Walking into Bob and Betty Spence’s back building is like walking into a Jack Daniel’s museum. Unopened bottles of single-barrel whiskey line the walls, unique and rare bottles signed by master distillers fill glass cases, even the furniture is made from refurbished whiskey barrels. The Spences have collected memorabilia from around the globe via auctions, flea markets, and gifts from friends and can tell you the story behind every piece.
The Spences, lifelong rural Middle Tennessee residents, store this wealth of memorabilia from Tennessee’s most famous producer of whiskey in a comfortable building behind their home—situated in between Murfreesboro and Shelbyville—a space they also use for gatherings with family and friends.
Mr. Bob grins from ear to ear when talking about his collection—even though he says he’s not a Jack Daniel’s drinker himself.
Murfreesboro Pulse: When did you start collecting?
Bob Spence: About 14 or 15 years ago.
Do you know about how many pieces you’ve collected?
I couldn’t tell you how many bottles I’ve got, over a thousand.
What was the first thing you bought?
Let’s ask the boss.
Betty Spence: Probably the pewter mug.
Why Jack Daniel’s out of all the ones to collect?
Lord, ma’am, I couldn’t tell you. I don’t drink Jack Daniel’s. I drink Early Times, it’s just a little bit smoother. But they own Jack Daniel’s, they bought them out in 1955—about the time I went into the Air Force; about the time I started drinking.
Do you have a certain piece that is your favorite?
I guess the crock in there, a good friend of mine gave it to me. Him and his wife and daughter came down and we was having a weenie roast and he goes, “Bob, I think you’re gonna wind up being a collector. I got something I’m gonna give you,” and the next day he brought me that jug. It’s over 100 years old; [from] back in the 1800s when Jack Daniel’s first started making whiskey. There’s one more in Middle Tennessee that I know of. I’ve been trying for years to get it and I haven’t got it yet.
Is that piece worth the most money as well?
I was offered $3,500. The man who offered it to me owns two antique stores in Lynchburg. I figured if it’s worth $3,500 to him then it’s worth that much to me.
Is there any sort of official Jack Daniel’s museum with these types of things in it?
I don’t know of one. I’ve had people come from the distillery and say they’d much rather go through this than go through Jack Daniel’s.
Are the bottles still valuable even if the seals are broken on them?
Oh, yes. I’ve got bottles in there I wouldn’t take $500 for.
Do you have plans to sell any of it?
No, I’ve got two daughters. When I buy something, I buy two of everything. So, that’s the way we collect.