How Much Is It Worth?
Probably the question that I get asked most often is "How much is this glass worth?" While my gut reaction is to explain how "value" is a very subjective and individual thing that should really be answered by asking "How much would you pay for it?" I understand that it is not a very practical answer. This page will give a more practical (and hopefully more useful) answer. The simple answer is
"The average shotglass is worth about $3.00" Some are worth more, some are worth less -- this is where the fun begins!
Less Than Average
The glasses that are worth less than $3.00 fall into two categories, "plain" and"tourist." The "plain" glasses are glasses that do not have any added design except maybe a measuring line, a colored line or a colored rim. Some plain glasses will have molded features such a flutes (small flat or indented sections around the base of the glass) and may even be made of colored glass, but these features do not increase their value. These can often be picked up at outlet stores for under $1.00 each. Many collectors do not collect this type of glass.
The other category of "low value" glasses are tourist glasses -- the kind of glass that you pick up on vacation to commemorate your visit to a place. Some "tourist" glasses are worth more than others, but in general, tourist glasses are worth less on the "secondary" or resale market than was originally paid by the person who purchased it while on vacation. Many "tourist" glasses have very thin glass at their base and are made in Taiwan or China. Since these glasses often sell at retail for under $2.00, they tend to go for about $1.00 each on the secondary market. The "tourist" glasses with thick glass at the base tend to be worth more than their thin based cousins, but are rarely worth more than $3.00.
More Than Average
The number one factor that increases the value of a glass is the interest of non-shotglass collectors. If a glass appeals to another group, the value is likely to go up. An example of this are glasses with Coca-Cola related designs. There is a large group of people who do not collect shotglasses, but they do collect Coca-Cola memorabilia. When these Coke collectors find a shotglass, they are willing to pay more for it, so the value goes up.
I already hear people saying "But what about those glasses that are 'rare'?" Think about a plain glass, that has no distinguishing features. There is only one glass of this particular design in the world. How much is this glass worth? Since plain glasses are not widely collected, it would be difficult to prove that it is really the only example of this style of glass in the world. Also, since there are very few people who collect plain glasses, there would not be much demand for that glass. This is just an example of how "rarity" by itself is not a factor in the value of a glass -- but combine "rarity" with the interest of non-shotglass collectors, and you can get some very expensive glasses.
Art Glass, and "Known Patterns"
One of the largest group of shotglasses that have high values fall into the "Pattern Glass" category. Known as Early American Pattern Glass or Elegant Glass these are sets of glassware that often contain serving items such as pitchers and bowls in addition to glasses of different sizes, all with the same pattern molded or cut into them. The smallest are often called "Whiskey glasses" or "whiskeys" but only hold one or two ounces, so we would call them shots. The hardest part of identifying these glasses is that many of the designs are quite complex, so they are difficult to describe without a picture. Without a good description, you have to go through many books, and look at many pictures. Since most sets do not include a whiskey, you end up looking at a pages and pages of sets that are of no interest. If a set does have a whiskey and the glass is in the picture, the glass is so small in the picture you cannot make out any details. Another source of frustration is the fact that "glass people" often call the same design by two or three different names. The values of these glasses range from about $8.00 to hundreds of dollars.
Another category of shotglass falls into the "Art Glass" category. These glasses are "works of art" made my artists or by famous names such as Tiffany or Lalique. These are often hand made and "one of a kind" while others are "hand decorated" I am not sure if modern crystal manufacturer such as Tyrone and Waterford belong in this category, but since their designs are hand cut by skilled craftsman, I think they belong here. These glasses have values from $20 to hundreds of dollars (the Tiffany glasses that I have seen were selling for about $300 each, and in my opinion were very ugly)
Another category of valuable glasses are the "Pre-Prohibition Sample Glasses." These are thin walled glasses that were given away by whiskey peddlars and saloons to be used by customers to sample the merchandise, and they would have the name of the manufacturer on the glass so that the customer would remember what they were sampling.
Since these were supposed to be disposable, some are very rare, especially in "mint" condition -- many of those that survived have small chips in the glass or damaged designs, which decrease their value. The most valuable tend to be ones with pictures or colors (other than white).
These glasses range in value from $20 to about $250. Be aware that some newer glasses are being called "pre-prohibition" when they are not. Most often these are the "Calvert A" and "Calvert B" glasses which were part of a taste test kit from the '40s or '50s. The confusion here is that these glasses are listed in a a book of pre-prohibition glasses with a note that they are NOT from before prohibition, but many people miss the note.
Another high value type of glass from the "pre-prohibition" era are medicinal dosing glasses. I mention these because, although they are technically not shotglasses, they are approximately the same size and shape, and often appear in shotglass collections. These either have advertising for a specific type of medicine Adlerika or Basset's Native Herbs or an advertisment for a particular druggist. These have values from about $20 to $60 each.
