Interview: Martin Green, Bonhams Head of Whisky - 'Whisky collecting is on the rise'

Martin Green has been fascinated with whisky from an early age - before he even drank it.

He has seen collectible whisky establish itself at auction houses and now as Head of Whisky at Bonhams conducts great sales such as the Willard S Folsom collection.

Today, he takes the time to talk to Paul Fraser Collectibles about his most enjoyable experiences so far, predictions for the future and what he's doing for Robert Burns's night.

What first attracted you to this field?

I've always had an interest in whisky and spirits - the first sales were wine sales that included whisky. It has been supply and demand that has driven levels to where they are now.

My earliest memory of single malt whisky was sitting on my mother's knee at the bar of a Scottish Country House Hotel and thinking how all the labels looked so colourful and different.

What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

Being able to provide good results for the vendors and meeting people from all walks of life with the shared interest. I have met some really interesting people from the whisky industry and distilleries and directors of brand companies.

What is the most demanding part of your job?

Meeting the specialist deadlines, particularly the run-up to producing the sale catalogue and dealing with all the stock that has been consigned in time.

We have 4 auctions a year, so each cycle is 3 months - compiling the catalogue, preparing for the sale, and always having to be thinking of the next sale. It is an intense time and there is always huge relief when the catalogue goes to print.

Are you seeing a growth in the number of collectors?

Definitely. As every sale goes by we are seeing more interest and new collectors of all nationalities and a huge spectrum of ages.

Have you seen, or do you see, an influx of collectors from any particular countries/nations?

There definitely has been a significant growth from China. And with the sale of the Folsom Collection in New York at the end of last year, there has been a much bigger demand from the US since the bottles were already in USA and didn't need to be shipped over from Europe.

The Folsom Collection was a 3-part sale; the largest part in New York, the second in Hong Kong and the third sold in Edinburgh.

What items do you think will be harder to collect in the future?

Older distillery items will be hard to find, particularly older Macallans, Ardbegs, Bowmores and Springbanks, Taliskers, Glenmorangies and Highland Park to name only a select few.

Are you a collector? If so, what do you collect?

I do occasionally buy the odd bottle of whisky. And I do enjoy buying nice fine art for my home - not so much high end but something that catches my eye.

The Dalmore Oculus
The Dalmore Oculus

What is the most memorable item you have seen sold at auction?

Probably the Dalmore Oculus which we sold (18th November 2009). We received such huge publicity for this item and huge media interest.

It was a combination of the speculation and anticipation on how it would do in the sale, the great team that were working on the auction with me, the electric atmosphere in the auction room and, of course, the amount it sold for (£27,600).

It was actually my 20thanniversary sale which makes it even more memorable.

And the most expensive?

The most expensive is a Macallan sold by the distillers themselves for over £32,000 to an Asian buyer.

What is your most interesting story from your years in this business?

A bottle of whisky was found in a house in Washington DC behind a secret panel in a wall - the owner discovered it whilst renovating. It was a brand named Viking Whisky from the Glencadam Distillery, a fine early 20th century example.

10 years later it was shipped over to Sweden by the vendor's son when he emigrated, and sold at Bonhams, Edinburgh in November 2008 for £3,240.

What is your favourite whisky?

I have been privileged enough to taste many fine whiskies over the years and I have never tasted a bad single malt. I have tasted some wonderful Macallans, Bowmores and Springbanks. I also particularly like the Dalmore and Highland Park - 18 year old is a recent favourite.

What is your hot tip for 2010? Which market will excel? Are there any new trends emerging?

We will see sales of single malt Scottish whiskies in the US grow, and an increase in the number of sales taking place in auctions, due to demand. The next New York sale will take place in spring, probably early April.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

My advice is to go in at the low end of the market, keeping an eye out for limited edition small runs. But these are snapped up really quickly so you have to be on the ball and make a swift move. Consider this as a long-term speculative investment, say over 10 years. Don't expect to make a quick buck.

How will you be celebrating Robert Burns's night?

At home with a small group of friends, enjoying a traditional Burns's Night supper, accompanied by perhaps a Highland Park I have at home, and the Knockando (Speyside malt).


Martin Green is recognised internationally as a leading expert in Scotch Whisky and was appointed in July 2008 to head of specialist whisky sales for Bonhams in Scotland.

He started his career with the Scottish offices of the International Auction House Christie's in 1983. Starting with a single dedicated auction in 1989, Martin has helped to grow whisky sales through the 1990's to bi-annual auctions, and then to quarterly events, driven by the level of demand from both buyers and sellers of fine single malt whisky. Martin's auction sales are recognised by the collector's market worldwide as the premier auctions in this specialised field.


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