Almost everyone who attends the Kentucky Derby winds up taking home one or more of the souvenir glasses the track uses to serve mint juleps. They are a fun item to either display in your curio or keep in your cabinet and enjoy with your favorite beverages year-round. Many people get the bug and decide to try build a set for each year they have attended, each year since they were born, or even a full set of every year the glasses have been produced. The search for specific years of the glasses can be fun as you ramble through yard sales and flea markets looking for that elusive year you are missing.
The first glass produced was in 1938 but it was only used in limited numbers and was a water glass and not a julep glass so many collectors don't consider it a proper part of a full set of glasses. The next two years a true julep glass was produced for general distribution and these are the most expensive, ranging in value from $6,000 to $16,000 depending on the condition and variation.
World War II created a shortage of glass between 1940-44 so other tumblers that were found in surplus stock were used to make an aluminum version for 1940 and 1941 and a Bakelite version for 1941 to 1944. As you can imagine the Bakelite or Beetleware glasses are also valued in the thousands.
1945 glasses were of 3 different designs and produced in low enough quantities to make those very valuable. And then in 1946 & 47 for some reason only blank undecorated glasses were used, and since these same blank glasses were sold outside of the race track most collectors do not recognize any glasses for these years.
1948 started the current run of glasses that has continued until the present. There have been a few variations of style but most feature a list of winners on the back which makes dating a glass easy; just add one to the last year listed. Beware that there are many unofficial glasses out there that are not even close to worth what the official ones are. Trust a good photo reference or a trustworthy dealer to guide you here.
Also note that the more time that passes since any of the glasses was produced the rarer they become and the more it costs to acquire them. Glasses produced before 1980 generally bring higher prices than glasses produced more recently - in the $20 - $50 range. Sometimes simply a more popular design for a specific year can result in a higher price than a glass a few years older.
dated historical information from horse racing expert Cindy Pierson Dulay - Nov. 2015
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