The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom
First edition of Alfred Barnard’s 'The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom' – £3000 at Whisky.Auction.

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His altruistic aim was to provide readers with the history and descriptions of the whisky-making process. Often accompanied by friends, from 1885-87 Barnard attended 162 working distilleries (129 in Scotland, 29 in Ireland and four in England) and reported what he found in The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom.

Published by Joseph Causton and Sons in 1887, the text, accompanied by over 200 etchings by Walker & Boutall, includes often colourful descriptions of whisky makers now well known to connoisseurs today, as well as other names whose fame has faded since the end of the 19th century.

Modern facsimile copies of what is often called ‘the most important book ever written about whisky’ have been produced in their thousands since the 1960s but original first editions are surprisingly rare. At the time of publication, the book was deemed a trade guide rather than a lifestyle travelogue for a wider readership.

Whisky travalogue engraving

One of many engravings from the book, this one showing the Bowmore distillery.

Isabel Graham-Yooll of London specialist firm Whisky.Auction says the increased demand for whisky has had a positive knock-on effect on the value of associated collectables.

“This is a book we often refer to but rarely get the opportunity to sell,” she said. “It is engaging throughout. Barnard drew on the local lore and legend told to him by the many characters he met on his travels, ranging from proprietors and excise officers to hoteliers and coachmen. He describes the journeys taken to reach each distillery (the journey often more important than the destination) be it by train, steamboat, horse and cart or on foot.”

The copy offered in a timed online sale that closed on January 4 was in a later binding but came with a good provenance. An ex libris bookplate to the inside front cover identifies the owner as Harry Anderson Pitman, a partner of Edinburgh and London wine merchant Cockburn & Campbell.

It attracted a flurry of late bids before it sold at £3000 (plus 15% buyer’s premium).

The price appears to be among the highest paid for a first edition. In November a copy in a distressed but original cloth binding sold for £1900 as part of a timed online sale at Gildings in Market Harborough.