There’s a good bit of drinking in the Netflix series, The Crown. Nothing excessive of course. A finger or two of whisky for the gents, an irreproachable gin and tonic for the Queen Mother. And no one ever has to travel far for a nip; there’s a set-up in every room. Which includes some pretty nifty swizzle sticks, little silver wands that splay into little branches. Oh-so-swank, when compared to the plastic models that were once standard equipment in bars and lounges across the country, but even the absence of those these days makes cocktailing a bit diminished. When I think swizzle stick, it’s a lobster-topped memento from a chowder house on the Cape that comes to mind. They used to be real souvenirs.
The first swizzle stick was fashioned in the West Indies from the native Quararibea turbinata, a plant with thin branches that fan out at the end like little fingers. Dipped in glass and rolled between the palms, this plantation-to-punch device was a rum drinker’s best friend.
The swizzle stick as we know it (or as our grandparents knew it) was dreamed up in the 1930s by Jay Sindler, an M.I.T grad and rubber company chemist. “The difficulty of securing a cherry resting at the bottom of a cocktail glass,” wrote Sindler in his patent application, “without resorting to boorish antics obnoxious to people accustomed to polite social usages is so well known as to have become a matter of public comment and jest.”
His first stab at a solution was a little wooden spear with a paddle-like handle. He soon switched to plastic, and his company—Spir-it—stamped out product until the 1990s. Pam Ashlund is a collector and superfan. “Spir-it and other companies all had salesman’s samples to select from—bulls for steakhouses, sailboats for yacht clubs and seaside resorts. The manufacturers also worked directly with the customer for branded custom designs. The airlines and the alcohol advertisers went to town on these and created some real beauties.”
A finance director for the United Farm Workers Foundation, Ashlund operates swizzlestickcollectors.com and houses 50,000 of the classic stirrers in her Southern California home. Among her favorites are a skull-topped number from Chicago’s long-shuttered Ivanhoe restaurant and a blue cat, dressed in a tuxedo and holding a cheese, once used in a chain of restaurants at Sheraton Hotels. While swizzle sticks petered out in the 1970s (thanks, in part, to the country’s awakening to wine), Ashlund has noticed a resurgence in recent years, especially at tiki bars, many of which turn to Indiana-based Royer Corporation for product. (You won’t be surprised to learn that the company is currently making face shields.)
Next to shot glasses, plastic swizzle sticks are easily the most affordable bar collectible out there. Although Ashlund has seen some fetch as much as $100 (the one created to promote the 1958 Titanic film, A Night to Remember), it’s easy to find a clutch on ebay for far less. “For new collectors,” she suggests, “I’d say keep your eyes open, join a trading club and don’t pay those prices. You can almost always find someone willing to share.”
Editor’s Note: Enjoy cocktails? Miss socializing? Us, too. Message us on Facebook and we’ll send you a FREE Wine & Whiskey Globe swizzle stick to brighten up your libations.