“I know people like a dram, but where do you get money like that to spend on a bottle?” says artist Charles Hynes. “They were obviously big Kidnapped fans”.
This Aberdeen-based illustrator was recently browsing the website of a London-based whisky auction house, when he saw a bottle of the Glenfarclas 40-year-old Scottish Classic Malt Millennium Edition, which he had designed the label for back in 2000.
It was selling for £7500. “Just crazy,” says Hynes, who studied at Gray’s School of Art, specialises in book illustration for the likes of poet Sheena Blackhall and has exhibited widely at venues including the Royal Scottish Academy.
Other online auction houses currently have the bottle on sale for similarly eye-watering sums.
It was originally part of Speyside distillery Glenfarclas’ limited edition of 600 numbered bottles, each of which sold for £1500 and were part of a release that was described as a “celebration of the third millennium”. While Aberdeen-based marketing agency, Mearns & Gill, commissioned portrait artist Stephen Shankland with a Sir Walter Scott brief, and etcher and printmaker Ben Thomson had Robert Burns, Hynes was asked to create work based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Kidnapped.
“Of all the ones to get, Treasure Island was one of my favourite books as a kid,” says Hynes, who is originally from Uphall.
Each artist did 10 illustrations based on two works from the same author, resulting in 30 different labels overall.
Hynes’s contributions include one of Ben Gunn, weaning a tricorn hat and looking out to his ship as it sails off on a pale blue sea. It wasn’t created digitally, but using traditional printmaking techniques and a few experimental ones, as Hynes used children’s glitter to get the effect of sparkling water.
The bottle that made the eye-watering £7500 at auction has a simpler design, and features a portrait of The Red Fox from Kidnapped.
As Hynes says, “a ginger-haired grumpy Highlander”.
Although this artist owns reproductions, he doesn’t have any of the original bottles, though he did ring up a certain five-star hotel to ask if they could give him a finished one. The answer was a firm no. In their bar, they were charging £500 a nip, making around £11000 a bottle, and Hynes was told that it was customary for whoever ordered the last dram to be presented with the empty and its matching plinth. They do not get chucked in the recycling.
Inspired by the success of these 21-year-old illustrations, Hynes is working on some more Treasure Island inspired prints, which are currently on sale via Aberdeen's Peacock Visual Arts. They feature some of this book’s most dastardly characters.
“They’re the ones that Glenfarclas never saw - the labels that could have been,” he says. “The next one I’m working on is Flint’s Treasure. Flint was the captain aboard the Hispaniola, where John is second in command. The pirates are burying the treasure and Ben Gunn is watching them from a distance, and sees him murder the seven and bury them with the treasure. Also, this afternoon, I’ll be working on one of Black Dog.”