The Item. This cocktail shaker dates from the early 1930s and is one of only two known examples of its kind. It was crafted to match the Bottoms Up–style cups that were first made in the late 1920s. Both the shaker and the cups are clay. The cup design, which was popular among speakeasy patrons, requires you to finish your cocktail before setting it down, lest the cup topple over and spill its contents. (Empty your cup too frequently, and you risk suffering a similar consequence.)
Both the shaker and the cups were made by White Cloud Farms, an upstate New York company that, in the early 20th century, created decorative tiles for a rooftop reflecting pool at the Manhattan headquarters of Parke-Bernet, America’s leading auction house until Sotheby’s purchased it in 1964. A larger company, McKee Glass, of Jeannette, Pa., appropriated the Bottoms Up design in 1930, prompting White Cloud to sue for patent infringement. After the competitors settled, McKee produced a more chaste version of the cups.
Stephen Visakay, 69, is an expert on period cocktail accoutrements and is the author of the reference book Vintage Bar Ware (Collector Books, 1997 and 2000). He has donated three shakers to the Museum of the American Cocktail, which in July returned to its original home city, New Orleans. The traveling exhibit Shaken Not Stirred: Cocktail Shakers and Design, which appeared at several U.S. museums during the 1990s, featured items from Visakay’s collection. He says that he has been drawn to vintage barware since his childhood, when his mother owned a tantalizingly shiny chrome cocktail shaker. She kept it in a china closet and forbade her son to touch it.
Visakay has been acquiring Bottoms Up cups singly and in pairs since 1977; he purchased the shaker in 1984—for $100—from a dealer at an Atlantic City, N.J. fair. “He didn’t know what he had,” Visakay says, adding that the dealer did not speak to him for years after learning of the cocktail shaker’s provenance. Visakay verified the shaker’s identity in 2005, when he located a son of the founder of White Cloud Farms, which closed in 1957. The man showed him a company catalog that dated to 1934 and included the shaker, which at the time sold for $12, or approximately $190 today. Visakay estimates the shaker’s present value at $20,000; as a group, the 11 cups that he owns are worth roughly $4,500.
Visakay displays the rare shaker and other favorites from his 1,000-strong collection in his upstate New York home. He says that he has used every shaker at least once, but he most often reaches for the Manhattan Skyscraper Serving Set, a sleek, six-cup, chrome-plated brass service that was fashioned in the late 1930s by famed industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes. “It’s usable art,” Visakay says of vintage barware. “What other antiques can you use on a daily basis and have this much fun?”