$20,000|
|Springbank Millennium Collection 50 year old, 40.5%||$8,500|
|Whyte & Whyte Clynelish (Brora) 28 year old 1965, 50.7%||$7,000|
|Highland Park 40 year old 1958, 44%||$6,500|
|Glenfarclas 1953 The Coronation, 51.1%||$5,000|
|Glendronach Single Cask 43 year old 1971, 48.6%||$4,000|
|Ardbeg Provenance 1974, 54.7%||$3,200|
|Auchentoshan 44 year old 1966, 40.9%||$2,800|