“Old Parr” Scotch Whiskey was introduced in 1909 by the Greenlees Brothers of London. The design registration no. 547348 embossed on the base of the bottle dates to between August 10 and August 17, 1909.
Geenlees Brothers, was included on a list of distillers in an 1874 publication called “London and Suburban Licensed Victuallers Hotel and Tavern Keepers” so the business dates back to at least that far. In 1919 they merged with William Williams & Sons Ltd, builders and owners of the Glendullan Distillery, to form MacDonald, Greenlees & Williams (Greenlees belonged to Alexander & MacDonald at that time). This company listed three brands in a 1924 overseas advertisement: Claymore, Old Parr and Sandy MacDonald (Sandy Mac).
MacDonald Greenlees & Williams joined Distillers Company Ltd in 1925, shortening their name to Macdonald Greenlees in the process. Ultimately they ended up with Diageo.
The Old Parr brand took its name from old Tom Parr, reputedly the oldest man in Britain. Supposedly he lived for 152 years and at the age of 122 married for the second time. Charles I arranged for him to be buried in Westminster Abbey in 1635. Some say his records were confused with his grandfathers but I like the original story so I’m choosing to ignore this!
It’s not clear to me who distributed Old Parr in the United States from 1909 to the start of Natinal Prohibition in 1919. In 1894 Thomas N Dwyer & Co, located at 40 Barclay Street, was listed as the sole agent for Greenlee Brothers but by the early 1900’s they were not listed in the NYC Directories.
During Prohibition it appears that Old Parr illegally entered the United States via Canada in significant numbers. This 1925 news item in the Bridgeport (Conn.) Telegram describes a confiscated shipment of Old Parr that arrived from Halifax. Dated June 11, New Haven Conn., the story reads:
The Baltimore First, hailing from Halifax and captured off New London June 2, was brought into the city dock here today with her own cargo, 1500 cases of Old Parr Scotch and rye whiskey because of the shortage of space in the New London storehouse.
At the end of Prohibition Old Parr was rapidly available again legally. In fact, this December 11, 1933 newspaper advertisement that appeared in several large city newspapers including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Baltimore, made it pretty clear that they were accepting orders prior to Prohibition’s official end.
Orders will be accepted from the trade for shipment of the above brands to States where and when the sale of liquor is legal, subject to import quotas.
According to scotchwhisky.com, Old Parr is still sold today in Japan, Mexico, the U.S. and parts of Latin America, especially Columbia.
The bottle I found is a classic Old Parr bottle; square with rounded edges and distinctive dimpled sides. It’s design hasn’t changed much since it’s inception in 1909 and over the years actually played a role in their advertising. This 1941 advertisement had the heading “An Old-Fashioned Bottle and An Old-Fashioned Reason”
In this streamlined age, there is sound thought behind the determination of Macdonald Greenlees of Leith, Scotland, to continue to ship Grand Old Parr Whisky to all countries of the world in the old-fashioned untippable bottle.
In far-off lands where house servants do not always read english labels, the squat brown flagon serves to identify at a glance this famous product from Scotland. The bottle is the guarantee of the genuine imported Grand Old Parr Scotch Whisky.
The bottle I found is mouth blown, making me think that it arrived here legally between 1909 and 1919 or illegally during prohibition. It does not have post-prohibition markings (federal law forbids…). One bottle chat-room connects it with the 1919 to 1925 MacDonald, Greenlee & Williams era but I cannot confirm this.