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Kentucky Derby Collecting

Started in 1875, the Kentucky Derby is the “Greatest two-minutes in sports”. And with two weeks of festivities leading up to the big event, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype.

That’s why Derby collecting is such a popular hobby … and the focus of this Et Cetera.

Derby souvenirs range from artwork to toys, but one of the oldest and most popular Kentucky Derby collectibles is the official mint julep glass, licensed by Churchill Downs, Inc. These glasses have been sold since 1939.

These collectibles have been a joint effort of Churchill Downs, the Harry M. Stevens Company, and Libbey Glass, with the exception of the first few production years.

In their 69-year history, these glasses have varied from glass to aluminum to Bakelite, from short to tall, and from multiple colors to being undecorated. There is also a special signature series.

Today their values range from just a few dollars to more than $4,000.

The Kentucky Derby Festival also produces a collectible glass, but by far its most important souvenir is the Pegasus Pin. This pin allows admittance to Festival events.

The Pegasus Pin program started in 1973 as an awareness campaign for KDF.

Today there is a basic Pegasus pin, plus a variety of designs for separate Derby Festival events, such as the Pegasus Parade and Thunder Over Louisville.

In 2008, the Festival’s pin program has gone “green,” with the addition of pin made from corn oil. Ironically, the fact that it’s biodegradable will make it harder to collect.

Pin trading venues can be found at select Derby Festival events.

A few more facts::

  • Along with the Kentucky Oaks, the Kentucky Derby is only Thoroughbred stake races run annually at the same location since its start in 1875.
  • Prior to 1939 mint juleps were sold at Churchill Downs in disposable paper cups.
  • According to The Official Price Guide to Kentucky Derby Mint Julep Glasses, the official mint julep glass concept was first tested at Churchill Downs in 1938 when the libation was sold in water glasses. When the glasses kept disappearing, track management knew they had a keeper on their hands.
  • Designs on most glasses include the Twin Spires, the name Kentucky Derby and racehorses have been featured … along with the names of previous Derby winners.
  • Aluminum tumblers were produced in 1940 and 1941, due to concerns over broken glass on track grounds. But when aluminum was rationed for the war effort from 1942-44, Bakelite tumblers were made. These ceramic-type tumblers are found in a variety of colors.
  • 1974, the 100th running of the Kentucky Derby, marked the first time that the official mint julep glasses were sold off the Churchill Downs grounds.
  • According to The Encyclopedia of Louisville, Churchill Downs, Inc. licenses all Derby souvenirs, from the “official” julep glass to the “official” country ham and bourbon balls.
  • There were more than 120 KDF Pegasus Pin designs for 2007. The cost of the entire collection? $1,332, plus tax!
  • According to The Official Price Guide to Kentucky Derby Mint Julep Glasses, there is a 1984 unofficial plastic Kentucky Derby cup that lists the last place finishers from every race.
  • Official Kentucky Derby shot glasses are a fast-growing collectible. The first was produced in 1945.
  • The Kentucky Derby Festival first produced a collectible glass in 1968, followed by another in 1984. They have produced continually since 1987.
  • Wendell Wright, 1988 KDF Chairman, purchased the very first Pegasus Pin in 1973.
  • According to KDF, more than 300,000 Pegasus Pins are sold each year during Derby season. Sales account for about 20% of the Festival’s income.
  • According to the KDF (in 2007), the original ’73 Pegasus Pin is now worth about 800 dollars.
  • Flea markets, auctions, estate sales, gift & antiques shops, and yard sales are popular places to find mint julep glasses.
  • For more information on KDF pin trading, visit www.kdf.org or call the AT&T Derby Festival hotline at 502-584-FEST.
Program 224
Exploring Bourbon Country, plus equine therapy. And, it's Derby time! A look at Derby float building, Derby collecting, and the Courier-Journal's Angie Fenton gives us "the buzz" on the Derby scene. (#224)