Nearly every Kentucky home has a Kentucky Derby glass tucked away in a cabinet – or a full collection of the colorful glassware on display. Kentucky Derby glasses are a Derby tradition and a great souvenir of a day at the racetrack. Some are even highly desirable collectors’ items!
Kentucky Derby glasses date back to the 64th running of the Derby in 1938. The specially-produced water glasses, Churchill Downs management noticed, were so popular that they “disappeared” from the track dining rooms in large quantities. The following year, the track contracted the Libbey glass manufacturing company to produce a highball glass with color print, suitable for serving a mint julep. The rest, as they say, is history.
Many racing enthusiasts and Kentuckians have created a market for collectable Derby glasses, with the 1930s designs carrying price tags in the thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars. Derby glass enthusiasts often divide collections into pre- and post- 1974. That year, the 100th running of the Kentucky Derby, was when Derby glasses were first available for off-track sale. These days, you can pick up a Derby glass well in advance of the race at many Louisville-area retailers, but the real fun comes in bringing home a souvenir of the Big Race!
2016 Kentucky Derby Glass. Image via KentuckyDerby.com.
While collectors pore over the variations and misprints in Derby glass runs, others use Derby glasses as daily glassware, a fun reminder of the Big Race. Nevada District Court Judge Nancy Allf is a London, KY native who moved to Las Vegas in 1982. Judge Allf’s Derby glass collection is a fun reminder of her home in the Bluegrass State. She says, “We use Derby glasses every day. It is a fun reminder of home, and always a conversation piece when we have guests over. For dinner parties, especially when introducing new people, I make sure each guest has a different year. It is an unusual but effective conversation starter.”
Whether you’re storing your Derby glasses as part of a collection or using them for cocktail hour at home, they’re a lovely Kentucky tradition that serve as a reminder of Derby all year long!
Five Fun Facts about Kentucky Derby Glasses:
- Nearly 120,000 mint juleps will be served over the two-day period of Oaks and Derby. That’s a thousand pounds of freshly harvested mint and sixty thousand pounds of ice and, of course, enough Derby glasses to hold them all!
- Derby glasses sold at the Kentucky Derby hold Old Forester Mint Julep, a ready-to-serve cocktail made with Old Forester Straight Bourbon Whisky.
- In 1940 and 1941, Kentucky Derby glasses weren’t made of glass, due to concern about the broken glass found on racetrack grounds or possibly the World War II era shortage of glass. . Aluminum tumblers held the storied mint juleps, and a limited number of glasses were distributed for backside use only. Bakelite or Beetleware glasses were issued from 1941-44.
- Since 1949, all previous Derby winners have been listed on the Derby glass, with the exception of the 1950, 1952, 1958, and 1969 glasses.
- The 1946 and 1947 Derby glasses are not recognized by collectors because mint juleps were served at those runnings of the Kentucky Derby in blank undecorated glasses.