The Collections of Willard S Folsom

Willard S Folsom was born in 1944 to parents Barbara and Willard W Folsom, one of three children along with his brother James and sister Susan.

Making his money through investment in the financial markets, Folsom took every opportunity to enjoy life, and lived very actively with his hobbies including race car driving, salsa dancing and diving (both kinds - sky and scuba).

But it was not out in sunny California where he lived where Folsom found his chief pleasure, but in cold, drizzly Scotland.

In 1988, Folsom read an article in USA Today. The piece discussed the best bars and restaurants in America to find single malt whisky - one of them minutes from Folsom's home. Intrigued, he took his wife Roxie to Kincaid's Bay House and from his first tasting never looked back.

Over nearly two decades, Folsom assembled one of the greatest whisky collections the world has known. He quickly exhausted local shops in looking for top of the range drams he hadn't seen before and established and extensive network of links with fellow enthusiasts and dealers.

Amongst these Scotch fans, Folsom became renowned as an expert - virtually a guru. In a blind taste test he correctly identified 10 out of 12 single malts. But he viewed Scotch drinking as an inclusive matter.

"You tell me. Your pallet is better than mine." he urged a fellow drinker, and on another occasion, "The beautiful thing about Scotch is that you can never be wrong. I like Islays, you like Speysides, and we're both right."

To collect Scotch properly though, you need to go to the source. Some he purchased from afar, having whiskies from around the UK sent to a London hotel, where the manager, a Scotswoman, agreed to keep it locked away until he could pick it up.

Folsom also went on a number of trips to Scotland (Highlands and Lowlands, Orkney and Islay) with his family to seek out great and rare whiskies.  He enjoyed being with his family, but cheerfully admitted that one of the main reasons for having them there was to offer extra hands to carry suitcases full of bottles.

"I need an exit strategy" he chuckled, when considering how his hobby was shaping his life. But that was never a possibility.

Springbanks of various ages from the Folsom collection
Springbanks of various ages from the Folsom collection
(Click to enlarge)

Following his death in 2008, the rights to auction the 3,000 strong bottle collection were passed to Bonhams who sold it in three great auctions in New York, Hong Kong and finally Edinburgh.

"In over 20 years of conducting whisky auctions, this is the most exciting collection I have ever handled", commented their Head of Whisky, Martin Green.

Many of the bottles were extremely rare examples, and several unique. Two picks of the last section of the sale were two 50 year old whiskies: a Dalmore and a Balvenie, each of which sold for $7,140. The sale also included a set of six Springbanks, representing a range of ages, which brought $4,760.

Such pieces represent good investments as the whisky market develops, especially in Asia. But his motto for life suggests that Folsom would probably have been happiest to see people drink it.

"Some say the glass is half empty; others say it's half full. I say, pour the water out and put some Scotch in that glass."

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