Almost invisible under a thick black coating of cobwebs and dust, 12 bottles of rum dating back to 1780 lay undisturbed in the cellar of a British stately home for more than 200 years.
Christie's auction house says they were discovered "by chance" during an inventory of the cellar at Harewood House in 2011. Rum had gone out of fashion by the start of the 20th century and the bottles, hidden away on a high shelf, were apparently forgotten.
When the collection goes under the hammer at Christie's in London next week, it is expected to realize around 12,000 pounds ($20,000). The high pre-sale estimate is based on what the auction house calls "the exceptional provenance and quality of these spirits." The proceeds of the sale will go to charity.
Harewood House, located in the northern city of Leeds, is the seat of the Earl and Countess of Harewood. It was built in the mid-18th century with money made from the production of sugar, cotton, tobacco and rum at the 47 plantations owned by the Lascelles family in the West Indies. Research carried out on behalf of the estate has shown that like most merchants of the period, the family owned thousands of slaves.
The money raised by the Christie's sale will go to the Geraldine Connor Foundation, a charity that helps disenfranchised young people to participate in the performing arts. Raised in Trinidad, Connor was a major figure in Yorkshire's West Indian community.
Christie's says the first record of the rum that is being auctioned is contained in a Harewood House cellar-book entry dated July 1805. It lists "226 bottles, dark and light 1780." They were subsequently stored in two bins – "Bin 9 for the dark, Bin 12 for the light."
The records show that the rum was distilled in Barbados, then shipped in barrel to the Yorkshire estate, where it was bottled.
According to Christie's, the occupants of Harewood House entertained lavishly and frequently, with "large quantities of wines and spirits bought and consumed." It notes that rum from the collection being auctioned was consumed quite sparingly – "only one or two bottles a year, with the exception of one day in December 1805 when a startling eight bottles were drunk."
The auction catalog states that the rum is offered in original mold-blown bottles with replacement corks and capsules.
One of the Lascelles family's Barbados estates is now owned by Mount Gay, an internationally renowned rum producer.
Update: The wines sold at auction for a total of 78,255 pounds ($127,903) – more than six times the pre-sale estimate.