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Fakes & Fantasies
 
Advertising Signs
The year 1899 is used for genuine as well as modern fabricated advertising signs and other Green River Whiskey collectibles.  Also, that year is merely a copyright date, and is ascribed too often to Green River Whiskey artifacts, both old and new.

Reproduction Green River Whiskey "Lithograph" Sign (Image: 19 7/8" x 14 3/8")
Reproduction Green River Whiskey "Lithograph" Sign (Image: 19 7/8" x 14 3/8")
Reproduction Green River Whiskey Tin Sign (with Green & White Lines on Edge)
Reproduction Tin Sign, 14 x 17.5 inches (with Green & White Lines on Edge)
Reproduction Tin Sign with Plain Border (No Green & White Lines on Edge)
Reproduction Tin Sign with Plain Border (No Green & White Lines on Edge)
Reproduction Green River Whiskey Tin Sign
"Self Framed" Reproduction Tin Sign, 24.75 x 19 inches
Reproduction Green River Whiskey Tin Sign
"Self Framed" Reproduction Tin Sign, 27 x 21 inches
Genuine "Classic" Green River Whiskey Lithograph
Genuine "Classic" Green River Whiskey Lithograph (31" x 41")
Non-original Tray Modified from Reproduction Sign
Non-original tray modified from reproduction sign. Green River Distilling Co. produced trays, but in the round and the art work was distinctly different. Clearly not original, as trays were not made with handles. (Measures 14.5" x 21")
There are two basic time periods during which Green River Whiskey signs were made: Pre-Prohibition (1906-1916) and Post-Prohibition (1935-1950) eras. These are rough time estimates and relate specifically to Green River Whiskey advertising, and not to National prohibition which started in 1920 and ended in 1933.
 
The Pre-Prohibition signs for Green River have two identifying slogans: SHE WAS BRED IN OLD KENTUCKY and THE WHISKEY WITHOUT A HEADACHE. The signs that appeared after the Repeal period bear the slogan THE WHISKEY WITHOUT REGRETS. As there was no strong Kentucky relationship at this time, the reference to Kentucky was not used. Oldetyme Distillers of New York City became the distillers/bottlers of Green River Whiskey in 1934, and they began heavy advertising in 1935. And for the most part the signs with the classic image of the man and horse were made of cardboard and the art work is significantly different than the older tin signs. 
 
Unfortunately, beginning around the middle of the 1980s, metal reproductions began to appear bearing the identical image of the classic lithograph sign that says "She Was Bred in Old Kentrucky," and "The Whiskey Without a Headache." In point of fact, the paint of the more recent signs is actually superior to the ink of originals. This simply relates to the fact that printing technology is now better than it was in the early 1900's.
 
But although the image of the recent repro signs is identical (a perfect copy) of the original, there are ways to distinguish the real from the fakes. The two basic differences are size and borders/frames. The original lithograph is much larger and has a gesso (chalk over wood) -- and usually -- gold frame. It is approximately 31" x 41" including the frame. The bottom of the frame bears a black composition plate with the inscription "J.W. McCulloch// Owensboro, Kentucky." This name and place also are on the image itself (lower left hand side), but in fairly small print. There are three tin reproductions (fakes) that I know of. All three were created without a wooden frame, probably during the 1980's. A smaller sign is made of flat tin (no self-enclosed border). It is about thirteen and a quarter by seventeen and three-quarters in size. A green line circles the outer edge, and there are holes on all four corners for suspension. All of the originals I know of had picture wire on the back for hanging, not corner holes.
 
The fake tin signs are smaller (there are about three sizes of these). The sizes are about 14" x 17.5" (see above), 19" x 24" and 23"x 29" give or take a fraction of an inch. The smallest of these has no frame and has holes in all four corners for suspension (see example on this page). They don't generally deceive the uninitiated collector and can be found in antique malls and eBay.

Genuine vs. Reproduction Green River Signs
A lot of mysticism surrounds many subjects. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said in the case of Jacobellis v. Ohio that he did not know the definition of pornography but he knew it when he saw it. In similar fashion, I find it difficult to describe Green River Whiskey signs, but I know a fake when I see one. As I have been collecting Green River Whiskey memorabilia for a very long time, I can simplify some aspects of the collectibles. First of all, as it relates to the advertising signs, there are several different specimens, and they cover different time periods. That is, there are Pre-Prohibition and Post-Prohibition signs. The most common motif in both periods is the Black groom and his ever patient horse with the five gallon demijohn on its saddle. Most of the early signs are made of tin, and in the latter period most of the signs are made of cardboard. In a side by side comparison, the art work is obviously different. The specimens of both periods usually are contained in wooden frames.
 
