Stirred Not Shaken For These Collectors

Could there be a passion sillier than saving simple stirrers for cocktails? Used to blend a drink, spear an olive or stir up a punch, “swizzle stick” is even fun to say.

The real twist is that avid collectors claim that the only honest stick worth adding to a collection is one from a beverage you’ve actually downed. Which could make for quite a headache!

Swizzle sticks can be highly decorative or quite simple and can be found in plastic, glass or even sterling silver. The plastic ones are most common and are found in a variety of themes.

Transportation sticks are often seen, from airlines, such as TWA or United, and from train transportation, such as Union Pacific. Country club or hotel lounge sticks are easy to find and often sport designs that illustrate a club name or logo, such as flamingos or tiki birds.

Others might be topped with a historical or pop figure, or even Jack Daniels himself. Playboy bunnies, animal toppers, skeleton heads, exotic ladies, musical instruments and Elvis himself decorate others.

Complete sets of golf club swizzle sticks were made in a golf bag for the golf enthusiast winding it up at the 19th hole.

Glass swizzlers are usually simple affairs, done in cobalt, clear or other shades of glass. Some are imprinted with the names of the spot serving the cocktail, others may sport a special date or cause. Many of these glass models double as straws or feature a neat little spoon at the end for catching that elusive olive. Some of the sticks have a sharp end for stabbing the olive or other garnish.

These handy spears can be found in anywhere from a couple inches in length to some huge models over a foot long, meant for a mammoth martini!

Swizzle sticks are relatively inexpensive to purchase as a collectible, too, so it’s an easy hobby to get into. Right now eBay has thousands of listings for the sticks, both vintage and new. You also can find these handy blenders at just about any resale spot, from garage sales to antique shops.

With all the variations, swizzle stick enthusiasts often gather thousands of the little trinkets. Decorating a kitchen or bar with a few displays of sticks is a great conversation piece, too. And remember, every drink looks better with the proper presentation of a clever swizzle stick to dress it up.

The history of swizzle sticks is thought to have started with the 19th-century swizzle cocktail, which blended together spirits with citrus, soda, sugar and ice. Naturally, you needed to stir, and eventually a proper stick came about.

According to Nightclub & Bar Magazine, Jay Sindler is credited with inventing the swizzle sticks we know today. He secured the patent in 1935, and the design included an area for marketing the restaurant or bar name. However, according to Jason Wilson of the Washington Post (June 16, 2010), it goes back to the name of a particular tree found in the Caribbean called a swizzlestick tree and an icy drink called a swizzle.

I’ve discovered that the right way to stir is to use the paddle end of the stick, not the skinny little bottom. Many of the paddles are designed purposely with slits to make it easy to stir it up. But most people don’t do this.

Collectors buy and trade their sticks at liquor bottle conventions and other collector spots. Lots of swizzler fans collect other items, such as bar-themed advertising, cocktail equipment or bottles in general. Travelers like to collect swizzlers, too, because these little souvenirs are so small and travel home easily to remind you of your journey the next time you get thirsty.

For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at: zambitomaureen@hotmail .com or by writing in care of this newspaper.