Long Running Commemorative Sets
There is another category of glass that tends to be more valuable than the average, and the common theme between them is that there was a new glass put out every year to commemorate an event. One of these sets was created by Coca-Cola to celebrate Christmas: They put out a glass in 1969, and then every year between 1977 and 1988. These glasses are worth about $20 each. Other soda manufacturers such as Pepsi and Dr. Pepper put out some holiday shotglasses, but they did not run as long as the Coke series, and tend to be worth less (about $8.00 each)
The Kentucky Derby has been putting out Commemorative Julep glasses since the 1930s, and had a shotglass in the '40s, but did not start regularly issuing shotglasses until 1987. They have recently expanded the number of different types of glasses that they issue each year, and there have been "unofficial" glasses produced. There are similar glasses available for The Breeder's Cup (since 1988) and The Belmont Stakes and the Preakness (both since 1992). The first year's glasses are the most valuable, with values in the hundreds of dollars (although one Derby glass from 1987 is worth over $1000.) Other than that, almost all of the glasses from the 90's are worth less than $100, and the newest glasses are all under $20.
Another commemorative set was put out every year by Southern Airways to celebrate another year in business. The older ones, for the first 10 years (1949-1959) are worth about $30 each, while the second decade glasses are worth about $20 each, and those from the third decade are worth about $10 each. I am not sure if they made any after 1979, their 30th year.
There are other groups who put out occasional glasses to celebrate an event or anniversary. Often these are pewter cups or something other than the standard shotglass, so they have less interest among those collectors who only collect a specific type of glass. Glasses that fall into this category come from Colt and Ruger (gun manufacturers) Harley Davidson, and Disney. Jack Daniel's had a siverplate jigger that falls into this category -- it was not sold as an individual item but came as part of a set and is in demand by Jack Daniel's collectors.
Another type of glass that falls in this category are glasses from Expositions -- The Pan American Exposition, Columbian Exposition, etc. which were the World's Fair of their day. There were "official" glasses made, which often came in a padded carrying case because they were made of very thin glass. The more common type is the personalized souvenir glasses, which were made of thicker glass. These glasses were made with a color (usually red or ruby) "flashed" or added to the outside, and then the visitor would have their name and sometimes the date cut into the glass. This was also done at state fairs, but the ones from the Expositions have a wider collector base. The colored portion of the glass is often scratched, which decreases the value. These glasses have a value in the $20-$50 range.
I have also seen a number of thin walled glasses commemorating the German Baptist Convention with years ranging from 1897 to 1905. I have also seen glasses commemorating Lindergh's solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. These glasses have a value in the $20-$50 range.
There is one other set that has glasses in the $10-$20 range, and they are hard to find in good condition. Instead of the normal enameled design which is fired onto the glass and more or less permanent, the manufacturer of these glasses used decals, which are attached to the outside of the glass and easily chipped or rubbed off. The subject matter of these glasses is naked ladies -- but they are only naked when viewed from behind. If you look at the front of the glass you will see a rather normal picture of a woman in rather normal clothes, wearing a quite ordinary dress or slightly exotic, dressed as a Spanish dancer or as a woman from Thailand. When viewed from behind, you see the same woman without any clothes, viewed from behind. These glasses are rather tame by today's standards, but were probably quite risque in their day. There are at least two sets of these, one set has round backgrounds behind the ladies, and one set without any backgrounds.
The Odd Ones
There are a few other glasses that do not fit into a category, but still have values that are above average. The first one that comes to mind is a set of glasses with a character named "Reddy Kilowatt" on it. This was some form of advertising for electricity, and the glasses go for $10-$20 each. There are also a number of sets of "nesting cups" -- small cups that fit inside each other, that are worth about $20 for the set. The most interesting part of these is the container that holds the cups. Some come in rather plain leather cases, but the more interesting ones have metal cases. Some of the cases are shaped like a bullet or artillery shell, and these often have the phrase "Take A Shot" on them. There are other containers that are shaped like a barrel, and another shaped like an owl. The owl has a number of different disguises -- sometimes he is just a silver owl, but other examples have him dressed like a college grad, with a mortarboard hat, and another example has him wrapped in fur, wearing a fur coat. I have also seen a set where the container is shaped like a pear.
There is one more set of glasses that contain some high value items, but since they are in current production, only time will tell if they hold their value (if someone decides to make some money and "floods the market," the values will come down.) These are glassed from the Hard Rock Cafe. The most valuable glasses are from cities where the restaurant has closed (and since no more are being made, they should not lose value), and from cities that are "off the beaten path" or away from the usual tourist traffic (less people visit there, so the glasses are relatively rare.) Most of the glasses from cities in the United States are not "rare."