If there is no wooden frame, with obviously original embellishments, be careful. I would guess they were not intended to deceive, but were manufactured to meet the antique mall demand. After finding their way into public hands, the pictures' origins, intent and authenticity have become obscured. The largest of these products is about eighteen and three-quarter inches. It has a black self-enclosed frame. Which is to say, the metal of the picture curves out to the exterior to form a frame. Thus, it is "self-enclosed." I know of no genuine Green River Whiskey sign with a black frame. This specimen is what I call "The Most Dangerous" Green River Whiskey sign out there. I own two, and did not pay more than $40.00 for either. (I collect the real and the fake). I have seen them offered on the eBay Internet site for over $300.00 and had one offered to me by a local antique mall seller for $800.00. That would have been before adding state sales tax! Also, a good friend of mine offered me one as a trade for a collection of silver medallions I owned valued at more than $1,000.00!! Another similar sign has a slightly wider black framed border, but is essentially identical in most respects.
 
The above mentioned three cinderellas all are copies of the same pre-pro sign, down to the last minute detail. In other words, the graphic work is 100 percent like the original.
 
Some clever sellers of the fraudulent signs have started to place the smaller picture in modern frames to give them a more original look. If it looks as good as new, it probably is!! Another significant feature of the old versus the new is that the pre-pro signs were lithographic ink-based prints. The modern designs were done with paint. The paint is more durable, and perversely, looks shinier and newer. You can wash the surface of the new signs with detergent to remove dust without a problem. Do that with an original and you will probably remove a significant part of the original color and also the dollar value. Most of the original frames were gold in color. The large classic sign that the repros are based on had a gold gesso frame and was approximately 31"X 41" in size. They included elaborate wording on the bottom of the frame, giving the name of J.W. McCulloch, Distiller; and Owensboro, KY. Also, this information is contained on the bottom left-hand side on the tin lithograph itself with the statement "Copyrighted in 1899." The lithographic art on the old and modern signs is identical.
 
So, to answer the question, how does one tell the difference between an original and a copy?

1. If the picture has a black self-enclosed tin frame.....it's a fake;

2. If the size of the black-edged sign is 18"X 25".....it's a fake;

3. If the picture is flat (no frame) and is 13"X 17"....it's a fake;

4. If there are holes on the edges for nails....it's a fake;

5. If it is shiny and looks new....it's a fake;

6. If your common sense tells you it's a fake....it probably is.

"The Frame Makes the Picture"
Many original advertising images will appear for sale in non-original frames. The images themselves may have value, but sellers incorrectly believe that adding a non-original frame will appreciate or add additional value. Prices for such reframed images are too often exponentially higher than the actual value of the original image. 

Frame Not Original to Image
Frame Not Original to Image
Frame Not Original to Image
Frame Not Original to Image
Frame Not Original to Image
Frame Not Original to Image
Frame Not Original to Image
Frame Not Original to Image
Jugs
A number of fake jugs are frequently sold on eBay. If you suspect someone of selling a fake Kentucky whiskey jug, please feel free to email the eBay i.d. of the suspected seller so it can be compared against a list of known sellers.

Fake Green River Whiskey Jug (10.5" X 7.25")
Fake Green River Whiskey Jug (10.5" X 7.25")
Fake Green River Whiskey Jug
Fake Green River Whiskey Jug (Size Unknown)
Fake jug with stenciled lettering with Green River slogan.
Fake jug with stenciled lettering with Green River slogan.
Fake Green River Whiskey Jub (Size Unknown)
Fake Green River Whiskey Jub (Size Unknown)
Fake Green River Jug
Fake Green River Jug, 7.5 inches tall -- Fake, because the lettering is engraved (sunken)
Green River Whiskey Jug -- Fake
Fake Green River Jug, 11.25 inches tall -- Fake, because the lettering is engraved (sunken)
Fake Green River Jug, 12.75 inches tall
Fake Green River Jug, 12.75 inches tall
Fake Green River Jug
Fake Green River Jug, 7.5 inches tall -- Fake, because the lettering is engraved (sunken)
Suspicious Miniature Jugs, one of which features Green River Whiskey
Suspicious miniature jugs, only one of which features Green River Whiskey. All three sold on eBay by the same dealer during a single week in 2013.
Fake Miniature Green River Whiskey Jug. The Green River Whiskey patented inscription looks like the genuine inscription, but the jug does not.
Fake Miniature Green River Whiskey Jug. The Green River Whiskey patented inscription looks like the genuine inscription, but because the jug is fake, the inscription must not be genuine.
Fake Miniature Jug (Not Green River Whiskey, but identical as others sold recently on eBay)
Fake Miniature Jug (Not Green River Whiskey, but identical as others sold recently on eBay)
Recently produced fake Green River Whiskey jug. Green River Whiskey jugs did not have bails.
Recently produced fake Green River Whiskey jug. Green River Whiskey jugs did not have bails.
A note about fake jugs:
 
