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Remember When Derby Glasses Were Easy To Keep Track Of?

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Copyright © 1999 Tom Sporney, Cindy Pierson,
Collector Glass News, issue 53, April/May 1999

Kentucky Derby glass collecting used to be such an easy pastime. One glass each year, one design each year. A mistake glass here and there - no problem.

But the mass marketing of the last 15 years has affected horseracing collectibles substantially, especially in the 1990's with the new limited edition mentality. Although production of official "garden-variety" Triple Crown drinking glasses is in the 6-7 figure range, numerous limited editions and expanded lines have saturated the market.

The first of the expansion categories to take off was shotglasses. In 1987, two 1 oz. and two 3 oz. shots were issued to commemorate the 113th Kentucky Derby. Today, those original shots remain the priciest of the modern shots. In successive years, the Derby shotglass line has slowly grown with the addition of shooters (tall shot), cordials (shooter with a handle), borels (miniature mug), fluted shots, and various other designs.

In 1996, the first "limited edition" set of 3 shotglasses appeared, with 3600 sets being produced.

1996 was also the year of the "unauthorized" shots; about 12 shot designs different from the official releases made their way to the secondary market. The glut peaked in 1997 with a total of 10 different official shotglasses as well as the 3-shot limited edition set. This year for Derby 125 there are currently "only" 6 official shots and the 3-piece limited edition set. A new stainless steel limited edition shot seems to be the early hot item and was sold out to dealers before the collectors even had a chance at it.

Not to be left out of the fun, the Preakness (1992), Belmont (1992), and Breeders' Cup (1988) picked up on shotglasses too. 1996 was the first year of limited edition Preakness shots. 1997 marked the first appearance of two "unofficial" BC shots produced by Louisville entrepreneurs. Of this group, the '92 Preakness & Belmont shots are in the greatest demand.

When the market was finally saturated with shotglasses, expansion of the line of regular size glasses started 1997 with numbered, limited editions printed in gold. That first year, a limited edition four-glass set (Derby, Preakness, Belmont, and "Triple Crown") retailed at $40 per glass. In 1998, the retail price for the Kentucky Derby limited edition doubled to $80, while the rest remained at $40.

Also in 1998 a set of three $40 glasses were printed in silver to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Secretariat's Triple Crown, replicas of the 1973 Derby and Preakness glasses, plus a new Belmont glass showing Big Red's 31-length win, since the first Belmont glasses were not produced until 1976. Then the Breeder's Cup jumped on the gold limited edition bandwagon for the second time in 1998 to produce a glass for its 15th anniversary, despite lukewarm demand for its 1993 10th anniversary gold limited edition glass.

Even unofficial or "bar glasses" have gotten caught up in this explosion. These are glasses produced from the 1950's through the 1980's for Derby festivities leading up to the first Saturday in May. They used to be fun items that could be picked up for a couple bucks just a few years ago. At a show during the New Year's holiday, fairly common bar glasses were seen with asking prices of $30 to $50!

This overabundance of horseracing glasses is starting to have its effect, and prices realized for gold limited edition glasses are starting to slide. Collectors are simply fed up with the way the manufacturers are milking the collectors' market and are losing interest in the artificial collectibles. This is causing demand to shift back to the truly hard-to-find older glasses which hold their value.


by Michael Herrick,
Matterform Media

Copyright © 1997-2002, Cindy Pierson Dulay & Tom Sporney