July 15, 2019 — An unparalleled collection of wines and spirits that date as far back as 1796 are now on permanent display at The Liberty Hall Museum at Kean University in Union, N.J.
Livingston and Kean Families
The wines and spirits in this exhibition were collected by the Livingston and Kean families over the course of nearly two centuries. They were put aside, perhaps intended to be enjoyed on some later occasion or to be saved for posterity. For whatever reason, they remained there undisturbed, only to be discovered when a museum renovation in 2015 uncovered a forgotten cellar door to reveal two hundred years of wines and spirits in America.
Approximately 40 demijohns, large, bulbous bottles that hold five gallons, and six cases of Madeira dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries were found along with over 300 bottles of fine wines and spirits. After their discovery, several bottles in this collection were opened and tasted, and found to be in perfect condition. In December 2018, Christie’s in New York auctioned a portion of the collection. The highest price realized was for a demijohn of 1846 Madeira that sold for $39,000.
The Portuguese Cork Association (APCOR) is also participating in the exhibit, celebrating the part natural cork has played in protecting wine and spirits over hundred of years.
History of Alcohol in the United States
The collection covers nearly the entire history of alcohol in the United States, from the earliest days of the republic through Prohibition to the modern era, from unknown brands and homemade liqueurs to brand names that have resonated for hundreds of years. The 1796 Lenox Madeira found at Liberty Hall may have been purchased to celebrate the election of President John Adams. The 1876 Old Crow Bourbon would give you a taste of what President Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain were known to enjoy. President Calvin Coolidge was a fan of Tokay wine, while Oscar Wilde was a fan of Absinthe, perhaps the Pernod Fils brand found at Liberty Hall.
Other highlights on display at the museum include 1837 Jamaican Rum, 1884 Martinez Vintage Port, 1884 Old Crow Bourbon, 1905 Château Mouton Rothschild, 1922 Château d’Yquem, 1926 Krug Champagne, 1926 Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux, c.1934 Laphroaig 14 Years Old Scotch, 1935 Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, 1936 Wente Bros Sweet Semillon, c. 1940 Bacardi Rum, and 1943 Marc Brédif Vouvray.
The permanent exhibit opened to the public on July 4 appropriately celebrating the founding family’s involvement in the founding of the United States. William Livingston who built Liberty Hall in 1772 served as a member of the First and Second Continental Congress and as brigadier general of the New Jersey militia. He was a signer of the United States Constitution. Also in 1776 he became New Jersey’s first elected Governor.
Apart from the “History in a Bottle” exhibit Liberty Hall Museum offers many wonderful glimpses into life over the past 200 years through extensive collections of antique furniture, ceramics, textiles, toys and tools owned by seven generations of the Livingston and Kean families. In addition, the Museum’s gardens are quite magnificent. Their web site is worth checking out and if you are living in or visiting the New York area or even Philadelphia, Liberty Hall Museum would be a pleasant change of pace. For New Yorkers, you can hop a bus or train. Watch for special events such as the upcoming Downton Abbey Luncheon on September 22 to celebrate the release of the movie.