Some fake jugs are likely made by using a ceramic cutting tool with a hardened metal wheel or a stationary power tool to make the lettering appear authentic, as if the jug were a "scratch" jug. Genuine "scratch" jugs are labor intensive. Most are glazed with a local brown clay or possibly Albany slip, the brown clay sealent from that section of New York State. While the glaze is still wet, a sharp pointed instrument such as a nail is used to inscribe the message after which the jug is placed inside a kiln and fired. The scratched portion stands out in yellowish-white against a dark brown background.
 
See also: Bill Baah, The Georgia Mini Jug Story.
 
Green River Whiskey did not make "scratch" jugs or jugs with bails, but you can view examples of "scratch" jugs at: http://www.minibottlelibrary.com/mbl/alpha/old-continental/index.html (the "scratch" jugs are labelled as such on the site). 

Genuine Green River Whiskey Jugs
Genuine Green River Whiskey Jug
Genuine Green River Whiskey Jug
Genuine Green River Whiskey Jug (Back)
Genuine Green River Whiskey Jug (Back)
Genuine Green River Whiskey Jug, Canteen Style
Genuine Green River Whiskey Jug, Canteen Style -- Lettering is stenciled, not engraved
Genuine Green River Whiskey Jug, 2 gallon
Genuine Green River Whiskey Jug, 2 gallon
Genuine Green River Whiskey Jug
Genuine Green River Whiskey Jugs, Half Gallon & Gallon -- Lettering is stenciled, not engraved
Watch Fobs
 
Green River Whiskey watch fobs were issued by the Green River Distilling Co. of Owensboro, KY. They came in two shapes, oval and round, Both contained a list of world's fairs (expositions) on the reverse in which Green River had won a prize for excellence. The round specimens were issued first. The earliest ones listed four expositions and others list six. The oval fobs have similar features as the round ones but have obvious artistic differences. The dates of issue correspond to the exposition dates of roughly about 1906, making the fobs at least a hundred years old. The prices for these items are all over the landscape.
 
Recently, cast fakes have begun to appear on eBay. Originals were struck, not cast. Originals were made of bronze with a silver wash. None were made with precious metals.

Possible Fake Green River Whiskey Watch Fob
Possible Fake Green River Whiskey Watch Fob
Green River Whiskey Watch Fob -- FAKE Brass
Fake Green River Whiskey Watch Fob (Brass: Lacking the Traditional White Wash. Fakes tend to be a golden color.)
Fantasy piece intended as a novelty. Manufactured by a California die sinker.
Fantasy piece intended as a novelty. Manufactured by a California die sinker.
Genuine Green River Whiskey Token Chemically or Mechanically "Aged" and with Fake Date on the Lower Front (1863).
Genuine Green River Whiskey Token Chemically or Mechanically "Aged" and with Fake Date on the Lower Front (1863).
Is My Green River Whiskey Item Real or Fake?
Question: I have an old metal sign featuring Green River Whiskey. The sign is pressed and painted ala license plate and is of same thickness of an old license plate.  The subject of the picture is an old black man with a horse outside the Green River Inn with barrels of whiskey on the horse's back. The sign reads "SHE'S BRED IN OLD KENTUCKY". I guess a double entendre with the horse and whiskey. Copyright on sign is 1899 J. W.  McCulloch  Owensboro, Kentucky. Sign is approx.12" x 16" and is drawn in landscape format.

Answer:
From the general description you provide of your Green River Whiskey sign, I am of the impression you have one of the reproductions or fantasies created for the antique mall and flea market trade during the 80's. It probably has no frame (all genuine GRW signs had either gesso, wood, or curled tin, "self enclosed" frames). None of them had holes in the four corners for suspension, as I suspect yours does. Most genuine signs had picture wire on the back for hanging. The measurements I have in my records for the flat sign are thirteen and a quarter by seventeen and one quarter inches. That's from edge to edge, including the part outside the lithograph/ picture.
 
And the picture is absolutely identical to the "classic" pre-pro gold gesso-framed 31"X41" sign. The art work containing the copyright date of 1899 is completely the same! If a person doesn't know what the real thing looks like, they can be easily fooled by the modern copy. Thank you for your offer, but I suspect I already own a brand new copy similar to yours. If you think I am wrong in my assumptions, let me know. By the way, my wife and I hope one of these days to get to the airplane museum there in your city.