Best in the West Bottles
Every year for the past 30 years, the 49er Bottle & Antique Show has been held at the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn, Calif.-a classic Gold Rush-era town in the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento. This year was no different, with the 31st annual show being held on Dec. 5 and 6. The Auburn show is widely acknowledged by Western collectors as the best-or one of the two best (Las Vegas, Nev., being the other usual candidate)-of the several dozen bottle shows held yearly in West.
Bottle shows strongly emphasize old or historic bottles, though always have an assortment of other collectibles ranging from glass insulators, to coins and trade tokens, bottle related items (e.g., shot glasses, advertising signs, trade cards).
I attended the Saturday main session (free admission) of the show which was nominally the second day of the show. Bottle shows these days typically have a dealer “set-up” day on Friday where they unpack their goods. The show sponsors (usually a local/regional bottle club) charge an “early lookers” admission of $5 to $10 for non-dealers on that day. Often the set-up day is a frenzy of buying, selling and trading action as each dealer sets out his wares for all to see. Virtually all bottle dealers are also collectors, buying and selling amongst each other, as well as those willing to pay the early fee that first day. The second day-typically Saturday- is the main show day, which is a bit more relaxed, allowing for a more calm approach to ones bottle collecting activities.
A view of the smaller of the two buildings at the 49er Bottle & Antique Show.
Buyers perusing some of the fantastic bottles being offered by American Bottle Auctions.
This year’s show had, by my estimate, 150 to 175 tables set up as usual in two separate buildings (I’ve attended at least seven or eight previous shows here over the past 25 years). Bottle shows strongly emphasize old or historic bottles, though always have an assortment of other collectibles ranging from glass insulators, to coins and trade tokens, bottle related items (e.g., shot glasses, advertising signs, trade cards) to… well, just about anything old. Even for non-bottle collectors, there is usually something of interest to most other collectors. My wife is not a bottle collector but always finds some jewelry of interest.
Some of the rare and colorful Western bottles – produced from the 1850s to 1890s – that are being offered at the ABA’s next auction in January, 2009.
An assortment of equally colorful barrel bitters (back row against light) being offered at fixed prices, ranging into the many thousands of dollars.
Another fixture at Western bottle shows for several decades has been Pete Hendricks “Pacific Coast Bottle Exchange” table that features bottles of all types and origins.
As a (the?) premier Western show, it isn’t surprising that this show has a high percentage of Western American bottles. One of premier dealers in such bottles is American Bottle Auctions (ABA) of nearby Sacramento, Calif., which had several tables set up at Auburn, showing some of the rare and colorful Western bottles-produced from the 1850s to 1890s, and an assortment of equally colorful barrel bitters (back row against the light) being offered at fixed prices, ranging into the many thousands of dollars. Another fixture at Western bottle shows for several decades has been Pete Hendricks’ “Pacific Coast Bottle Exchange” table that features bottles of all types and origins.
Herb Yue displays a collection of differently colored “ladies leg” bitters bottles.
Bottle shows also usually feature collectors’ displays of bottles. Auburn had only two displays this year-the only disappointment for me, as I love to see other collections creatively displayed. Fortunately, both displays were impressive. Image #7 shows Herb Yue’s collection of differently colored “ladies leg” bitters bottles. These uniquely shaped bottles have a distinctively bulging neck that has been creatively dubbed a “ladies leg” style by collectors although early glass makers referred to them as “Boker Bitters” bottles after the most popular brand of the 19th century. Bitters were a (typically) high alcohol medicinal product very popular during the 19th century when many thousands of different brands produced throughout the U. S. The other display was of Mike McKillop’s small size-“splits”-Western beer bottles. Splits were a very small beer bottle holding around eight ounces. As usual, I was educated by the displays, as I didn’t even know there were that many beer splits produced in the West.
Mike McKillop’s small size – “splits” – Western beer bottles.
Was the Auburn show the best in the West? Probably, though I don’t attend every show held in the West. I did, however, attend the Las Vegas bottle show this past February, and if the standard for “best” is the number of sales tables, then I believe that Auburn easily takes the nod… for this year. I will most likely be attending the Las Vegas show again this coming February (Feb. 13 & 14, 2009, at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino). If I attend, a report on that show will be featured on WorthPoint in February.
Has this article made you want to check out a bottle show in your region? For a constantly updated listing of bottle shows being held throughout the U. S. check one-or both-of the following websites:
Antique Bottle & Glass Collector Magazine show site:
The Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors show site: