Book Review: Whiskey: An American Pictorial History
Oscar Getz was the owner of the Barton Distillery when he started collecting whiskey memorabilia. He turned this collection into an exhibit at the distillery. When he retired and sold the distillery he took his collection with him and set up the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History at Spalding Hall in Bardstown. Or, I should say his widow did this because unfortunately he passed away while working on this project. This book was written as a companion piece to the collection. It is a good book but a bit incomplete by today’s standards. It only discusses the history up to the end of Prohibition. Some of the information has since been proven to be inaccurate. The book’s strong point is the wonderful photographs of the objects and documents he collected. The book is available at the museum and every visitor with a love of history should purchase it when they visit the museum. The profits from the sale help to support the museum.

Whiskey: An American Pictorial History, by Oscar Getz. New York: David McKay Company, Inc. 1978. Contents, Preface, Postscript, Index, Illustrated, Pp. 207.

This book was written by Oscar Getz with the collaboration of Irv. Bilow to be a companion piece to his whiskey memorabilia collection at the Barton Distillery. This collection went onto be the core of the present day Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History. It is also one of the earliest attempts to tell the story of American distilling in print. The book is interesting and the writing is decent. The real gems of the book are the illustrations of items from Getz’s collection. Jugs, bottles, photographs, labels, manuscripts and books are all part of this collection and they are shown throughout the book.

There has been talk for years about updating the book. This would be a great project to undertake but the barrier has been getting the funding to do so. It would call for not only paying a writer to do the project but also a photographer to illustrate the book with new items in the museum and of course, publishing costs. For a museum with such a tight budget, it will have to remain a project on their “wish list”.

The book tells the history of American Whiskey from the founding of this country through Prohibition with only a single chapter dealing with the time after repeal. The history is sometimes well researched and at other times dependent more upon legends and marketing than history.

This book is still a very good one to have in a distilling library. The illustrations make it worth owning and the timeline chart of the whiskey excise tax is also very handy to have on hand.

Photo Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl