The Mysterious Bottle of Rum

We were recently contacted by Jim and Holly, a couple that we had the pleasure of spending a week with during our Island Windjammers Cruise a few years ago.  They’d been gifted an old bottle of rum that was perhaps pretty special and wondered if we could find out anything about it. We’re posting the story of this mysterious bottle of rum to see if any of you may know how to get background info on it!

Here’s the story:

What started out as a simple gift from a brother-in-law has become my mystery.  He gave me the bottle over Thanksgiving.  One of his Californian neighbors is in the business of buying estates, usually after someone’s death.  As you can imagine it is sometimes difficult to determine whether items in an estate have any real value.  Not knowing much about rum, and knowing my brother-in-law drinks rum, the neighbor gave it to him.

We did some online research and have had some luck.  Here is what I have been able to learn.  The rum is named Bebida Real and was manufactured in Cuba by Nicolas Merino.  The bottle was imported through New York and tax stamped in California for retail sale.  California tax authorities confirmed that the tax stamp (16 cents) represents a tax rate that was in place between 1935 and 1955.

They were not able to use the actual tax stamp number to narrow it down any further and obviously know nothing about the producer.  In about 1960 Castro took over the rum industry in Cuba and made it ‘state run.’  This happened to Bacardi as well.

I contacted a UK company that offered an evaluation and they offered two hundred pounds before any of my research so I have to believe its work twice that or more. They opined that the bottle label and type of seal were common to the 30’s and 40’s and that information is consistent with what I learned from the State of California.  Prohibition ended in 1933 so I knew it was imported sometime after 1933 even before I got the information from California.  Combining what the collector in the UK knew, and what the State of California told me, it appears the bottle was imported between 1935 and 1950.

The bottle was imported by a company named McKesson Spirits which was part of the McKesson and Robbins Corporation.  The company was somewhat infamous in the late 30’s after a known criminal (Phillip Musica),using a couple of aliases,apparently took over the company.  He had been convicted twice for bootlegging during prohibition.  Musica and several brothers apparently created false sales and false value and profits.  Eventually, December of 1938, the SEC opened an investigation and Musica was arrested and eventually committed suicide before he could be rearrested before trial.This incident contributed to the creation of many new federal regulations about how companies are required to report their financial health.  The company survived and is now McKesson Corporation, a large global company.  During the mid 1900’s McKesson was the USA’s largest importer of alcoholic beverages among other things.

Although the bottle’s labels are generally in good shape there is no manufacturing date on the bottle.  I haven’t been able to find anything about the company that produced it and suspect it is no longer in business.  However, it is difficult to get historical information out of Cuba via the internet.  The stamp on the bottle, see pictures, is a 16 cent stamp which means that the tax on spirits in California at the time was 80 cents per gallon (which is how I was able to identify the 1935-1955 time frame by contacting California tax authorities).  I now own a mint version of the stamp (purchased from a stamp collector) but still don’t know the actual date of manufacture and import.

Anyone who has any thoughts or information that might help me close in on the age of the bottle, understand its history, and determine the value of the bottle please contact me [email protected].  I don’t know if I will sell the bottle but want to know its approximate value before I decide.  I also am not sure how best to sell it if I decide to.And if it turns out to be only worth a couple of hundred dollars I may just decide to have a Cuban rum party and enjoy it!

If you have any info on this bottle, please contact Jim and let him know. Is it worth anything? Or, should he just have a party (and invite us!)