This installment of “From the Colonel’s Desk” comes from the pen of Col. John Riley, Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels (commissioned 1985), a longtime numismatist who hails from the Bluegrass State.
Chasing tokens, medals, mirrors, and other exonumia related to the Bluegrass State presents some interesting diversions off the beaten path.
Curious to the ear now, a manner of expression at the turn of the twentieth century prominently emphasized the speech article “The” in an establishment’s name: Hence, “The Manila” (celebrating victory in the Spanish-American War), “The Stag” (a popular hunter’s saloon name of the time), “The Mint,” “The Gem,” “The Stewart,” and so on.
Naturally, “The Kentucky” or similar names find their way to the collector. To the more innocent observer, these establishments might suggest a sentimental stop for homesick Kentuckians who found themselves in the open West, or just far from a familiar hearth, home-cooking, and a loved one’s tender arms. Alas, more likely, it was a not-so-subtle advertising hint that a certain brown, limestone-filtered beverage could be found in quantity within—at 5¢ for a shot!
At any rate, such things make for the variety and enjoyment of collecting exonumia on a theme. Currently, at auction, you can find similar sales-minded stone liquor jugs promoting “Louisville Liquor House” (out of Cripple Creek, Colorado) and “Old Kentucky Liquor Company” (from Denver.)
Not to downplay in any way the societal ravages that abuse of alcohol created, particularly in less regulated times, today’s designer bourbon whisky culture is a far cry from what a lonely cowpoke would have found at “The Kentucky” 120 years ago. Today’s marketing machines ensure the sentiments and positive traditions remain.
Dennis Tucker is a Life Member of the American Numismatic Association and the publisher of Whitman Publishing, a leading producer of books, storage and display supplies, and other resources for collectors and hobbyists. He was commissioned a Kentucky Colonel in March 2021 for his career in book publishing and his promotion of the Commonwealth’s status as an important subject in numismatics. His column “From the Colonel’s Desk” explores the Bluegrass State’s rich connections to American coins, tokens, medals, paper money, private currency, and related artifacts. To read more, visit the “From the Colonel’s Desk” archives. Other columns by Col. Tucker include “Notes Published” (about books and publishing in general, with a special emphasis on antiques and collectibles) and “Behind the Scenes: First Spouse Gold Coins” (about the United States Mint’s gold coin program.)