I've had the advantage of collecting hundreds of Michter's decanters and glass bottles, some of which are still full, most of which are empty but still with a readable tax strap. For those of you that don't know what a tax strap is, it was a paper strap, usually red or green in color that was affixed over the opening of a bottle to show that taxes were paid on it and it is sealed properly. The tax straps faded slowly from existence in the mid-1980's after it was no longer mandatory in 1984. Before 1984, each tax strap (or "strip") had a number printed on it proving its legitimacy. I've started to slowly track the numbers on these strips on my Michter's decanters and glass bottles and I've discovered a few things:
1. Early Michter's bottles and decanters must've had multiple bottling locations. I've observed several different numbers from the same era on several early decanters. I was told by Dave Ziegler, who worked at Continental Distillery's Linfield location that he remembers Michter's Liberty Bell decanters being bottled there in the late 60's, early 70's.
2. It seems there was no hard changeover between sets of tax strap numbers. There seems to be a 1-2 year overlap and phase-in of the new number sets. However, this could also be due to bottling times (One product is faster moving than another or the release of a decanter was delayed after bottling).
3. There were multiple runs of decanters or bottles to use up empty stock. I've found decanters from the late 70's and early 80's with mid 80's tax straps on them- thus indicating a second or third run of decanters at a later date.
4. As we all know, with Michter's, strange is often the normal. I've seen some other oddball numbers here and there that have no logical explanation. I doubt we'll ever know why this is as the paperwork is all long gone. Everything I am writing here is from my own basic research and is still fluid. I often find new information that changes bits of pieces of what we know now.
So, here's a basic, first edition guide as to when each tax strap number appears. I only list the first two numbers as it defines the era with just that:
20, 28, and 35 are from the Pennco era (1950's to 1974 , 75)
55 and 58 is 1976-1978, 79
74 is 1978,79-around 1980, 81, 82
03 is 1980,81,82 to about 1984 85
No number is 1984,85 and later.
Keep in mind too that in 1980, liquor bottles went from Pints, Quarts, and Gallons to the metric Milliliter and Liter. Again, the changeover was no instant, but it happened basically from 1979-1981.
Another item to note is around 1980, there was a small change in labeling. Before 1980, all decanter and bottle labels read "Decanter and Jugged By Michter's Jug House"- Indicating the whiskey inside was distilled by Pennco, Continental, or another distillery (Michter's used bulk whiskey for many years, just like the current-day Michter's Distilling Company in Kentucky). After 1980, there was whiskey available for bottling that was distilled in 1976 or later (1976 was when Michter's bought the distillery from Pennco and started making whiskey for themselves and others). This being the case, the new label "Distilled and Bottled by Michter's Distillery, Inc." was phased in over several years. Most, if not all glass bottles continued to receive the old label until the end of production. Some decanters also continued to retain the old wording as well.
I have several fraudulent bottles in my collection as well. ALL of these bottles have tax straps that start with "03" as these were the last numbered tax straps left at the distillery when they shut down and were stolen during the era before the place was cleaned out properly. These bottles are often easy to spot. Generally the labels are the wrong sizes, missing, applied with thick paste glue, or even upside down! The "whiskey" inside ranges from anything from dyed water, dyed rubbing alcohol, to other brands of cheap whiskey. Often, too, the bottles are of the wrong shape and/or construction.
If you have any questions about the legitimacy of a bottle or decanter, feel free to send me pictures at email@example.com and I will give you as much help as I can!
Below are some pictures of correct tax straps on Michter's decanters.......
Additional note here: These "straps" are also more commonly referred to as "strips" or "stamps." I used the term "straps" as I felt it was best descriptive as to what they looked like and functioned like.