Durham Whiskey Fifth Bottle, One of Six Known, Hammers for $13,440 at Auciton

This Durham Whiskey western fifth bottle with embossed steer, made circa 1876-1882, one of six known, was the top lot at an Internet and catalog auction hosted by American Bottle Auctions. It hammered for $13,440.

This Durham Whiskey western fifth bottle with embossed steer, made circa 1876-1882, one of six known, was the top lot at an Internet and catalog auction hosted by American Bottle Auctions. It hammered for $13,440.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A rare Durham Whiskey fifth bottle made between 1876 and 1882—one of maybe only six known—sold for $13,440 to take top lot honors at an Internet and catalog auction facilitated by American Bottle Auctions that and concluded July 20.

In all, 186 bottles changed hands and the auction grossed $173,107.

“These early fifths are so rare some collectors don’t even know they exist,” said Jeff Wichmann of American Bottle Auctions. “That’s because there are two variants—one from the east coast, which is common, and the western variant, which comes with and without a ‘foot’ on the reverse. This was one of only three known without the foot and the first example we’ve ever offered.”

The bottle, a fat-looking fifth showing an embossed steer, features a bright yellow-amber color with lots of overall crudity and whittle. It had been found in the 1970s by Arnold Sierras, Sr., in San Pedro, Calif..

“This is a very special western whiskey, a category that is red-hot right now,” Wichmann said. “The fact that it graded 9.7 out of 10 for condition just added to its desirability.”

A total of 262 people registered to bid online and combined for an impressive 1,373 total bids. In addition, 34 phone bidders took part, while absentee bids totaling $84,000 were tabulated.

“This auction had mixed results, most of them positive,” Wichmann said. “The rarer western whiskeys did very well, while the historical flasks didn’t do as well as expected, with a few exceptions.

“The market is selective but strong right now,” Wichmann added. “Hard-to-find items soared past their estimates, while the more common pieces stayed within or below range. There were some good bargains, with quart colored flasks coming to mind, and a few bottles even sold for way more than we’d even hoped. There are some very knowledgeable and savvy buyers out there.”

One example of a bargain was lot #140, a Clasped Hands bottle with a cannon on the reverse, was cataloged as a G-XII-42. But sharp collectors knew from the lot photo that it had been wrongly cataloged. It should have said 42a, not 42, and that made all the difference in the world, Wichmann said. The bottle showed a pre-sale estimate of $300-$500, but by the end of the sale it sailed past that to finish at $4,928.

This auction featured soda, bitters, back bar, medicine, and whiskey fifth bottles and flasks, plus some advertising items (rare for American Bottle Auctions) and spirits and poisons.

“Some random items were a big surprise and overall the auction was a success,” Wichmann said.

Following are additional highlights from the auction (all prices quoted include a 12-percent buyer’s premium):

A Jockey Club early western whiskey sixth (G. W. Chelsea & Co., San Francisco), made circa 1873-78 with great strike and light amber in color, graded 9.6 and one of only a dozen known, brought $5,152; and a double eagle pint flask with applied band and smooth base, colored a beautiful sapphire blue with loads of whittle and overall appeal, graded 9.7, realized $4,928;

A great GI-42 cobalt blue George Washington /Zachary Taylor quart bottle (“The Father of His Country / A Little More Grape, Captain Bragg”)—quite possibly the best example in existence—rose to $4,440; while a GI-51 Washington/Taylor flask quart, boasting a ton of bubbles and crudity, the finest of its type to come up at auction in quite some time, changed hands for $5,376;

A Rosenbaum’s bitters (N.M.B. Jacobs & Co., San Francisco), with applied top and smooth base, one of the more popular western squares, 9 ½ inches tall and graded 9.5, fetched $3,808 despite a few distractions; and a Gun Wa’s Chinese Remedy bottle, the smaller of the two sizes made, 8 ¼ inches tall, yellow-amber in color and graded well at 9.7, went to a determined bidder for $1,792;

A pair of J. H. Cutter Old Bourbon (A. P. Hotaling & Co., Portland, Ore., Sole Agents) western flask pints were fought over by eager bidders. Both were the earliest of the five known variants. One was deep amber in color, circa 1873-77 and loaded with whittle, graded 9.6 ($2,464). The other was more desirable because of its rare greenish amber color, and graded at 9.4 ($3,136);

From the advertising category, a Cyrus Noble Pure Rye metal advertisement with original self-frame (Crown Distilleries Co.), 30 inches by 24 inches and graded 9 overall, with a terrific provenance, went for $8,400; while a Buffalo Brewing Co. Lager (Sacramento, Calif.) corner sign in sky and navy blue, 20 inches by 14 inches, visually appealing and graded 7, hit $4,032.

American Bottle Auctions is always accepting quality consignments for future sales. To consign a single bottle or an entire collection, you may call them toll-free, at

For more information about this auction or to consign an item to a future auction, call 800.806.7722, email to info@americanbottle.com or visit the American Bottle Auctions website.

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