The stash of spirits was found hidden in plain sight at the Liberty Hall Museum, which was formerly the home of Governor William Livingston, who served in office from 1776 to 1790.
‘It was an oh my God moment,’ Bill Schroh, director of museum operations at Liberty Hall Museum at Kean University, told WCBS of the shocking discovery.
During a six-month renovation of the wine cellar at the historic building, the team found three cases of Madeira wine believed to be from 1796.
They also found an additional 42 demijohns covered in wicker that date back to the 1820s.
‘It’s a very large historic house museum originally from 1770 and over the last five to six years we decided to take the house room by room and make repairs and update and evaluate a lot of the structures,’ Schroh told ABC News.
‘We decided to restore the wine cellar, which hadn’t been looked over since 1949 and we never could have imagined finding what we did.’
Schroh said the team found the wine in old wooden crates that were covered in dust. It appears as though they were shipped to John Kean in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
‘It turned out there were three crates of it and inside were bottles labeled ‘Robert Lenox of Philadelphia 1796,’ when they were first bottled,’ Schroh added.
‘We had to do the research, but luckily for us it was all there so we didn’t run against a dead end at all. We could go even further to find out about Lenox.’
The wine was tested by California-based premier wine merchant, The Rare Wine Co., which confirmed its authenticity and highlighted some of its historical features.
Madeira is one of the most distinguished wines in the British colony, Mannie Berk, the wine company’s founder, wrote.
‘By the time of the American Revolution, [Madeira] had become a fortified wine of compelling character, and it was this wine that achieved a place in American popular culture unique in its history,’ Berk wrote.
Once the renovations in the wine cellar were completed, the original wooden shipping crates, the demijohns and full bottles of Madeira were put on display inside of the museum.
‘We kept some of it in the antique wine cages, but it’s also on display cabinets along with racks and other displays inside the wine cellar. People can come, see it and learn about the history from Colonial times,’ Schroh said.
According to the rare wine company, each bottle is estimated to be worth somewhere between $10,000 and $25,000.
The Liberty Hall Museum is located on the campus of Kean University in Union, New Jersey, which was founded in 1855.
The museum was once home of the Livingston, who also one of the people who signed the U.S. Constitution. The home was owned later on by the Kean family.
It was built in 1772 as a 14-room Georgian-style home before the American Revolution. It later grew into a Victorian-style 50-room mansion.