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His decanters quench a different thirst

The weird thing is, Andy Battaglia doesn't even drink.

He started collecting whiskey decanters almost by accident.

"I got suckered in, actually," Battaglia said during a walk around his Jason Road duplex, where decanters of all shapes and sizes carrying all manner of spirits compete for space on the shelves.

His obsession started innocently enough, back in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., where Battaglia, a retired private investigator who gives his age as "over 60," used to live. He had a bar in the basement with a shelf running across the top, and one day his brother walked in and handed him a fancy blue bottle filled with whiskey.

"He says, "I don't drink this stuff,' and that started things rolling," Battaglia said.

Somebody gave him another bottle, and he figured the shelf could use one more, for the sake of balance. "I picked up a third and then a fourth and a fifth and a sixth and a seventh and an eighth."

You get the idea.

Now Battaglia has a fleet of antique car decanters made by Jim Beam and two entire china villages _ with figures representing Japan and the Old West _ filled with Lionstone Whiskey, a Kentucky bourbon. Nearby rests a decanter shaped like The Spirit of St. Louis.

What started as one bottle in the basement in 1969 has take over his home.

When he moved to Florida 15 years ago, Battaglia packed every piece by hand and didn't lose one on the trip. Now he's up to 170 decanters, with values that he said range from $10 to $1,500.

According to Bernie V. Durance, a collector and dealer based in Colorado Springs, Colo., decanter values vary widely by brand. Jim Beam, for instance, is synonymous with whiskey decanters because the company started making them in the late 1940s.

"It was simply a marketing ploy," Durance said. "Like most collectibles, it's based on supply and demand."

For Battaglia, the allure is mostly sentimental.

A tour of his collection goes roughly like this: He picks up a decanter, say, a foot-high porcelain Elvis, filled with McCormick bourbon bottled in Missouri.

Pulling it out of a vast entertainment center, where it rests, arms raised, just above the stereo behind a glass door, Battaglia turns the decanter over to read the label, then launches into a story.

"The base plays Love Me Tender, but it doesn't fit in here," he says, gingerly replacing The King to his perch.

Seconds later, Battaglia heads across the room to a shiny bust of Nefertiti, queen of Egypt, whose golden face and dark eyes bely the Michters whiskey inside. Gently hoisting the treasure, he lovingly smoothes the label, then makes his way toward the Old West collection near the front door.

Stooping to point at the bottom shelf, Battaglia allows a small confession: "When somebody said, "Collect bottles,' I said "You've got to be crazy.' "

Then he picks up another decanter: "She's my favorite. Annie Oakley. She can outdrink anybody."

Mostly, Battaglia likes to collect full decanters with the stopper seals intact. Because federal law prohibits resale of liquor without a license, Battaglia says the decanters aren't worth more full; he just prefers them that way.

"It's just my fetish," he said. "I'm a fanatic for details."

_ Staff writer Jennifer Farrell covers Spring Hill and can be reached at 848-1432.