Remember When Collecting Horse Racing Glasses Was Easy?

by Tom Sporney & Cindy Pierson

Kentucky Derby glass collecting used to be such an easy pastime. One glass each year, one design each year. A mistake glass here and there - no problem. But the mass marketing of the last fifteen years has affected horse racing collectibles substantially, especially in the 1990's with the new "limited edition" mentality. Although production of official Julip Triple Crown drinking glasses is in the 1,000,000+ range, numerous limited editions and expanded lines have saturated the market.

The first of the expansion categories to take off was shot glasses. In 1987, two 1 oz. and two 3 oz. shots were issued to commemorate the 113th Kentucky Derby. Today, those original shots remain the priciest of the modern shots. In successive years, the Derby shot glass line has slowly grown with the addition of shooters (tall shot), cordials (shooter with a handle), borels (miniature mug), fluted shots, and various other designs. In 1996, the first "limited edition" set of three shot glasses appeared, with 3600 sets being produced. 1996 was also the year of the "unauthorized" shots; about twelve shot designs, different from the official releases, made their way to the secondary market. The glut peaked in 1997 with a total of ten different official shot glasses, as well as the three shot limited edition set. This year for the Derby's 125 running, there are currently "only" six official shots and the three piece limited edition set. A new stainless steel limited edition shot seems to be the early hot item and was sold out to dealers before the collectors even had a chance at it.

Not to be left out of the fun, the Preakness (1992), Belmont (1992), and Breeders Cup (1988) picked up on shot glasses too. 1996 was the first year of limited edition Preakness shots. 1997 marked the first appearance of two "unofficial" Breaders Cup shots produced by Louisville entrepreneurs. Of this group, the '92 Preakness & Belmont shots are in the greatest demand. When the market was finally saturated with shot glasses, expansion of the line of regular size glasses started 1997 with numbered, limited editions printed in gold. That first year, a limited edition four-glass set (Derby, Preakness, Belmont, and "Triple Crown") retailed at $40 per glass. In 1998, the retail price for the Kentucky Derby limited edition doubled to $80, while the rest remained at $40. Also in 1998, a set of three $40 glasses were printed in silver to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Secretariat's Triple Crown. The set of three consists of replicas of the 1973 Derby and Preakness glasses, plus a new Belmont glass showing Big Red's 31-length win, since the first Belmont glasses were not produced until 1976. Then the BreederŐs Cup jumped on the gold limited edition bandwagon for the second time in 1998 to produce a glass for its 15th anniversary, despite lukewarm demand for its 1993 10th anniversary gold limited edition glass.

Even unofficial or "bar glasses" have gotten caught up in this explosion. These are glasses produced from the 1950's through the 1980's for Derby festivities leading up to the first Saturday in May. They used to be fun items that could be picked up for a couple bucks just a few years ago. At a show during the New Year's holiday, fairly common bar glasses were seen with asking prices of $30 to $50!

This overabundance of horse racing glasses is starting to have its effect, and prices realized for gold limited edition glasses are starting to slide. Collectors are simply fed up with the way the manufacturers are milking the collectors' market, and are losing interest in the artificial collectibles. This is causing demand to shift back to the truly hard-to-find, older glasses which hold their value.

For the past several years Louisville Manufacturing has been handling the development and manufacturing of merchandise for the races. Recently, All-Pro Championships has taken over the responsibility. They roll out the next year's Kentucky Derby line catalog in November. In the article, we described six regular shots, three Limited Editions, one Stainless Steel (sold out); there's also the regular glass, this year's gold glass, and a zillion items of T-shirts, sweatshirts, pens, coffee mugs, bumper stickers, napkins, and more. Oh, yeah, I omitted the $40 Limited Edition tankard, the $7 Limited Edition X-mas ornament, the $120 gold-leaf signed Limited Edition coffee-table book (not listed in the catalog), and lots of "artificial collectibles"; except for pins, not much interesting to tout for collectors.

The authors maintain a website, The Equillector (, a guide to market pricing of horse racing collectibles.



This site was last updated 02/20/10